As I start to explore the world of wild edibles, our common dandelion is the perfect place to start. Spring has come upon us quickly and dandelions are starting to make their appearance in yards, fields and sidewalk cracks, whether they are welcomed or not. They are plentiful and familiar – these ‘weeds’ likely make an appearance in many childhood memories. Dandelion is a nutritious food and herbalists refer to it as a powerful medicine with an especially important role in women’s health.
Therapeutic Qualities of Dandelions
Leaves– Dandelion leaves are a source of vitamins and minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamins A, B and C. The leaves of the dandelion have been used by herbalists as a diuretic to help the body eliminate excess water through the kidneys.
Root – Dandelion root is used by herbalists to help support the liver and kidneys in ridding the body of waste products, including dietary toxins, drugs, synthetic hormones and metabolic byproducts. Herbalists also use dandelion root for treating allergies, hay fever, gout, PMS, arthritis, hives, acne, and psoriasis. The roots are high in a compound called inulin, a fibre and potent prebiotic food which helps feed our friendly gut bacteria and can help stabilize sugar levels. See my post Five Ways To A Health Gut – Prebiotics, Probiotics and Fermentation.
Using Dandelion as Food
Leaves – The leaves are best in early spring, as they can become more bitter with longer exposure to the sun. They can be added fresh to salads, or try steaming, sauteing or boiling them. Gather Victoria featured this Dandelion and Calendula Egg Cup, and their Chocolate Dandelion Root Energy Bites are amazing.
Flowers – The flowers contain Vitamin A and offer a sweet and mild flavour and are a great addition to salads, fritters or pancakes. Don’t try and cook with the green base of the flower head which can be bitter.
Dandelions For Women’s Health
The root is said to help break down excess and synthetic estrogens which can accumulate in the body and wreak havoc on a women’s health. Hormone imbalances are linked to mood disorders, infertility, and acne, amongst other things. Herbalists may employ dandelion root to help break down excess estrogen. Where does excess estrogen come from? Synthetic estrogen in birth control pills, estrogen-like compounds in foods that contain toxic pesticides, herbicides, and growth hormones, and in our environment including BPA (see post BPA Health and Environmental Concerns).
How to Identify Dandelion
There are many plant lookalikes which have similar leaves, but luckily no poisonous lookalikes exist locally. If you are trying to identify the edible leaves before the flowers are in bloom know that dandelion leaves are hairless, and their toothed edges will always point towards to base of the stem, unlike their lookalikes (note the French name, “dent de lion” or lion’s tooth). There is only one flower per stem, and all leaves form at the base of the stem and spread out like a petal of roses.
How To Preserve Dandelion
Leaves – Dandelion leaf tea can be a gentle medicine if had in small doses (see contraindications below). To preserve the leaves for tea to use as medicine throughout the year, harvest on a dry spring day. Use a rubber band or string to bundle small bunches of leaves together to dry. Once the leaves are completely dry you can store in a glass jar for up to a year. Use 1 tsp per cup of boiled water and drink 2-3 cups per day.
Root – Harvest the roots in the spring through until fall. Wash them well, ridding them of as much dirt as possible. Dry the dandelion root whole by hang drying or in a dehydrator. Some people prefer to chop the roots with scissors prior to drying, to ensure nice and even drying time. Once they are dry, cut into small pieces and store in a glass jar.
Harvesting Safely and Medication Interactions
Do not harvest dandelions near roadsides, agricultural areas or places that have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Before harvesting dandelion, make sure you go with someone who can correctly identify the plant. Dandelion extracts may interact with some medications including diabetes medication, anticoagulation medications, lithium, antibiotics and diuretics. Speak with your doctor or health care professional before starting any herbal medicine.
Dandelion Root Latte Recipe
You can purchase roasted dandelion root from many health food or herbal stores. Roasting the dandelion root increases the sweetness of the root, and lends to a bitter – sweet coffee-like flavour. To roast your own place chopped dried roots on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 30 minutes at 200 Fahrenheit. You will know they are done with the are golden brown and smell sweet.
To make a Dandelion Root Latte place 1 tsp of roasted dandelion root per cup of cold water in a pot and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and let simmer for 5-10 minutes with the pot covered. Strain and serve with warm milk and honey.
Dandelion Vinegar Recipe
Use fresh spring dandelion leaves and root. Clean well and chop or tear into small pieces. Place in a clean glass jar and pack down. Cover with apple cider vinegar and cover tightly with a lid. Place in a dark place and shake the mixture every few days. After 2 weeks, strain out the vinegar – label and keep refrigerated for about 1 year. Use in salad dressings or any other way you would use vinegar.
This article was written by me for Aboriginal Healthy Living Activities run by ISPARC and SportMedBC.
Natural Medicines and Therapeutic Database