DANDELIONS ARE GOOD!
POOR MISUNDERSTOOD DANDELION
Poor Dandelion. People spend an endless amount of time, energy and money trying to eradicate this cheery little member of the daisy family from their lawns, often adding poison to the soil, water table, and environment in the process. How about you? Are you a dandelion vigilante? Keep reading and perhaps I can change your mind and help you see how he’s quite possibly the most undervalued, misunderstood plant we know.
As kids, we picked them for bouquets, made rings and necklaces by tying their stems together, quoted silly sayings while flicking the flowers from their stems with our thumbs... (mama had a baby and his head popped off. Anyone?) and made fanciful wishes once they had donned their delicate white crowns. As adults, we mostly just regard them as weeds and hate them, unless and until we come to understand that having been around for centuries, the dandelion is actually an incredibly nutritious plant, edible from root to bloom, which can be used for everything from medicinal teas and tonics, to cooking, to wine, to a caffeine-free coffee substitute, and more.
YES! DANDELIONS ARE SAFE TO EAT!
Dandelions are packed with nutrition and healing benefits. They are loaded with minerals and vitamins (C, A, K, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium) and fiber. All parts of the plant are usable for food and medicine. They are anti-inflammatory, help fight infection, both viral and bacterial, detoxify the liver, purify the blood, help keep you regular, and aid digestion in general. Gargling with an infusion* of dandelion flowers can alleviate the pain of a sore throat and speed recovery. Cleaning eyes with the infusion can help with burning and itching from allergies (unless of course you’re allergic to them!).
*WHAT’S AN INFUSION?
An herbal infusion is essentially a strong tea. My rule of thumb is 1/3 plant matter to 2/3 boiling water. Cover and steep at least 4-6 hours.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF DANDELION?
In the herbal medicine world, the roots of the dandelion in particular are used to detoxify the liver and purify the blood. In the fall, we love to dig the roots up that have soaked up nutrients all summer, to dry and store for infusions and to make tinctures and vinegars that will help cleanse the blood, liver and body throughout the winter. The tender leaves are one of the early emerging culinary greens in spring which can also serve the same purpose. The bitter flavor of the dandelion’s roots and leaves helps the digestive energies to descend, alleviating indigestion, feeling overly full even with small intake, poor appetite, reflux, and flatulence.
Dandelion greens sauteed in olive oil with a bit or garlic and onion is quick, easy, and delicious. As the plant gets older, the leaves get more bitter and tough. So, if you prefer a milder flavor, harvest them young. Quickly blanching the leaves before sauteing can remove some of the bitterness. Roots can be chopped up and added to soups, stews, and stir fries for texture, taste, nutrition, and medicinal benefits.
The great thing about dandelions is that they are available from spring to late fall.
HOW IS DANDELION USED IN CHINESE MEDICINE?
In Chinese medicine, bitter, sweet, cold Pu Gong Yin affects the Liver and Stomach. It is often used as an ingredient in formulas to clear heat and toxicity for conditions that present with red, hot swellings, including abscesses and acne. When appropriate, it can also be used for stones (kidney and urinary) and as a diuretic for edema and blocked urination. Compresses of dandelion can help resolve clogged milk ducts in lactating women.
FORAGING IS GOOD FOR YOU AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Making use of invasive plants and weeds is an excellent way to fix some good free eats, make medicine, reduce our foot-print, and it gets us back in touch with the rhythms of nature by knowing when, where, and how to forage. (Being out of synch with the natural order of the universe is a huge culprit in the modern-day break-down of health and wellness…but I’ll save this for another post).
When foraging, whether from your lawn or the woods, make sure that you are 6-10ft from the road (car exhaust residue on food and medicine is a big NO!) and never use plants that have been treated with toxic herbicides or chemicals. Also remember that while taking advantage of the gifts of Mother Nature is encouraged, we should still do so sustainably - don’t over forage or pick endangered species!
One of my favorites is dandelion apple cider vinegar. Not only does the vinegaract as a preservative, it helps to extract the good stuff from the plant, making it more bio-available. Apple cider vinegar on its own has health benefits, so this is a twofer! For dosing, I dilute ½-1 tablespoon of vinegar in 8 oz of water. If it’s too strong it can have an adverse effect, so don’t go overboard. Taken first thing in the morning, it is a great way to get the liver and digestion going; it changes the pH of the gut, alleviating many issues of the digestive tract (indigestion, reflux); soothes the throat and helps break up phlegm, and it has probiotic properties. Studies have also shown that ACV can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease reduce hardening of arteries and regulate blood sugar levels.
As with all good-for-you things, it’s important to make sure it’s the right approach for you. Even seemingly benign kitchen or folk remedies must be taken properly and may not work for everyone.
Dandelion vinegar is great in salad dressings, mixed with honey and diluted with seltzer or water, as a finish to brighten soups and sauces. Enjoy regularly or take when you’re feeling a little under the weather.
DANDELION THERAPY FOR YOUR LAWN
By the way, dandelion is not just good for your body…it’s actually good for your lawn! They have wide-spreading roots that loosen and aerate hard-packed soil and help reduce erosion. Their taproot, which can go down to an incredible 15 feet, pulls up other nutrients (like calcium) from deeper in the earth and makes them available to other plants. That’s right, dandelions actually fertilize your grass!
Dandelions are survivors for a reason! With a fresh outlook and approach to the miracle that they are, at the very least we can learn to let them be – or, better still, perhaps even love them a little.
For more in depth information on dandelion, check out: