The Benefits of Dandelions: From Cultivation to Cooking

Once an unsightly weed, this herb has many health and culinary applications. Find out how to make the most out of dandelion greens, roots and blossoms.

  • Dandelions may seem like a pesky weed, but the greens and roots are high in nutritional value.
    Photo by Fotolia

Dandelion root is an herb in serious need of an image makeover. Cursed by those in search of perfect lawns, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is frequently viewed as a pest. I prefer to let these resilient and prevalent flowers grow. That’s because, in addition to dandelion’s excellent nutritional benefits, it has scientifically proven medicinal properties and an extensive history of use. Dandelion is increasingly being shown in research to help fight cancer, prevent osteoporosis, treat Alzheimer’s disease and much more.

A Brief History of Dandelion

An Arabian doctor first recorded dandelion’s curative properties in the 10th century. Dandelion was once called “piddle bed” because of its ability to increase urine flow. The French call it a similar name: pissenlit. For those who don’t speak French, en lit means “in bed.” I’ll leave you to figure out the rest.

As far back as 1880, studies have shown that dandelion is an effective treatment for hepatitis and swelling of the liver. Another German study proved that dandelion root improved jaundice and reduced gallstones. Newer research shows that dandelion root protects the liver against some harmful toxins, such as the carbon tetrachloride that is used in cleaning products and building materials.

Growing Dandelion

I probably don’t have to give you any advice on how to grow dandelion, other than to stop using pesticides if you’re using them, and to cut your grass less often. By cutting your grass less frequently you’ll increase the likelihood that the yellow dandelion flowers will go to seed (the puff-ball type heads). When that happens the wind blows them and helps ensure they increase in numbers in your yard.

Harvesting and Using Dandelion

Due to potential pesticides and pollutants, I only recommend harvesting dandelion from your lawn if you live away from high traffic areas and are certain the lawn hasn’t been sprayed in several years. If that rules out eating dandelions from your yard, you can likely find the greens at farmers markets.

Dandelion greens taste best when using the small, young leaves—note that these leaves show up before the telltale flowers. By the time the yellow flowers have arrived, the leaves are large and bitter. Dandelion greens can be added raw to salads or sautéed with a little garlic and oil. Alternatively, they can be hung upside down until the leaves are dry and then stored for up to a year for use in tea.

5/9/2019 6:19:12 PM

NOT approved by the FDA, because that would take away from the multi trillion dollar money machine that is our government. But I digress. THANK YOU for the knowledge!

2/21/2016 5:42:32 PM

I came across an interesting research program involving Dandelions and cancer research. I do know dandelion greens are my first Spring salad and the flower heads dipped in a light beer batter make for a tasty treat. The flowers provide food for the early pollinators. They make a great jelly and a strong wine. I have never understood why people try to eradicate them. Dandelions are amazing.

2/19/2016 11:00:46 AM

It should be remembered that energetically dandelions are quite cold, a function of their bitter taste. The leaves are colder than the root. Practically speaking that means that people who feel cold often, who have to put on sweaters before other people and who prefer hot drinks should probably find a different vegetable or serve them with warming spices.

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