“Every year, said Grandfather. They run amok; I let them. Pride of lions in the yard. Stare, and they burn a hole in your retina. A common flower, a weed that no one sees, yes. But for us, a noble thing the Dandelion.” -Ray Bradbury- “Dandelion Wine”
As far back as I can remember I have known the Dandelion, as a child I made wishes upon their seeds as I blew with all my breath. I popped the flower tops off with my thumb, launching them into the air while reciting “Mama had a baby and its head popped off”. I still have no clue what that means, but it’s safe to say no other plant has stuck with me as long as the Dandelion has. I certainly didn’t know back then that I was playing with a wonderful medicine and food.
Though the world views Dandelions as a common weed not even noble enough to be called a flower, it is truly a remarkable plant. Pushing up through grass or concrete this little ray of sunshine seeds far and wide, waiting to grow and thrive in some of the oddest and least habitable places in the world. Native to Europe and Asia, the Dandelion has made its home here in the new world for some 400 plus years now, and despite everyone’s best efforts they are not going anywhere. It is one of the first flowers to bloom in the Spring though you can often find it any month of the year, its yellow face peeking through the melting snow. For beginning foragers and Herbalists it is one of the easiest plants to identify and learn. Its toothed leaves can be various lengths radiating out from a rosette. French is “dent de lion” tooth of the lion. From the center grows one hollow stem with milky sap, atop it sits a beautiful yellow flower made of thousands of rays. Beneath the surface its brown/white taproot digs deep in the ground occasionally splitting off. After blooming the flower turns to seeds that are dispersed by the wind. Once identified you’ll find them everywhere!
Dandelion is a food staple from days since gone, it seems people forgot about it for the last 50 years or so and are just now rediscovering it as a table vegetable. Its considered one of the five most nutritious vegetables on earth. All parts of the plant are considered edible but the young leaves that come before the flower are the most tender and least bitter. The leaves get more bitter with age. The leaves are very versatile and can be used in many ways from salads and smoothies to stir-fries and tea. They are high in manganese, calcium, iron, vitamin C, Potassium and many other vitamins and minerals The root of dandelion when made into tea contain a long chain starch called inulin which is a pre-biotic. pre-biotics are food for the probiotics that live in our guts. The roots can also be roasted and ground then mixed with chicory or coffee to be drunk as coffee. It is a great source of many vitamins and minerals including Calcium, Zinc and Iron. Finally, the yellow flower tops I flung willy nilly as a child are also edible raw or cooked. I’ve used them to make bread and wine.
When it comes to medicine dandelion is one of the most abundant and versatile plants. It can be used as a tea, vinegar, tincture, salve, poultice or just eaten outright. The bitter taste of its leaves alone stimulates all the process’s involved in digestion, from increasing salivation, to absorbing more nutrients. On top of containing inulin the root is a great blood purifier that aids in the filtering and straining of waste from the bloodstream. It strengthens the livers function and promotes the secretion of bile. Dandelion pairs well with Burdock for cleaning the blood and clearing up many types of bad skin which often originate in poor elimination through the liver. Dandelion leaf helps remove uric acid in those suffering from gout, as well as swelling caused by edema through its diuretic actions. Topically the leaf and flowers are used for wounds, and fungal infections, while the sap is said to remove warts. Dandelion is a classic tonic herb that can be used daily, and a spring tonic that helps clear out the system after a long winter. So the next time you are looking out at your lawn wondering how to rid it of those yellow pests rethink the spray, and make a salad or cup of tea instead.
A few things to remember…Dandelions loves yards and waste spaces so make sure when harvesting, the area hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides. Also make sure that the area you are harvesting from isn’t polluted, avoid roadsides and city lots that often contain soil contaminants. These are often taken in and stored by plants.