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Dandelion

Dandelions are a commonly foraged food, usually the first one people learn. Praised as a tonic, due to high vitamin A and its kidney stimulating properties. All parts of it are edible, it can be eaten as a salad green, potherb, or even a wine. The roots can be pickled or made into coffee, and it enhances compost. www.dryadintheelm.com

(Taraxacum officinale)

“tar-AX-a-kum oh-fis-in-AY-lee”

Most of the the time, this is the first edible anyone learns about. The first time I read about it, I was actually a little nervous about trying it because my foraging books had dire warnings about how horribly bitter it would be if I didn’t get the first spring greens before a flower bud had begun to form. I even remember one warning me that I needed to dig in the ground with my fingers a little to check for buds, because the plant would turn bitter even before the bud had risen from beneath the soil.

Actually, I don’t find unpleasant at all, even when in full bloom. In fact, I love the flavor. I anticipate it every spring like a kid anticipates snow in winter. This is totally my favorite wild food.

I even like the old-school common names. Like how in England it used to be called “piss a bed” due to the diuretic properties. Or the French “lion’s tooth” or “Dente de Lion” for the jagged edges on the leaves. The way it sounds, it’s like poetry to me. Dandelion is wholly responsible for my interest in wild foods. It amazes me that it’s called a weed because I can never remember all of its uses and benefits at one time, there are too many.

It’s also a great example of how most “weeds” were introduced to America. A lot of our invasive species were introduced for their value as food or medicines. Plantain, Lamb’s Quarters, Burdock, Mullein, Dock, and others that are commonly pulled from our gardens now were previously grown on purpose. Colonists and other immigrants brought these on the long journey (with seriously limited packing space) because the plants were so valuable that early settlers were worried they wouldn’t be able to survive in the new world without their cherished herbal treasures.

Dandelion was brought not just as food either (though it is excellent food) but as medicine and an ingredient for wine making. A wine that was considered to be such beneficial medicine that even women were allowed to drink it without being considered improper little hussies. As far as food is concerned, it’s nutrient dense and low calorie, so should be one of our praised superfoods instead of a vile lawn villain. I mean really, it’s the literally best source of both vitamins A and K that the plant world has to offer. And we kill it. We are an insane species.

Well, okay. It is an invasive species and therefore can out-compete native flora, especially in poor soils that have been disturbed or damaged by toxins. So it’s not entirely a beneficial plant here in America. Eat the Invaders observes a quote from Walter Epp: “The more we disturb the soil ecology with toxins, the more we are liable to create conditions that favor adaptable weeds and disfavor long-term native viability.” They go on to make the point that I totally get behind 100%: eat the weeds instead of using chemicals.

If you or your neighbor wish to eradicate it from a lawn, don’t use chemical sprays. Try boiling water instead. I still giggle when I remember Grandma deciding to spray her lawn for dandelions even though I frequently volunteered to pull them all up and throw them in a frying pan. I happily walked up to her ugly brown circles in her lawn and smiled and told her the chemicals looked a hell of a lot worse than the little yellow flower.

Cautions: This is a safe plant, but still consume it in moderation. The sap contains latex, so naturally avoid if you have a latex allergy. You may also want to avoid it if you have allergic reactions to ragweed or members of the daisy family. It does have some known drug interactions.

 

medical herbalismHerbalism Basics ~ Herbalism Terms

Cholagogue, detoxifier, digestive, diuretic, laxative, stomachic, tonic, wart removal

The high iron and vitamin C content are said to benefit anemia. It eases mild constipation and promotes the secretion of bile for better digestion. Because of this, it may help heartburn and stomach complaints due to improper digestion. As a diuretic, it will alleviate water retention and edema (swelling in the extremities). In fact, many diuretics make you lose potassium in your urine but dandelions contain potassium to help you replace what you have lost.

It is high in vitamin A, which strengthens the liver. When I say it is high in vitamin A, I mean it outranks carrots and sweet potatoes, it simply pulverizes them for sheer vitamin A power. If you think of vitamin A, dandelions should be the first thing that pops into your head as a great source of it. I wonder how many people who are spraying poisons in their yards trying to kill off their dandelions are then turning around and taking vitamin A supplements.

So, a stronger liver, more effective bowel, and kidneys that are stimulated means this is a great detoxifying tonic. The diuretic effect can even help to flush toxins that collect in the joints, aggravating inflammation, and other accumulated contaminants in the body including free radicals.

In addition, the improved digestion helps the absorption of nutrients, and the variety of vitamins and minerals (A, B 2, B 6, C, K, iron, potassium, magnesium, and calcium) also promote strengthening the system. It also contains inulin and lecithin and therefore may help to lower cholesterol and triglycerides, improve memory, and may help with certain mood disorders and skin complaints, and possibly help with weight loss.

It is the highest vegetable source of vitamin K, making it valuable in the treatment or prevention of Alzheimer’s and to help build bone mass. In short, this is a great tonic. For best effect, combine it with some nice fiber and plenty of water, and eat some nice nutritious food. You’ll feel that vitality perking you right up.

It can be used to alleviate liver complaints, including jaundice and hepatitis, and may help with prostate complaints as well. As a diuretic, naturally it’s used to promote urinary tract health, and may alleviate urinary or gallbladder stones. It may stimulate the pancreas and promote insulin production, and therefore may alleviate the symptoms of diabetes (under a sympathetic doctor’s supervision, please).

The sap is said to remove warts, but I believe you need to apply it frequently over a period of about a month, if I recall correctly. If you have some in your lawn, just dab some on when you walk past (or grab some to dab on in privacy).

This herb is supposed to help clear up the skin as well, likely both through toxin removal and increased nutrition.

Use the flowers for anti-oxidants, the leaves for diuretics, and the root for digestion.

Preparation and Dosage: You can use standard dosage of two to three tablespoons of fresh herb in a tea, but this plant is so edible that I’ve always simply thrown it into a salad to enjoy its benefits.

Some people use the dried, roasted and ground root as a decoction or infusion instead of the leaves, some people use the whole plant. The flowers can be used in infusions as well.

It can also be prepared as a tincture, Doreen Shababy mentions in The Wild & Weedy Apothecary that she makes her tincture in stages. She starts with the root, then adds leaves, and then adds flowers last in a process that lasts about a month. I imagine this makes use of the fact that different plant parts take longer to infuse the alcohol with their properties for maximum benefit.

 

magical herbalism

Energy
Masculine
Elements
Air
Planets
Jupiter, Mercury
Signs
Pisces, Sagittarius

Messages, psychic ability, wishes.

Drink an infusion of the root to promote psychic ability. As you drink, be aware of the underground nature of roots, connecting them to the world of the unknown and unseen. The steaming infusion is also said to call spirits when placed by the bedside.  Maybe it would make a good tea for meditating on the future or clarifying messages from your unconscious mind. To send a message, blow the seed head in the direction of a loved one while visualizing your message being received.

The Jupiter associations, air associations with communication, and resemblance to the sun (implying success), make it a great decoration or ingredient for legal property and expansion in prosperity. Use for meditations concerning luck in business, conflict resolution, or success in leadership. Sip the tea and (or eat it however you like it prepared) it while visualizing its successful properties becoming a part of you.

You can likewise focus on the associations with childhood innocence, and simple joys.

 

herbalism in the kitchenHealthy Cooking

Nutritional highlights: Supersource of vitamin K and a ton of vitamin A, way more than your daily needs in one cup sized serving. About a third of the vitamin C you need for the day. About 10% of your calcium, manganese, and iron, with some traces of other minerals. A variety of other vitamins, but less than 10% of your daily requirements.

The most frequently seen way to eat a dandelion is in a salad or steamed greens. Usually early spring greens are used in salads, and as they get more bitter as the season goes on they may be steamed with sweeter vegetables such as carrots (don’t add until the carrots soften) or pan-fried with mild greens. I used to mix them with wild violet leaves a lot, I’ve also heard of using lard instead of butter or oil to saute them, and adding bits of bacon or diced pork.

If you don’t like the bitterness, even of early spring greens, try boiling and changing the water halfway through. Just remember that overcooking can destroy nutrients, take it easy and take the edge off the flavor by adding other ingredients. Sergei Boutenko writes that he can’t get over the bitterness, so he adds them with fruit to green smoothies or makes them into pesto with oils that counteract the bitterness (dude, so copying that pesto recipe). Or I can try the pesto over here.

The flowers can be pan-fried as well, or used to garnish salads. I’ve seen them added to bread recipes, fritters, and more. Usually as much of the green parts are removed as possible when using them, unless using the unopened buds as caper substitutes in pickle recipes. Some people make them into jam.

The roots can be scrubbed and diced up to use in soups and pan-fries. I’ve heard the scrubbed root can be pickled to use in condiments like pestos, or eaten as a vegetable.

Dandelion roots are often recommended as a caffeine free coffee substitute, the roots are dried and roasted for this. I imagine it could also make a nice blend to lower your caffeine intake but still have some real coffee in it, similar to the way chicory is used in the South. Personally I’ve never tried it. I like my coffee and have no ill-will against caffeine. Thinning it this way is also supposed to make your coffee last longer though, bulking up your stash, so it’s a nice thrifty solution.

Another tasty dandelion beverage is the wine from the flowers. To make a nice golden wine, remove all traces of green bits to prevent bitter flavors. A historical wine recipe can be found in A Modern Herbal. The dried leaves can be fermented in beers, and the roots can be used in root beer recipes.  Dandelion beer often has burdock root as well.

Personally, I have three gallon glass jugs and three airlocks for them. I have knowledge of how to encourage local yeast, the yeast on grapes, sourdough, and the yeast in ginger. I have a very strong desire to see how each of these yeasts does in each of the following recipes: Twin Eagle’s Delectable Dandelion Wine and Green Deane’s Dandelion Wine (and also maybe the Dandelion Burdock Beer if I can find a source of burdock). That seems like a lot of brewing, but I do plan on playing with it over the course of a couple of years, I hear that this wine is best served aged, at least through to the winter. Hmm. Actually, that means I might think of a wintery spiced dandelion mead for Yule.

 

herbal identification for foraging wild foods and medicineForaging Basics

Identification: This plant loves open areas, which is why it is so fond of lawns, so look for it in grassy fields. This is one of the first plants to show in disturbed ground, so look for it in cultivated fields as well.

The leaves can be as small as 3 inches or as long as 12 inches, growing in a basal rosette around the flowers. The leaves have alternating large teeth, and can be so deeply toothed that they almost touch the central vein, or can be a little more curvy and wavy while still coming to a point at the serrations. The leaves are hairless. If there is hair on the leaves, it is not a dandelion.

It flowers from April to May, going to seed in May to June. The yellow composite flowers are 1-2 inches across. It is a composite flower, but it is composed only of ray flowers with no central disk flowers. Flower stalks are hollow and emit a milky sap when broken. The flower has two sets of sepals, with one set curling down. This double set of sepals can help distinguish it among similar looking flowers, as they do not have this.

Gather the seeds when you can. Rub gently between your palms to remove the fluff, then scatter on organic soil to make trays of baby dandelion microgreens.

Some say the roots are best harvested in the fall, being plump with starches stored for the winter. Others say fall roots are bitter, to gather around February, and that even March may be too late. The deep tap root can reach ten to twelve inches long, so bring a good spade for digging. If the root is broken, a new plant will grow from it.

Lookalikes: There are actually quite a few of them. Thankfully, none of them are toxic (though some are bitter). Dandelions always grow on a single, unbranching hollow stem around a basal rosette.  If it’s a branched flowering stem, it’s not a dandelion. If the basal rosette has branching leaves coming out of it, it is not a dandelion.

It’s most frequently confused with cat’s ear, which sometimes has branched flowers and the lobes on the leaves aren’t as pointy. Cat’s ear also has hairy leaves. In the early spring, chicory and wild lettuce may resemble dandelion, but they may also have some hair on their leaves while dandelion never does. It can also be confused with Carolina false dandelion, and with some species of hawk’s beard. Some say that dandelion looks like coltsfoot, but the leaves are entirely different (shaped like a colt’s foot), and the flowers look more like a solid yellow daisy.

Super Pro Tip: Personally, I don’t have a car. I ride on the bus and my bike. This means I’m frequently sitting somewhere outside waiting or resting. These are sometimes areas infested with weeds. I wouldn’t want to eat these weeds, being in the middle of a city and full of pollution, but I might risk gathering the seeds to bring indoors as microgreens. I wouldn’t consider them organic, but the contaminants they contain would be far less than the greens, especially if the seeds were rinsed well before soaking to sprout. I’d say maybe soak 1 hour, rinse, soak overnight and then drain to sprout. This gives an hour for the water to absorb contaminants from the seeds and allows the seeds to soak in cleaner water with those contaminants thinned.

Right now at this very second, dandelions have still not flowered in my area this year. But I have a small pouch in my wallet to gather and store foraged seeds of anything I wish to grow as microgreens. I can imagine that sometime you may find yourself with time to kill during lunch, or before an appointment, or maybe you frequently go to a park with your kids. Take a pouch in your pocket, you never know what you may find.

 

growing medicinal, magical, and culinary herbs

USDA zones
5-9
Light
full sun
Soil
light to heavy
pH
acid to alkaline
Moisture
moist to dry
Life Span
perennial

This plant is super hardy, as long as you have enough light. I have mine in a southern window with a supplemental light nearby that I move around between 6 and 12 inches away.

The flowers are hermaphroditic, self-fertile, and can be self-pollinating though they are also pollinated by insects. The seed can be sown in a cold frame and only lightly covered by soil. Cold stratification may help germination, but isn’t required. Water with filtered water in a spray bottle to prevent disturbing the soil. When they have sprouted and the leaves appear sturdy, boost nutrition by spritzing with homemade organic fertilizers once a week. Focus on high vitamins rather than nitrogen, unless the soil they are in is old and poor.

When potting seedlings, remember to use deep pots for the taproot. Divide in early spring and plant outdoors in early summer. If you are growing for the root, the harvest is usually done in the fall of the second year. Maturity is between 85 to 95 days, though sometimes root crops may be harvested in their second fall.

Microgreens seem a good way to grow these plants, as they avoid any bitterness. In more shallow trays, sprinkle the seeds on organic compost with only a light sprinkling of soil on them and mist to water. When thinning trays to select the strongest plants, harvest the thinned greens to sprinkle in sprout salads and recipes.  A tray can provide you with a few harvests at different stages, as you thin down to select for the hardiest plants. Grow the strongest ones to maturity for the next generation of seeds.

Prevent bitterness by growing at cooler temperatures, and prevent drying out. If using supplemental lighting, CFL bulbs give off less heat. Experiment with distance for good growth without drying the plants out too quickly.

If moving outdoors, consider where dandelions already grow. These are areas that are likely to be fertile to them. Likewise, if there are no dandelions in an area of your lawn, it may be that they don’t like the conditions there. I’ve actually heard people online complaining that they couldn’t get dandelions to grow in their lawn no matter how hard they tried.

On the other hand, if they do like your lawn, this is a plant that can not be contained. Even if you keep them in a container, if they flower they turn from flower to seed quickly and easily spread through the air. Moving your plants outdoors means you will have them wherever they wish to grow, unless you harvest the flowers before they go to seed.

If you are trying to harvest less bitter plants, use the ones in cool, moist shade and use the ones in other areas for mulch and compost.

Because dandelion roots are so deep, they are a nutrient accumulator. When the rain pushes nutrients down into the earth, dandelion grabs them and pulls them up to the surface. Then, when the plant dies back in the winter, the decaying leaves release their nutrients back into the soil. If you wish to keep an area’s soil fertile, leave the dandelions right where they are. Their leaves will shade the soil to prevent moisture evaporation and block the light from less useful “weeds”.

Their high nutrients makes them a good candidate for compost, but I would gather the plants from areas that I wasn’t keeping cultivated to use in bins, or from areas where they would not make a good companion plant. Especially when the soil in the area is dry, this would send the roots even deeper in search of moisture, meaning more nutrients would be found at those lower levels to store in the leaves. So dry areas that I didn’t want a living mulch for would be where I harvest for compost.

The high nutrients aren’t the only thing that makes dandelions a great compost addition. It’s also an ingredient in some herbal compost activators that promote bacterial activity to shorten composting time. Since my compost bin is nothing more than a fantasy for when I get land, I can’t comment on its effectiveness. It’s probably great in worm bins as well, hopefully I’ll actually be able to try that one out relatively soon.

 

miscellaneous uses of herbs and foraged plants

If you have pet birds, my cockatiels love dandelions. They also make good food for breeding and lactating mammals.

I’ve heard that the small flat part of the base of the leaf, where it attaches to the crown (ligules) can be used in preparations to clear the skin, but that seems like a lot of work. The plant itself simply incorporated into the diet is supposed to improve skin, so why not try it that way instead and try other preparations like honey externally?

Dandelion can be used to dye wool green with the leaves, brown with the roots, and yellow with the flowers. Food grade alum can be used as a mordant. I’ve done this, and found it to be useful simply because it is so easy to gather them in a large enough quantity to use, though I thought the color could be improved. I’ve only used it once and it was one of the first plants I used, so my inexperience could have been getting in my way.

Some reports of obtaining a pink or magenta color with the roots have reached a legendary status. A handful of people promise they’ve done this, but I’ve seen experienced dyers say these are either mistakes or straight up lies. What I think is going on is this: there’s a species of dandelion that is native to Spain (I think) that will provide the pink or magenta color, while the plants that were native to England will not provide this result. I can’t remember where I read about this, and it’s frankly driving me insane so if you know what I’m talking about, please do tell. I don’t remember the source, but I remember it said that if you break the crown off from the root and wait about ten minutes, if the whitish part of the crown at the base begins to take on a pink hue, you have the right species.

I’ve so far yet to find this. I imagine that it’s only available in certain areas, and if I ever get my hands on it I’m so cultivating it to sell to natural dyers. I want this like mad, even though I tend to use metal-free environmentally friendly acid dyes if I play with painting my own wool these days. I would so start a magenta yarn factory in my back yard if I found that elusive, magical species.

 

referencesHerbalism Book Reviews ~ Cookbook Reviews

20,000 Secrets of Tea by Victoria Zak.
Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham.
Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen by Scott Cunningham.
The Wild & Weedy Apothecary by Doreen Shababy

 

links from around the web

Green Deane has put together an impressive list of dandelion recipes, from cornbread and vinaigrette to baklava. I mean, I expected to see dandelion wine, but was surprised to see dandelion chai as well. And seeing as how I actually just ordered an ice cream maker about forty five minutes ago, I’m tickled to see a roasted dandelion root ice cream recipe on there too.

Twin Eagles also has a good collection of recipes (I really am starting to dig these folks, I loved their discussion of what poison ivy teaches us).

The Leaf Lady has an extensive list of properties for dandelions.

There’s some good nutrition information on dandelions over here.

I like this quick little time lapse video of a dandelion going to seed.

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One thought on “Dandelion

  1. Pingback: It’s time to start watching the ground when I walk. | Dryad In The Elm

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