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The Benefits of Dandelion Greens

Free, nutritious and delicious dandelion greens offer a slew of heath and culinary benefits.

| March/April 2013

  • Steamed dandelion greens are delicious on their own with olive oil, lemon juice and salt, and they make an excellent addition to soups, pastas, egg dishes and more.
    Photo By iStock

If I told you that you had dollar bills sprouting furiously from your lawn, how long would it take you to harvest them? Most of us would be out the door in an instant. Well, the “cash crop” in question isn’t really cash, but dandelions. This weed is as good as money because it offers something most of us spend good money on: nutritious food and medicine.

Wandering Weed

The first mention of dandelions as medicine dates to medieval Persian writings that refer to the plant by its Latin name, Taraxacum. The English name evolved later from the French dent de lion, meaning “lion’s tooth,” referring to its jagged-toothed leaves. The French now use the word pissenlit, meaning “wet the bed,” a reference to its diuretic quality. The Latin officinale was later tacked on to denote the plant’s health virtues.

From its humble beginnings, the dandelion has gone on to become one of the world’s most successful plants. Part of this is due to its prolific nature. A single plant can produce more than 5,000 seeds—all perfectly engineered to take flight on the slightest breeze. But dandelion’s expansion is also because traditional cultures recognized it as useful and took its seeds in their travels. Over the course of history, one of its primary medicinal uses has been as a spring tonic. Early American settlers used all parts of the plant, believing they could stimulate digestion, purify blood, cure scurvy, combat rheumatism and repel kidney stones.

A Clean Start

Recent studies lend scientific credibility to many of these beliefs. Dandelion leaves owe their bitterness to organic compounds known as sesquiterpene lactones, which have been demonstrated to have diuretic and cleansing effects. Herbalists swear by these compounds’ ability to isolate toxins in the body and flush them out. Dandelions also pack a punch in terms of vitamins and minerals, with more vitamin A than spinach and significant amounts of potassium.

Settlers used the roots, leaves and flowers in teas, tinctures, soups, salads, stews and wines not just for their health effects but also their culinary benefits. We’ve grown used to eating foods regardless of the season or origin, but our ancestors ate what their local forests, soils, waters and climate offered them. Dandelions’ bitter taste provided earlier civilizations a refreshing change after a winter’s worth of smoked meats and dried beans. Foraging for them also got their bodies outside and moving after months spent indoors hunched close to a fire. While much has changed since then, there’s still a good case to be made for dandelions. Despite the availability of every kind of food year-round, winter can often be a time of heavy, rich foods. Come spring, our bodies and our whole diet could use a good cleaning, and dandelion greens are an easy way to start.

Harvesting Dandelion Greens

The easiest place for most of us to harvest dandelion greens is from our own yards, where we know they are free of chemicals. If you’re harvesting greens from a public place, make sure to research the location so you’re certain it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Start by calling your city and asking about pesticide spraying policies, and reach out to your local extension agent. You can also often find dandelion greens for sale in your local farmers’ market, grocery or health-food store.

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