Dandelions as Food and Medicine

Ah, the humble and tenacious dandelion. How city dwellers hate it, engaging in futile yearly battles to eradicate it from their lawns and seemingly every crack in the pavement. They’re conditioned to as many municipal bylaws have rules against weedy yards and nosey neighbors are often all too keen to call in the bylaw officer if they think your yard doesn’t meet the “standard” of the neighborhood. There is no bylaw officer in my small town to enforce the rules, so I let my dandelions grow!  When I bought my house, the previous caretaker didn’t apologize for the dandelions, he simply shrugged and said “I see wine, not weeds”. When I visit the local farmers’ markets in my rural area the grannies have dandelion flower syrup and jelly proudly displayed on their tables. It’s rural wisdom, don’t fight your weeds — eat them!

It’s going to take a lot of work and education to help our local governments and neighbours see dandelions as beneficial rather than evil, but it’s necessary as dandelions are important to both bees and humans alike. Put away the poisonous roundup! Dandelion flowers are one of the first sources of pollen and nectar for bees in early spring and one of their last sources in late fall. Let the bees have their way with the saffron yellow flowers before you mow your lawn in the spring as dandelion honey is dark, rich, and delectable. Whether the bees are from your neighbor’s urban honey bee hive or are wild, we need those pollinators to thrive so we can enjoy productive gardens, parks, and wild green spaces. Maybe those yellow flowers aren’t ugly at all, maybe they are actually beautiful, especially when contrasted against bright blue bells and tiny white lawn daisies in the spring.

Dandelions are endlessly useful to us humans as food and medicine. Every single part of the dandelion is useful in some way. The whole fresh flowers can be battered and fried as fritters, drizzled with honey or dipped in garlic mayo. The fresh petals can be turned into syrup and jelly or baked into cakes and muffins. The dried flowers can be added to tea blends for a pop of bright yellow. The fresh spring leaves are less bitter than the rest of the year and can be added to salads, sauteed as greens, cooked into quiches and omelettes, added to soups, stews, and stir fries – pretty much any recipe you’d put kale, spinach, or arugula in. The dried leaves can be taken as a medicinal tea. The peeled fresh roots can be cooked and eaten as a wild vegetable, but are best grated or slow cooked in soups and stews to soften them. The dried roots make a great medicinal tea or tincture and the dried and roasted roots make a tasty caramel-tasting coffee and tea substitute and are also commonly used to flavour candies, sodas, and other sweet confections — often paired with burdock root.

Internally, dandelion is found in folk remedies for scurvy and eczema, but the test of time has shown it shines as a daily tonic tea. As dandelion is a safe herb for pregnant women, it can be a comforting remedy for the swelling caused by edema, sluggish digestion (since the baby has crammed all your organs up in your rib cage), constipation, and combating fatigue.

The whole fresh plant from root to yellow flower can be washed and tinctured in alcohol to fully capture its vitamins and minerals (vitamins A, C, D, B complex, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, thiamine, riboflavin, beta-carotene, polysaccharides, tannins, inulin sugars, fibre…) and its ability to stimulate healthy liver and kidney function as well as digestion.

DANDELION FORAGING TIPS

Dandelions do have look-a-likes and some are poisonous, so be sure of your identification skills before you head out to go harvesting! You are looking for Taraxacum officinale with its succulent, hollow stems that bleed milky white latex, dark to bright green toothed leaves that can vary from small to gigantic (depending on growing conditions), and thick roots with brown skin, white inside, and that also bleed latex profusely. A good look at photos in a field guide or on Google images will help with identification if you aren’t feeling confident.

When harvesting, keep away from chemically sprayed lawns and road sides and yards or parks with dogs who pee everywhere. Learn how to tell if plants have been sprayed. If you’re not sure, don’t harvest. Dandelions love sun and loose, moist soil. Dandelions grow where people live and are not so common in the wild. You can find them along paths, road sides, suburban yards, parks, and the disturbed soil of agricultural areas. They grow more profusely in recently disturbed soil than they will in hard packed soil and will be easier to dig for the roots if they are in loose soil. If the soil is too hard and the roots are breaking, try watering around the plant to loosen the soil before digging. You want to look for dandelions in untouched corners, fields, and open sunny areas where dog walkers and cars don’t often venture. There are enough unsprayed dandelions between my yard and my parents farm that I haven’t yet had to venture elsewhere.

The other option is to grow your own! It seems a bit crazy, but yes, you can buy dandelion seeds. Just make sure you don’t have restricting municipal bylaws or find a good spot to hide them in your yard away from nosey tattle tales. Richter’s Herbs in Ontario sells untreated wild dandelion seeds and a cultivated French variety prized for its edible leaves. On the Pacific Coast, West Coast Seeds is a great source for organic, untreated dandelion seeds.

EDIBLE RECIPE ROUND UP

Dandelion flower petals are a pain to harvest for cooking with as you have to process them as soon as they are picked and then painstakingly remove the petals from the bitter green base to make truly delicious items with them, but it’s worth it! The flowers can’t be stored in the fridge until you are ready, so plan ahead and book a whole day dedicated to harvesting and cooking with the petals. Wear rubber/latex gloves (easily found at a pharmacy) or you will have yellow hands for a week! Depending on the amount of petals you end up with, you can make dandelion lemonade, dandelion wine, dandelion syrup, dandelion jelly, or baked goods like shortbread cookies, muffins, cakes…

Dandelion flower fritters are a tasty start to cooking with dandelions and are fun to make with kids. They can be made sweet and drizzled with honey or made savoury and dipped in a homemade garlic-herb mayo. Respected herbalist Rosalee de la Forêt has great foraging instructions and one of the best dandelion flower fritter recipes I’ve found over at Learning Herbs. The next best fritter recipe I’ve found is not surprisingly from Martha Stewart. If you’re like me and can’t have corn, try this equally delicious recipe from Gather Victoria.

There’s no such thing as too many fritter recipes. If Indian food is your jam, try these Dandelion Bhajis and Wild Garlic Raita from Taste of the Wild or add a good amount of chopped dandelion greens to a good pakora recipe like this one from Mint Green Apron: Garden Greens Pakoras.

Dandelion greens are always at hand to cook with, but will be the least bitter in the spring. One of the most basic ways to enjoy them is to sautee them with onion, garlic, and bacon and finish them with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. They make a great side dish for dinner. The other simplest way to utilize them is in egg recipes. I like to sautee them with mushrooms, garlic, and bacon and add them to a baked omelette or breakfast hash with potatoes and a fried egg, but this mini crustless quiche recipe from Danielle of Gather is also delicious: Dandelion & Calendula Breakfast Egg Cups. Also, do I need to say it? Make pesto! What about the stems? Yes, you can eat them too! Here’s a tempting recipe for Fermented Dandelion Stems that any foodie would appreciate.

BAKED MUSHROOMS STUFFED WITH DANDELION GREENS

2 dozen button mushroom caps, remove stems and dice just the stems
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
5 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped
1 big bunch of dandelion greens, washed and chopped
1 small log of goat cheese
Olive oil
1/2 cup shredded aged white cheddar
Salt and pepper to taste

Sautee the onions in the remaining bacon fat until they are translucent and then add the diced mushroom stems, garlic and dandelion greens. Cook until the greens wilt (they will reduce significantly in size like cooking spinach so chop more greens than you think you’ll need). Put the mixture in a bowl and add the chopped bacon and the goat cheese. Mix until well combined.

Rub olive oil on each mushroom cap and place on a baking sheet. Using a spoon, stuff the goat cheese and dandelion mixture into the cavity of each mushroom. Overfill if you need to. Sprinkle a little grated aged cheddar on top of each one and place in the oven preheated to 375 F for 20 minutes, or until the mushrooms are fully cooked. Cool for 10 minutes and devour!

Dandelion roots are useful for more than just tea and tinctures! You can eat them like carrots, but keep in mind they can get woody if too old so stick to harvesting 1-3 year old roots for eating as a root vegetable. They aren’t as woody as burdock root which makes them more enjoyable. Here are good instructions from Food Storage & Survival on how to harvest, clean, and cook dandelion roots as a vegetable. Once you’ve got the skins off, you can use them as you would any root vegetable; served with just butter and salt or turned into fritters, latkes, gratins, added to soups and stews, or mashed and mixed with other veggies. You can be sweet too! Here’s a clever, chocolaty recipe using the whole processed dandelion roots to make brownies: Dandelion Root Fudge Brownies with Dark Chocolate Chips.

Roasted dandelion roots are made using the dried root and so can be made with your own wild harvested roots or from store bought dried roots that have already been cut and sifted into small pieces. It’s a good medicinal tea as a diuretic, but also a tasty coffee or tea substitute. I can’t have caffeine so I rely on roasted dandelion root as a tea staple. I use it as the base for chai, for summer iced teas, as an early grey clone with fresh ginger and lemon slices, and for a treat I will steep it for 15-20 minutes with a crushed cinnamon stick and a few cardamon pods and then add milk and honey. As a general rule, steep your herbal teas for 15-30 minutes for full flavour as the 3-5 minutes for green and black tea will simply not cut it! Roasted dandelion root pairs amazingly well with fresh rose petals so when they are in season I make roasted dandelion root and rose petal tea and again serve it with milk and honey.

If all these recipes aren’t enough for you, Butter of the excellent Hunger and Thirst blog has endless tempting ideas such as dandelion pizza, dandelion bloody mary‘s with sumac berries and evening primrose root, dandelion green soup with garlic and parmesan, roasted dandelion root meat rubdandelion bud capers, and then an even more exhaustive list in her Dandelion-themed Wild Things in April Round Up of recipes.

DANDELION MEDICINE ROUND UP

With the leaves and the roots being potently medicinal, dandelion can be made into a good variety of herbal medicines and also eaten as food for its medicinal benefits. For full overviews of the many uses and benefits of dandelion within herbal medicine see Wellness Mama’s article on Dandelion Uses & Benefits and for an overview written by a medical practitioner complete with precautions and possible interactions with other medicines see the Dandelion Monograph by The University of Maryland Medical Center.

Simple medicinal food recipes to make include Dandelion Root Infused Honey and Dandelion Vinegar.

When it comes to DIY herbal medicine, Agatha over at The Herbal Academy teaches us How to Use Dandelion Greens for a Healthy Liver, Learning Herbs teaches How to Harvest Dandelion Root and Make Roasted Dandelion Tea at home, Kathleen Roberts shows us how to properly use dried Dandelion Greens for Tea, and Nelle from Mama’s Homestead gives instructions for making herbal tea from fresh or dried dandelion greens as well as fresh dandelion flowers. You can use dandelion externally too! The Nerdy Farm Wife has a good recipe for Dandelion Salve and Herbalist Lisa Rose recommends a Dandelion Flower Massage Oil.

For alcohol extract instructions Colleen from the great Grow Forage Cook Ferment blog shares a great and simple recipe for Dandelion Root Bitters, Herbs & Owls teaches How to Make Fresh Dandelion Tincture with the whole plant (you can include the flowers too!), and Mountain Momma Stephanie shares her Fresh Dandelion Root Tincture recipe.

Written by herbalist and forager Sarah Lawless

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