Dandelion, also known as "tooth of the lion", for its leaves striking resemblance to a lion's teeth. This thought to be prevalent weed is actually a tenacious, highly nutritious medicinal plant. Commonly known for its composite flower head, dandelion is edible from petal to root. Despite rampant attempts to annihilate with pesticides, dandelion thrives returning year after year from farm field, garden beds to beside freeways and gutters, there is no stopping these distinct golden flowers each spring. Resilient as they are, there are medicinal reasons to benefit from dandelion.
Dandelion greens and roots can be harvested almost all times of year whether or not the plant has gone to flower. The best time to harvest would be when they are young, fresher and less bitter. This would be in the rapid early spring of dandelions leaves first emergence. Look for lighter green and more tender leaves. At this time there is less sun exposure because it is still low in the sky and days are shorter. Therefore, locations providing less sun stimulation for the dandelion to produce less bitter leaves and root. Roots have are suggested to be best harvested in early spring when they still young and have yet to produce spring bitters to feed their growing leaves and flowers. Waiting too long to harvest roots will cause woody and bitter flavors. When choosing a location to harvest, it is important to take into factor the growth period of dandelion. If there is slow growth, this is due to the lack of moisture this plant was provided and/or contributed to a lack of growth-promoting nutrients (i.e. nitrogen). This will go stagnant in the plants body and bake in the sun causing bitterness. Therefore, spring rains, well-moisturized soil, nonfreezing temperatures and healthy energy storage contribute to explosive spring growth. Look for locations that show these distinctions. Rich soil, abundant moisture, lack of competition, and shade are the most important factors when harvesting. Dandelion seem to grow best in shaded areas by tall plants, rock features, topography and other natural features. Flowers and seeds of dandelion grow in the spring in many stages until taking seed. After spring's massive flowering, dandelion continues to grow sporadically throughout the rest of the year with a small upsurge of blooming flowers in the fall. Bitterness may be in contribution to too much sun, slow growth and root energy storage. Dandelion root can be dug from the ground cautiously, washed well and dried, cooked (below 110 F) or dehydrated. If you are not harvesting the entire plant and want only the leaves, cut a couple inches above the base. Be aware dandelion will have milky juices that will bleed from cuts made. To avoid leakage one can cut the stems off and store wrapped up to avoid leaf stain. Rinse the greens and root if collected both prior to consumption testing to be sure the flavor is to bitterness-liking. Soaking in an cold water for 5-10 minutes will perk up leafy dandelion greens. When storing a pyrex bowl, or bag will aid wilting. Greens can be stored for up to a week. The heart will need to be immediately to wash for dirt and soaked 5-10 minutes in cold water to leech milky juices. Flower, buds and stems are stored in the same manner as conventional bought flowers, in cold water and supported in a vase.
So wide-spread, abundant and hardy there is hardly a reason to plant it. Dandelion a cold-loving plant that enjoys moist soil, full of sun. Dandelion commonly is known to emerge in a well-watered garden or area in the spring or autumn, especially for the flowers around the months of April or May. Overtime dandelion will grow more and longer leaves, and sends down a taproot that thicken with age. Therefore, the moister the conditions the more leafage and larger, and deeper root dandelion will surmount in its second stage of development (flowering). As a perennial, dandelion can survive for two or more winters with an occasion late winter, early spring bloom depending on the climate conditions. Despite this capability, dandelion photosynthesizes energy to buildup a storehouse of energy in the roots to support flower and growth. As a winter-tolerant plant, dandelion decreases sugar and increases alcohol content to survive the cold. This is a preventive measure that protects damage in the cells from potential freezing. When winter passes above ground dandelion leafage begins to grow rapidly using up the stored energy from the taproot. The dandelion plant generally is proportional to the root. Cultivation provides great sources of food for our local pollinators (i.e. bees!).
Dandelion has six edible parts: leaves, flower buds, upper bud stem, flowers, heart and roots. Commonly dried dandelion root is great in decoctions as tea or in tinctures as a blood purifier, mild diuretic and laxative. Roasted dandelion root is a simple way to enhance a coffee-like flavor without the caffeine from the root and enjoy in a decoction with other herbs (i.e. burdock, chicory). The root is also commonly used in vegetable broths, stir-fries, rice, pickeling recipes and mung bean porridge. Leaves can be eaten raw, sauteéd, cooked, steamed or boiled depending on preference. Fresh leaves are often found in zesty pestos paired with a variety of other fresh herbs (i.e. chickweed, chicory greens, endive greens, cilantro, parsley, etc). Dandelion heart can be eaten raw, boiled, sauteéd or baked. Flowers, buds and stems can be harvested to eat as garnishes raw, in salad and sandwiches. However, flowers must be eaten within 3 hours before wilting. Petals are enjoyed cooked, boiled, in soup, raw in salads, syrups and wine. Generally removed from the bud sprinkled on dishes. Once petals are boiled they are less flavorful and more of a leafy green taste. Buds are delicate and are best least processed, such as raw, pickled or cooked with greens.
medicinal uses of dandelion
Dandelion has a long history of being used by practitioners as a digestive aid that stimulates bile secretion, cleanse the liver out from toxins, is a blood purifier, and helps with insulin management. The root clears obstruction in the spleen, pancreas, gall bladder, and kidneys. Both the leaf and root are mild diuretics with laxative effects. In Chinese medicine the root is recognized for balancing the liver and pancreatic enzymes by stimulating digestion, assimilation and elimination. This is specific for treating hypoglycemia when combined with other herbs (i.e. ginseng, ginger, huckleberry lf). The root is considered a nutritive in its ability to decreases blood pressure and supplying minerals in treating anemia and diuretic affects by encouraging sodium elimination in the urine. The dried leaf is commonly taken in the form of tea for fluid retention, cystitis, nephritis, weight loss and hepatitis. The root and leaf offer a range of vitamins and trace minerals. Such as, the bitter leaves contain more iron and calcium than the root, but the sweeter yellow flowers contain carotenoids like lutein. The greens provide high amounts of vitamin K known to strengthen bones and potential role in fighting Alzheimer’s disease limiting neural damage in the brain. The leafy greens requirement of vitamin A (antioxidant carotenoid) is suggested to be good for the skin, mucous membranes and vision. High in inulin and pectin (soluble fibers) they tend to help satiate the body assisting weight control and optimize cholesterol levels. Also, the greens contain vitamin C, B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and manganese. Further nutrients found present include folate, phosphorus, copper, and is packed with flavonoids, such as carotene-ß, carotene-α, lutein, cryptoxanthin, and zeaxanthin. These suggest consumption of dandelion rich may help the human body protect from lung and oral cavity cancer (Vitamin C and flavonoids [carotene]), while zeaxanthin may help protect the retina from harmful UV rays. The leaves have a greater affinity for the kidneys and/or bladder as a diuretic (action that makes one pee), whereas roots focus more on the liver (detoxification increasing bile production and excretion). Unlike synthetic diuretics dandelion contains high amounts of potassium and is able to replenish itself when lost during elimination. The flowers and stalks contain a milk latex that if applied diligently several times a day over the course of two to three weeks will rid of unwanted warts. Dandelions liver-supportive properties aid digestion, relieve constipation, improve fat digestion and absorption, improve skin issues, lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and fresh roots are known to relieve allergies as a natural antihistamine. Fresh dandelion makes great additions in various edible arrangements, as dry dandelion pairs well in tea, tinctures, herbal pills or capsules or infused vinegar.
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Grove, Maria Noël. Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2016.
Kallas, John. Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2010.
Mackinnon, Pojar. Revised Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Auburn, Washington: Lone Pine Publishing, 2014.
Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs. New York, NY: Pocket Books, 1998.
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