Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion is a perennial herb that some people consider a nuisance weed. It can be found growing on disturbed and cultivated ground in most parts of the country. It's usually our first hint that Spring is on it's way. Dandelions can be identified by a rosette of backward pointing sharply toothed leaves that exuded a bitter sticky sap when torn. It has a thick taproot that also produces a sticky sap.Dandelion flowers have many petals and grow with a single flower per hollow flower stalk. There is another plant that looks very similar to Dandelion, but it has yellow flowers in a cluster on a single stalk. Always make sure the Dandelion you are collecting has just one flower per stalk. Dandelion blooms from April to November in most of the country. The bright yellow flowers turn into the puffballs full of seeds that we all love to blow into the wind. If you would like to have a formal planting of Dandelion simply collect the puffballs of seeds, rub them in your hands to release the seeds and spread over the surface of the soil. Tamp the seeds down in the soil to ensure good contact and water well. When collecting Dandelions from the wild be sure to only use plants that are not in high traffic areas and have not been sprayed with chemicals.
The entire Dandelion plant is edible. Young leaves can be added to salads raw. To remove any bitter taste soak the leaves in salt water for thirty minutes, drain and rinse. Plants growing in the sun will be more likely to be bitter than those growing in the shade. Dandelion greens are high in Vitamin A (7000 units per ounce), Vitamins C, B-Complex, E, Iron, Potassium and Calcium. Older leaves will be more bitter and can be used as cooked greens by removing the mid-veins of the leaves and boiling in two changes of water. Combining Dandelion with other cooking greens is another way to reduce the bitter taste. However, cooking Dandelion greens will reduce the vitamin and mineral content, so it is more beneficial to eat the young leaves raw. Dandelion root can be dug in the spring or fall. When peeled, sliced and cooked in two changes of water with a bit of baking soda, Dandelion root is a fine cooked vegetable similar to parsnips. The root can also be eaten raw in salads. When diced, dried and slow roasted till brown the root can be ground to make a healthy coffee substitute. The bright yellow flower petals can be used to make a beautiful light wine or cordial. Dandelion oil can be made by adding flower petals to organic olive oil or sunflower oil. After soaking for four to six weeks the flowers are strained out to leave a fine oil for drizzling over greens or salads. It can also be used externally on sore stiff joints to help ease discomfort.The flower petals are also good added to salads or baked goods.
Medicinally, Dandelion leaf and root teas have been known for generations as "the" spring tonic. It is a mild laxative that tones the whole body as it stimulates the digestion, lowers cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. It is very beneficial to the female reproductive system. In sixteenth century Germany the roots were used as a mild sedative. Dandelion root tea has been used to treat liver, gallbladder, urinary tract and digestive issues. It is one of the safest and most effective diuretics (increases urine output and reduces water weight). As it cleanses toxins from the body Dandelion root is also good for clearing skin conditions. Studies are showing that a tincture of Dandelion root can be helpful in the treatment of certain cancers. The milky sap is said to kill warts when applied several times a day for a week to ten days.
So when you see Dandelions popping up in your yard this spring don't grab the herbicide. Greet these powerhouses with a basket and the respect they deserve.
Prairie Dawn Herbs also offers Dandelion root tincture and Dandelion Oil in case you don't have time to make your own.