If you’ve ever plucked a dandelion flower and blown on it to make a wish, then you know how much fun this prolific weed can be. And if you ever wished that this same plant could bring you a multitude of medicinal benefits, then your wish has already come true. A simple dandelion salad is just bursting with vitamins and minerals.
The dandelion, or Taraxacum officinale if you’re hip to the binomial nomenclature, has a wealth of beneficial properties that you can easily reap from your own garden. Unless you’re fond of spraying your garden with herbicides like RoundUp (which we strongly discourage), or you’ve come up some more benign magic to rid your lawn and garden of dandelions, then you probably see them cropping up all the time between the herbs, grasses and vegetables.
Easy enough to recognize, the dandelions usually sprout up in early spring with the distinctive jagged leaves that earned them their name. Germans call them Löwenzahn, for example, and in Spanish they’re called diente de león, both of which translate to lion’s tooth. And a mild corruption of the Spanish gives us our english word: dandelion.
Within a couple weeks, the leafy clump begins to put out its bright yellow, shaggy flowers, which gradually rise up on a delicate stem. Later in the spring and summer, the flowers dry out and become the fuzzy pompom flower heads that we all know and love.
But what we may not know, is that the leaves and roots of this ubiquitous herbage are actually loaded with nutrients and pharmacologically active compounds.
Herbalists and traditional healers have used dandelion as a medicinal plant for thousands of years. The highest concentration of compounds are in the long taproot, but the leaves can also be very beneficial and nutritious.
Dandelion’s known benefits include the following:
Edible and medicinal, dandelion is one of the easiest herbs to harvest and prepare. Simply collect the fresh, tender greens, rinse them gently, and dice them up into a green salad. By itself, the taste could be a bit bitter, so we like to add a little arugula for some complimentary spiciness. Fresh vegetables like tomato, carrot and cucumber also mix well. Top it with a nice lemony salad dressing, and you’ve got a delicious salad rich in vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants.
You can also collect the fresh flowers before they blossom into pompoms. Once dried, go ahead and stuff them into a jar, and cover the flowers with oil. Use any oil you like, or even combine oils, including oils of olive, almond and coconut. Keep in a dark, cool place for one or two weeks, then strain off the flowers with cheesecloth, and you’ve got a delicious dandelion infused oil, the perfect base for a healthy salad dressing.
For a serious dose of dandelion medicine, a hearty dandelion root tea might be just what the doctor ordered. Carefully pull a bundle of dandelion roots out of the ground and grind them thoroughly with a mortar and pestle. Using a tea ball, simmer the ground roots for about 15 minutes. Add a bit of honey for taste.
Although novice gardeners may consider the dandelion an invasive and undesirable weed, it can actually bring benefits to the garden. The long taproot draws nitrogen and other nutrients from deep in the soil closer to the surface, where it’s more available to the neighboring herbs, flowers and vegetables.
The abundant flowers of the dandelion attract a variety of insects who act as pollinators in the garden. The flowers also release ethylene gas which can help fruit to ripen.