If you are like most people, you are in one of two camps when it comes to dandelions. There are the folks who absolutely love and treasure them, and there are the folks who see them as a nuisance “weed” and want nothing to do with them. As the title clearly implies, I belong to the “love them” camp. Out here in Montana, it has finally warmed up enough that our dandelions are starting to come on strong now. There have been hints of them for the last month or so, but this last week, they really went crazy. I suppose this is exactly why some folks look at them as a mere weed. One of my friends once said to me “a weed is just a plant that we haven’t found its use for yet”, and that resonated with me. I have recently taken an interest in foraging, and one thing that has not escaped me, is that all of these edible and medicinal plants that I am seeking, often fall into the category that most would consider a weed. I looked up the definition of weed this week, and what I found is that it is simply a plant that is growing where we don’t want it, and often it’s vigorous growth competes with cultivated plants, making it “undesirable”. I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the blessing of dandelions all week long, and I really want to share some of the reasons that I love them with you.
Aside from being one of the very earliest signs of Spring, and a bright pop of color while everything else is starting to come to back to life, they are incredibly nutritious, the entire plant is edible, and they are good for your soil and ecosystem biodiversity.
Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) is a hardy perennial herb found all over the world. It has so many health benefits that it is hard to fit it all in to one short blog post. One could write a book about them alone. Every part of the Dandelion is edible, and each part contains a plethora of healthy reasons to love them. A quick internet search will bring up a ton of articles with lists of impressive reasons to consume dandelions. They are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants protect against free radicals. Beta Carotene is one antioxidant that they are high in, which also helps promote vision health. Dandelions flowers are also quite high in polyphenols, another antioxidant. They are an excellent diuretic, so excellent in fact, that some people know them as “piss-the-bed”. Because of these diuretic properties, they can also be quite helpful to aid in weightloss. They are an excellent detoxifier, and are also used to help with liver function and detoxification. Dandelions are useful in aiding digestion, bile secretion, relief of constipation, stomach ulcers, and can also help with anemia. The root contains a soluble fiber called Inulin, which is effective at promoting healthy bacterial flora in the intestine. They are extremely useful against inflammation and joint stiffness as well. It is believed that properties of the dandelion could prove quite useful in treating type 2 diabetes by helping to regulate blood sugar, as well as helping to regulate high blood pressure and cholesterol. It is also possible that the diuretic properties of the dandelion, as well as the high Potassium content aid in the reduction of high blood pressure. If you are a nerd like me, you can read all about the impressive studies regarding dandelions application in Diabetes Treatment in this article, published by the National Library of Medicine. They are high in Chicoric and Chlorogenic acids, which may help reduce blood sugar, by improving secretion of insulin and absorption of glucose. Dandelions are highly nutritious from the flower to the root, and are excellent for the immune system. They are loaded with Vitamins A, C, and K, and are also good sources of vitamin E, Folate, and small amounts of Vitamin B. They are high in minerals, most notably, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Zinc, Boron, and Potassium. There are some studies that show they may be useful in treating and preventing cancer and HIV. Dandelions can help to remove excess heat from the body. They promote strong bones and have many applications in skincare and wound healing as well. The vitamin A, beta-carotene, and other Retinoid Activity Equivalents make dandelions an excellent choice to support vision health as well.
Dandelions are so much better for us than many of the things that we call food, purchase from the store, and joyfully stuff in our faces. They are greatly taken for granted. They are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fats and fatty acids, phytochemicals and healthy fiber (inulin). One article, at mofga.org that I found very interesting was full of obscure details that the others didn’t really cover as much. I really enjoyed this article because it was distinctly different that the rest of the articles I read, and found some of the facts fascinating. One detail that really stood out to me was the cost of dandelion roots in the grocery store. Dandelion root tea can make an excellent substitute for coffee. The article quoted a price of $31.75 a lb, in 2007, which is more than even some of the choicest cuts of meat per lb. It is no wonder that the dandelion has a rich history as an edible and medicinal wild herb.
So, how does one use all this dandelion? The applications of dandelion are as wide and varied as its beneficial properties. It can be consumed, both raw and cooked. It is often used to make tea or as a jelly. Raw dandelion can be pretty bitter, but can be hidden in things like smoothies and mixed salad greens. The roots are often roasted before being used for tea, to enhance the flavor. It can be used in salves and lotions and applied topically, or even dried, powdered, and added to a gelatin capsule to create a supplement. However you want to use dandelion, the internet is full of recipes and suggestions for cooking and creating with them, and a quick search will yield plenty to choose from to meet your needs.
Dandelions are also an excellent food source for livestock, wildlife, and insects. They are one of the very first sources of both nectar and pollen for the bees. I have recently seen several people talking about how dandelions being processed smell like honey. The irony strikes me as I am out there picking my dandelions, watching carefully for the bees, and of course, leaving plenty behind for them to feast on. It seems more likely to me that honey tastes like dandelion, than the other way around.
Dandelions prefer disturbed soil. If they are present, then they are there to work. Mother Earth News published an article about dandelions and soil health that you can read here. Dandelions loosen soil, aerate, reduce erosion, and generally improve soil quality. Their deep tap roots pull nutrients up and make them available to other plants. Dandelions are a fertilizer, and when your soil is once again healthy, they will leave.
So, how do we define a weed? Have I piqued your curiosity to learn how dandelions can be beneficial to you? After all I have read about dandelions in the last week, I will never take them for granted again. What if I if I told you that you can even make wine with them?
Dandelions have something to offer to everyone. There are even white and pink varieties available from seed companies online, for those flower enthusiasts who are simply interested in aesthetic properties (oh wont your neighbors love you when you plant them intentionally #drippingsarcasm).
If you would like to learn more about dandelions, here are a few great sources for you to start with. Use caution if harvesting dandelions in a highly populated area, as these can be exposed to a large amount of toxins and pollutants. As with any food or health supplement, one should be aware that there are some potential side effects for some people. Dandelion can be a potential allergen for some. They can cause excitement, cardiac arrhythmia, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in some people. As with anything you may consume, use caution and make smart choices. Check for proper dosages for your size and weight if you are going to take supplements. This post is not meant to bring you medical advice, and I am not a medical professional.