The dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is an abundant “weed” plant that also happens to be edible. In fact, nearly the entire plant can be consumed in one way or another. The only inedible part is the stem, which contains a very bitter, milky substance.
The dandelion is a cosmopolitan weed belonging to the Compositae family, which has historically been used for the treatment of several diseases. For this purpose, either the roots or leaves are used, involving different methods of preparation. Medical uses of dandelion throughout history strictly depended on its distribution related to human settlements. Consequently, mankind learned to use this plant to treat many disorders. Nowadays, most of the therapeutic virtues of dandelion, especially those related to inflammatory diseases, have been confirmed with scientific pharmacological evidence. In this chapter, dandelion botany, and ethnobotany, along with its pharmacological properties, which have emerged from preclinical studies, are briefly presented.
Things You Might Not Know About Dandelions
Whether you love them or hate them, dandelions are among the most familiar plants in the world. They’re one species that just about anyone can identify at a glance, as familiar to humans as the dog. Dandelions are, quite possibly, the most successful plants that exist, masters of survival worldwide.
Before the invention of lawns, people praised the golden blossoms and lion-toothed leaves as a bounty of food, medicine, and magic. Gardeners often weeded out the grass to make room for the dandelions. But somewhere in the twentieth century, humans decided that the dandelion was a weed. Nowadays, they’re also the most unpopular plant in the neighborhood – but it wasn’t always that way.
To show the benefits of the once-beloved plant, here are 10 ten things you might not know about dandelions.
1. Dandelions have deep roots in history throughout the ages. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans enjoyed the flower, and they have been used in Chinese traditional medicine for over a thousand years. Dandelions probably arrived in North America on the Mayflower – not as stowaways but brought on purpose for their medicinal benefits.
2. Dandelions were world-famous for their beauty. They were a common and beloved garden flower in Europe and the subject of many poems. In the terrifying New World, the cheerful face of the dandelion was a sweet reminder of home. In Japan, for instance, whole horticultural societies formed to enjoy the beauty of dandelions and to develop exciting new varieties for gardeners.
3. Dandelions are a green and growing first aid kit. The use of dandelions in the healing arts goes so far back that tracing its history is like trying to catch a dandelion seed as it floats over the grass. For millenniums, people have been using dandelion tonics to help the body’s liver remove toxins from the bloodstream. In olden times, dandelions were also prescribed for every ailment, from warts to the plague. To this day, herbalists hail the dandelion as the perfect plant medicine: It is a gentle diuretic that provides nutrients and helps the digestive system function at peak efficiency.
4. Dandelions are more nutritious than most of the vegetables in your garden. They were named after lions because their lion-toothed leaves healed so many ailments, great and small: baldness, dandruff, toothache, sores, fevers, rotting gums, weakness, lethargy, and depression. But it wasn’t until the twentieth century was the underlying cause of many of these symptoms realized: vitamin deficiencies. In eras when vitamin pills were unknown, vitamin deficiencies killed millions. In its time, “scurvy” was as dreaded a word as AIDS is today. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveal how dandelions probably helped alleviate many ailments: They have more vitamin A than spinach, more vitamin C than tomatoes, and are a powerhouse of iron, calcium, and potassium.
5. Dandelions are good for your lawn. Their wide-spreading roots loosen hard-packed soil, aerate the earth, and help reduce erosion. The deep taproot pulls nutrients such as calcium from deep in the soil and makes them available to other plants. While most think they’re a lawn killer, dandelions fertilize the grass.
6. Dandelions are masters of survival. They can take root in places that seem a little short of miraculous, and then are impossible to get rid of, as homeowners have found. But why is this plant so hard to kill? It’s because they are fast growers. The sunny yellow flowers go from bud to seed in days. Their lifespan is long, too – an individual plant can live for years, so the dandelion lurking in a corner of the playground might be older than the children running past it. The roots sink in deeper over the years and can go down 15 feet. Like the Hydra who sprouted two new heads for everyone that was cut off, the roots clone when divided; a one-inch bit of dandelion root can grow a whole new dandelion. Dandelion leaves can shove their way through gravel and cement and thrive in barren habitats.
7. Dandelions are among the most expensive items in the grocery store. Shops sell dried roots as a no-caffeine coffee substitute – for $31.75 a pound. Dandelions out-price prime rib, swordfish, and lobster. They also appear in produce and other sections, and even at the liquor store. You can enjoy a complete meal, from salad greens to dandelion quiche, followed by dandelion ice cream, washed down with dandelion wine. If you over-indulge, a cup of dandelion tea is the perfect remedy since dandelions help the liver flush hangover-inducing toxins from the body.
8. What happens when you eat a dandelion flower? Dandelions are rich in potassium, giving them a strong diuretic quality as well as making them an excellent blood detoxifier. Dandelions are noted for their ability to stabilize blood sugar, making them an excellent supplement for diabetics.
9. Dandelions require sun and disturbed soil to thrive. That’s why they seem to “look for” human activities: roadsides, construction sites, parking lots – and lawns. Having escaped the herb gardens a few decades ago, they now seem to be on a quest to get back into the yards they once abandoned.
10. Dandelion makes the only flower representing three celestial bodies during different phases of its life cycle – sun, moon, stars. The yellow flower of the plant resembles the sun, the dispersing seeds of the plant resemble stars, and the puff ball of dandelion plant resembles the moon.
11. With their golden flowers in the early spring, dandelions represent the return of life, the rebirth of growth and green after a harsh winter, and a display of abundant strength and power
Dandelions probably will never be eradicated, but we can learn to be more at ease with dandelions and other wild things – and maybe even to love them a little.
Dandelions in Kitchen
Dandelion leaves can be eaten raw but are best when they are fresh and young. As they age, the leaves get increasingly bitter. But they are still edible, particularly if you blanch them before using them in your recipe.
To remove the blossoms from the flower heads, just hold the green calyx in your fingers and pinch the yellow blossoms off with a small twist or snap. Dandelion greens are also edible. The best time to harvest the leaves is when they are still young and tender, before the plant begins to flower.
Possible Side Effects
Do not take dandelion without medical advice if you are using any of the following medications: lithium; an antibiotic, such as Cipro, Levaquin, Avelox, Noroxin, and others; a blood thinner or medicine to treat or prevent blood clots; a diuretic or “water pill”; heart or blood pressure medication; or a sedative such as Valium. This list is not complete. Other drugs may interact with dandelion, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products. Not all possible interactions are listed in this product guide.
12+ Things to Make With Dandelion Flowers
Learn how to use dandelion flowers to make useful things such as: salve, soap, dandelion jelly, and more from The Nerdy Farm Wife.