Dandelion was one of the first herbs I started to forage 10 years ago. The reason was simple I could easily identify it. Plus, I soon found out how good it is for my health. The high content of bitters is a real balm for our livers, which produces the much needed energy for us. Our diet is poor in bitterness, everything must be sweet today.
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For some unpleasant weed, which is difficult to get rid of, for others, it is a valuable herb with many benefits. For such a common weed, dandelion is easy to misidentify.
There are many look-alike plants with similar leaves, but dandelion leaves are hairless. Their typical toothed edges gave the plant its French name, “dent de lion.” Dandelion is also known as lion’s tooth, milk witch, piss-en-lit or puffball.
Leaves and stems grow directly from the rootstock. Only one flower per stem, whereas other branching look-alike plants have more than one flower per stem. Dandelion is typical for its white sap that is excluded by stem, root as well as leaves.
Its yellow ray florets are arranged as a composite
I am sure everybody tried blowing the dandelion summer seed fluff from the stems as a kid. These are almost everywhere!
You can find dandelions in any kind of habitat, from openings in deep woods to cultivated fields, from rocky hillsides to fertile gardens and lawns.
What is interesting though is that it improves soil quality. Roots aerate hard packed soil and draw minerals to the soil. Roots also create pathways for water to enter.
Safety and Precautions
Dandelion should be avoided by pregnant or nursing women and by those suffering from gallstones.
Also, people allergic to plants from Asteraceae family should avoid contact with them as well as people with a latex allergy.
What to forage?
Dandelion is a modest flower, but its effects are absolutely fabulous. All parts – the flowers, the leaves and the root can be used.
Harvest them only from places that haven’t been treated with pesticides and also avoid places near roadways or anywhere else that experience high levels of air pollution.
Is best to harvest In the late fall - when the level of probiotic starch inulin is higher and the level of fructose is lower. Winter freeze converts the inulin into fructose
Alternatively, you can forage at early spring before the plant starts to blossom - spring roots are less bitter and chewy which make them easier to eat. Spring roots also contain taraxacin that stimulates production of bile.
Search for rich soil that usually produces the thickest roots. I always use this dandelion digger to damage the root as little as possible.
Dandelion root benefits
Dandelion root contains Inulin - prebiotic starch that plays an important role in gut health. It’s an energy source for beneficial gut microbes insulin contributes to proper digestion, improving bowel function and reduction of lipids such as cholesterol in the blood. Its effects are mainly beneficial for people who have diabetes as the root stimulates the production of insulin from the pancreas and keeps blood sugar levels low.
In the old days, women used the infusion from dandelion root to wash their faces and their eyes in belief that their face will brighten and they will become more beautiful.
You can start in early spring with young buds. The timing is crucial as you need to get very young buds that don’t have a stem developed yet. They are crunchy and tasty. Buds with stems that are already formed into flowers are soft, full of fluffy petals and are not pleasant to bite into. Generally, the smallest bud will have the most delicate texture and flavour. If you manage to gather dandelion buds you can make this delicious capers that enhance any savour meal.
While there is a very short window to forage dandelion buds, you can forage their flowers when they start to bloom and finish before they turn into seeds. Pick them on a dry sunny day when the flower heads are fully opened. While yellow dandelion petals are sweet and tasty, the green base of the flowering head is bitter. You can easily pull the petals off and remove the base, especially the green sepals (they look like tiny leaves) before using them in recipes.
Benefits of dandelion flowers
They are high in polyphenols that are important in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Flowers contain 115 times more polyphenols than roots. You can prepare delicious dandelion fritters or make these dandelion cupcakes.
Heads possess great antioxidant properties
They contains luteolin that is anti-inflammatory, and may also play a role in cancer treatment and prevention.
Their flowers are emollient and moisturising. They are also great pain-relievers that make the most appropriate infused oil and salve for sore and chapped hands. Their mild analgesic properties might help with sore muscles or achy arthritic joints
Knowing the right time to harvest dandelion leaves is crucial. They can be a gourmet if collected before flowering, which is early spring. With more sunlight and slower growth they become very bitter. So to get the best flavour, harvest young tender leaves from the inside of the plant.
Benefits of dandelion greens
Dandelion leaves are very nutritious and make for an excellent source of vitamin A, B6 and C as well as calcium, magnesium, iron or potassium. They support good digestion by stimulating the flow of gastric juices, helping in the digestion of fat and increasing the excretion of bile.
Dandelion greens have a strong diuretic effect helping to drain the kidneys and bladder.
Greens in recipes
Why eat the stem?
If you want to clean the liver, kidney and gallbladder in the spring, eat 5-10 dandelions a day for 3 weeks. This simple method was recommended by the famous herbalist Maria Treben. Their stalks are also suitable for diabetics - they reduce blood sugar levels.
Dandelion milk -The fluid that flows from the stumps gives you dark spots on your skin that are hard to wash off. For centuries, however, it is recommended as a cure for warts. If you apply 2-3 times a day, the symptoms should go away.
What are your favourite things you make from dandelions?
First Published: March 16, 2018… Last Updated: May 15, 2020