I remember when I first discovered that dandelion isn’t just some useless yellow flower that grows in fields and lawns.
As a child, I went to a local Waldorf school where we were taught to respect nature (and how to make dandelion crowns).
But it wasn’t until later in my teen years when I realized that dandelions also have amazing edible & medicinal qualities.
Many herbal teachers will tell you that dandelion is a low-growing perennial herb with more uses and benefits than could possibly be explored in a single lifetime.
It’s one of my favourite plants because it’s so common and easy to use.
So let’s take a look some of the basics that everyone needs to know about dandelions in order to use dandelions in your everyday life.
Starting with a look at what makes Dandelions so great!
What Are The Benefits Of Dandelion?
Dandelion is good for so many things it’s impossible to mention them all.
Contrary to popular stigma, dandelions shouldn’t be considered a weed. They actually have positive benefits for the garden.
They’re a prolific nutrient accumulator with deep taproots that open up heavy soils and increase available plant nutrients.
They make excellent nutrient dense food for livestock as well as forbe-eating wildlife like rabbits.
They provide nectar for honey bees, and a source of play and wonder for children.
It’s hard to understand sometimes why people go to such lengths to kill these plants when they do have so many benefits.
For this article – I’ll focus on what you’re probably most curious about… The human use of dandelion plants for health & nutrition. Here we go.
Dandelion Nutrients & Antioxidants
First off… Dandelion is a very nutritious plant.
Nutrient studies have shown that dandelion greens contain iron, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, B, and C.
The flowers and roots are also high in vitamins, and pretty much every part of this plant can be used at various times of year.
And being a leafy vegetable… it’s low in calories so it’ll keep you nourished while helping to create & maintain a healthy weight.
Straight up. Dandelion is my favourite salad green, and it’s always the first plant I recommend for people who want to get started with wild edibles.
So we’ve established that dandelion makes good food.
Does it also make good medicine?
Can Dandelions Be Eaten For Medicinal Benefits?
In the world of herbal medicine there are probably thousands of targeted formulas for specific health issues.
Often they involve alcohol or vinegar extractions of specific herbs or combinations of herbs into concentrated formulas that are designed to address acute or chronic problems.
But then there are also more general health tonics that can be taken to ward off a huge variety of issues before they become a problem.
It’s a more proactive and wellness oriented approach to health, and you can think about it like this…
Your food IS a medicine.”
Now I don’t claim to be an expert on advanced herbal medicine for targeting specific issues.
But… I do routinely use wild plants & herbs (like dandelion) as an all-natural food that also helps to promote an overall state of wellbeing.
It’s very safe and if you focus on wellness then you might never need a targeted medicine to stay healthy.
Dandelion is said to have benefits for everything from digestion and the functioning of your liver/kidneys, to improved circulation & cholesterol.
My personal view on using herbs for medicine is that it’s just more practical to eat good tonic food with health benefits before you get sick.
If you put all-natural, unprocessed, balanced medicinal food such as dandelion greens in your diet, then you might never need a more targeted approach.
With all that said, I will mention one specific health benefit that I have personally experienced to be effective…
Excellent Aid For Digestive Issues
This is just my personal story…
A few years back I started developing bizarre and random digestive issues.
There was a period of a few months when I almost couldn’t get through a day without vomiting. I lost a lot of weight (not that I had much to begin with) and during these “episodes of nausea” I would be bed ridden for a few hours.
In case you’re wondering…
Yes, I feel much better now and I’m able to manage the condition just by watching what I eat. I was eventually able to track the disturbances to times when I would eat specific foods like raw tomatoes, raspberries, milk, and sugary foods.
But at the time I had no idea what was triggering the problem.
I experimented with a lot of different foods and found that dandelion was one of the best ways to calm my stomach down.
If something was off in my stomach I would go outside and find some dandelion to eat, and it would usually bring immediate relief.
It felt like my stomach was completely relaxing and warming up in a very pleasurable way.
Of course you should always check with a doctor before self-medicating but I strongly believe from my own experience that dandelion can be effectively used to benefit digestion.
How To Identify Dandelions
Dandelion is a fairly simple plant to identify…
But there ARE other common lookalikes that people sometimes get confused.
It’s important to always be confident about what kind of plant you’re dealing with before using it (obviously).
Here are some of the key dandelion identification features to look for:
- Multiple green leaves emerge from a single base
- Leaves are sharply lobed and HAIRLESS
- Single solitary flower emerges from the base in spring & early summer
- Hollow stems with milky insides
- Yellow flowers that turn into big puffy seed-balls after pollination
- Thick taproot is difficult to completely remove from the ground (and makes a good tea)
If a plant has multiple flowers emerging from the base, or hairy leaves then it’s not a dandelion! It must be something else like hairy cat’s ear or other related plants.
How To Pick Dandelion Greens
The main thing to consider when picking dandelion greens is freshness of the leaves. You’ll get an eye for this plant feature over time.
Freshly grown dandelion leaves are a softer and more tender green.
As time goes on the leaves will seem to dry out a bit or show browning around the edges. You can still eat them like that but it’s not as good.
It’s probably easiest to find fresh leaves in spring, but you can still find productive tender plants in summer and fall.
Dandelion is what you might call a cut and come again plant. If you have dandelion plants that you routinely harvest from, they will respond to harvesting by sending up new leaves.
This is good news because it means you’ll always have a never ending supply of fresh and tender dandelion greens.
Always make sure you harvest from places where there are no pesticides or nasty chemicals being used.
How To Eat Dandelion Greens & Flowers
I’m a pretty simple guy…
So I recommend eating dandelion greens just like you would eat lettuce.
There’s no need to cook them. No prep time. They’re very easy on the stomach and you preserve the greatest amount of nutrients by eating them raw.
Dandelion flowers can also be eaten the same way. Pick them when they look fresh and fully open for the best experience. They certainly add color to your salads, but some people might find them a bit too bitter.
In reality, the bitterness just means it’s healthy so I usually go for the bitter.
But I’ve also had fried dandelion flowers, which takes a bit more work but they’re pretty darn tasty. Here’s a quick recipe I found online for fried dandelion flowers.
What about Dandelion Tea?
I’ve never prepared dandelion tea from scratch, but I do really enjoy drinking it. The process should be fairly simple, and a lot of people use it as a replacement for coffee.
The basic process for dandelion tea goes like this…
- Harvest the roots
- Clean them
- Roast them till they’re crispy
- Steep to taste
If you want to try it out, I found a good article that explains the process of making homemade dandelion root tea.
How To Plant Dandelion Seeds
I know a lot of people might gasp in horror at the thought of actually planting more dandelions…
But this is a question that I get surprisingly often, and the answer will be enlightening both for people who want more dandelions as well as those who prefer a more pristine lawn.
The fact is that dandelions are so widespread and common because they have very effective reproductive abilities.
It’s bad news for people who want immaculate lawns, but good news for venders of plant poison, and good news for people who have made peace with the dandelion world.
Dandelion seeds have wings, and it’s been shown that they can travel for hundreds of miles before taking root in your lawn.
This means that you probably won’t ever need to actually plant them. There’s really nothing you can do to stop dandelions from eventually popping up.
If you want dandelions in your garden… all you have to do is wait a little while and you’ll probably find volunteers popping up. Then take care of them. Let them get established. Don’t trample them with your feet. And please don’t put poison on them!
There are also supermarket varieties of dandelion that aren’t quite so bitter. I prefer the wild ones though.
Embrace the bitter and your health will thank you!