Edible Herbs: Dandelion Wildfood and Medicine

I want to start with dandelion, ( Taraxacum Officinale)
which is my favorite because it can be found everywhere. The first sign that it’s good for you is its bitter taste. We all know the bitter the better.  I have come to view them as an amazing gift instead of a weedy curse. Our most powerful remedies are commonly found growing under our feet. My suggestion would be to only pull dandelion from an area closed off from dogs, cats don’t really mess with herbs unless it’s beneficial, they are a bit smarter. 


Identifying Dandelion: 

Dandelion is easy to misidentify. Many look-alike plants have similar leaves, but dandelion leaves are hairless. They generally have toothed edges that gave the plant its French name, “dent de lion.” Leaves and hollow flower stems grow directly from the rootstock. you can find them EVERYWHERE — pioneers infiltrating cracks in sidewalks, grassy lawns, well-tended gardens, abandoned city lots, and mountain meadows.
Soil benefits: What isn’t as well known is that it improves soil quality. Roots draw minerals up from deep layers of earth – concentrating them in the whole plant. When the plant dies back it deposits these minerals into the soil. Roots also aerate hard packed soil and create pathways for water to enter.

Nutrients: Every part of dandelion is useful. The leaves are high in vitamins and minerals including Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, and vitamins A, B and C.  Dandelion is higher in Vitamin A than any other garden plant. Roots contain inulin, mucilage, latex resin, and teraxacin.
Inulin stimulates helpful bacteria to grow. Inulin aids digestion by increasing the number of good bacteria in the gut, particularly Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. These bacteria help: fend off unwanted pathogens (bad bacteria)

Mucilage is used in medicine as it relieves irritation of mucous membranes by forming a protective film. It is known to act as a soluble, or viscous, dietary fiber that thickens the fecal mass, an example being the consumption of fiber supplements containing Psyllium seed husks.

Dandelion has several beneficial properties; it is anti-diabetic, anti-oxidative, and anti-inflammatory. In some studies, dandelion components were shown to act by inhibiting oxidative stress in liver injury, reducing high cholesterol, and reversing streptozotocin-induced diabetes. It also has anti-rheumatic, anti-carcinogenic, diuretic, laxative, hypoglycemic, and chloretic effects. 

Harvesting Dandelion :

You can harvest leaves, flowers, and roots in the proper season. In early spring leaves quickly shoot up and gather sunlight. This is when they are most tender and can be eaten fresh, cooked, or dried for tea. As the leaves age and are exposed to sunlight, they can become very bitter. To preserve leaves for tea, harvest on a dry day. Use a rubber band to bundle small bunches then hang to dry, or dry leaves in single layers in baskets. Store in a glass jar for up to a year.

Buds appear at the base of the leaves in early spring. These can be eaten fresh, cooked or pickled. Buds open into flowering heads. These are best gathered for food or medicine on sunny days when they are dry and fully open, usually in April or early May.

Root medicinal properties vary a little from season to season. In spring, they are more bitter and have optimal medicine as a digestive stimulant. In the fall, they are sweeter and higher in a carbohydrate called inulin, which is excellent for diabetics.

Eating Dandelion

Leaves – can be a gourmet green. They are most delectable in the early spring before flowering. As they are exposed to more sunlight and growth slows, they become intensely bitter. Harvest tender young leaves from the inside of the plant for the best flavor. I pick young leaves and add them to salads. While they taste a little bitter, they add flavor variety as well as dense nutrients. Dandelion leaves have three times more Calcium, Iron, and Vitamin A than spinach! Leaves can also be steamed, sautéed or boiled and then incorporated into dips, casseroles, and soups. Boiling bitter leaves in a pot of water for about 5 minutes helps to remove some of the bitter taste.

Buds – The key to eating dandelion buds is getting them early when they are still tight little buttons close to the base of the plant. I like them best when the sepals have just unfolded. I pinch off the sepals from the base of the bud because they are a little bitter. Buds can be pickled, added to sautés, soups, etc.

If you are looking for dandelion root’s anti-inflammatory and liver cooling properties I recommend eating it fresh, tincturing it or making vinegar. The dry root tea is nutritive, good for digestion and detoxifying. To dry dandelion roots, dig up in spring through fall. Wash thoroughly. With a long piece of string, wrap each root a couple times, let out 6 inches of string and wrap another root, making a long dandelion chain. Hang until completely dry or dehydrate. 

Topical Uses: Dandelion flower’s high nutrient content makes it a popular addition to facial cleansers and creams. The flower oil is used for inflammation, sore muscles, and arthritic joints. The milky white sap from the plant is used to get rid of warts.

Tincture – Only tincture the roots! It’s the easiest way to use dandelion for supporting liver health, digestion and detoxification but all tinctures contain alcohol and this is not appropriate for everyone. Vinegar can be used as a substitute. Chop cleaned fresh roots in small pieces. Place in a jar and cover with 80-100 proof vodka or brandy. Cover with a tight-fitting lid. Label, including the date. Let sit for two weeks, shaking it occasionally. Press with muslin cloth and store in a glass jar in a cool dark place. Tincture will last 7-9 years. Do not worry about the milky substance in the tincture that falls to the bottom. This is inulin, and you should just shake the tincture before you use it. Use 30-80 drops depending on usage 2-3 times a day.

Don’t want to forage on your own? Try this tea: 

Dry Dandelion Root:

Nature’s Way Dandelion Root, 1,575 MG

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