Most of us are familiar with the dandelion as that stubborn plant that, no matter how often you weed your yard, persists to hang around. Let’s not give it a bad rap just yet, though—the dandelion has more than enough good qualities to make up for a bad first impression.
Taraxacum officinale, also known as the lion’s tooth, the priest’s crown, or simply dandelion, grows readily throughout the northern hemisphere. It is speculated to have originated in Europe and Asia, but the jury’s still out on that. Suffice it to say, the dandelion has become very common throughout North America due to its ability to succeed in most soils. It is easily identifiable by its thick brown roots, its long leaves that lay close to the ground, and a purple stalk leading to a single, golden-yellow flower.
The classic dandelion flower.
Photo by Sara Bjork/Courtesy Flickr
The dandelion has long been used as an herb for its medicinal properties. This edible plant is rich in vitamins and minerals, especially in vitamin A. It can be applied externally or taken internally to address a number of health problems, most prominently kidney disorders, liver dysfunction and mild digestive problems. Preparing a root infusion or a tonic often aids in strengthening the kidneys and eliminating toxins from the body. The dandelion is also helpful with its powerful diuretic properties, flushing the system without depleting potassium levels.
Fresh juice from the stalk has been used as an antibacterial agent, to help heal topical wounds or scratches. Latex found in the plant sap has been used in the removal of corns and warts throughout history. For those of us looking for beauty aids, a skin lotion can be prepared by distilling the bases of the leaf blades in water. This concoction clears the skin and effectively fades freckles.
If you’re anxious to eat some fresh fruit that hasn’t quite ripened yet, dandelions can help there, too. The flowers and leaves from the plant, when placed in a bag with unripe fruit, release ethylene gas to quickly ripen the fruit. Some other quirky uses of the plant include the dark red dye that can be made from dandelion extractions, as well as a nutritious plant food that can be taken from the roots and leaves.
Dandelion stems and leaves make a healthy salad.
Photo by SomeDriftwood/Courtesy Flickr
Now that I’ve won you over with the benefits of the dandelion, here are the most common ways to prepare it. The flowers and young leaves (I wouldn’t recommend using older leaves—they tend to be bitter) can be eaten raw in a fresh salad. The whole plant is often dried to make capsules or extracts. The roots, in particular, can be dried and used to make tea or a coffee substitute. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can make herbal wine from the fermented flowers.
What do you think? Have you had any experiences with dandelions in cooking or medicinally? Leave me a comment to share!