Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are perennial plants from the Asteraceae (daisy) family, that are native to Europe and Asia. They’re often described as ‘edible weeds’, which is a rather disparaging term, considering that the plant has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for many centuries across many cultures!
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) dandelion is known as Pu Gong Ying 蒲公英 and in Ayurvedic medicine as Kukraundha or Kanphool. These systems of medicine date back thousands of years. The Japanese have also used dandelion as a food and medicine since early recorded history.
The healing properties of the dandelion were described by the Anglo-Saxon tribes of Britain and the Normans of France before the time of Christ, and also by the Roman natural philosopher and author Pliny the Elder, in his written work, Naturalis Historia, published in 77 AD.
The Arabian physicians of the tenth and eleventh centuries also mentioned dandelion as a medicine, describing it as a sort of wild endive, which they referred to as taraxcacon.
Needless to say, dandelions have been used as a medicinal herb for a long time!
How Did Dandelions Get Their Name?
The name of the dandelion originated in the 15th century and was derived from the Medieval Latin phrase dens lionis, that transformed into the French dent-de-lion, which mean ‘lion’s tooth’ – describing the shape of the leaves, which have uneven, jagged margins with backward pointing teeth. The name of the plant eventually became dandelion in Middle English.
Are All Parts of a Dandelion Edible?
Every part of a dandelion can be eaten. The roots, leaves and stems are all edible, and also have medicinal properties. Yes, even the hollow stems attached to the flowers can be consumed!
Dandelions are highly nutritious, they’ are rich in vitamins (A, C, D, E, and B), inositol and lecithin.
These plants are also dynamic accumulators, they’re able to absorb many mineral nutrients at much higher concentrations than in the soil, bringing them to the surface and releasing them for other plants to use when their leaves die back. Their long tap root, which can penetrate deep into the soil, helps to break up compacted soil and improve soil structure, and enables the plant to mine nutrients from the soil depths. This also makes them very rich in minerals such as iron, magnesium, sodium, calcium, silicon, copper, phosphorus, zinc, and manganese.
Among vegetables, dandelion is one of the richest sources of beta-carotene, (11,000 µg/100 g leaves, same as in carrots). In the body, beta-carotene is transformed into vitamin A, which supports healthy vision, immunity, cell division, and other functions.
Research in the past decade into the medicinal properties of dandelion has demonstrated health benefits including anti-rheumatic, anti-carcinogenic, diuretic, laxative, hypoglycemic, and chloretic (liver bile production stimulating) effects.
Edible Dandelion Flowers
Young dandelion flowers are lightly sweet and have a subtle taste like honey, but become bitter when they mature. The bright-yellow petals can be used in salads, jellies, syrups, teas and wines, as well as cookies and muffins. The green sepals at the base of the flower aren’t used, as they impart a bitter flavour.
Dandelion petal tea: Even though dandelion roots are typically used to make a tea, the petals, fresh or dried, can also be used to make a lighter-tasting dandelion tea by steeping them in boiling water.
Dandelion petal syrup: This is a simple recipe, just boil dandelion petals in equal parts sugar and water, or one part sugar two parts water.
Dandelion petal jelly: Jellies are usually made by cooking fruit juice with sugar, are clear or translucent, and firm enough to hold their shape when turned out of a container. A jelly that can be spread on toast cane made from dandelion flower petals. Steep the petals in water overnight, then separate the liquid from the petals by pouring through a strainer. Use this liquid in the same way you would use fruit juice in a jelly recipe, combining it with sugar, lemon juice, and pectin, and heated using a jelly making procedure. The proportions of ingredients needed depend on the pectin used, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Follow standard canning and processing procedures to avoid surface mold growth, the mycotoxins produced by the mold are known to cause cancer in animals!
Dandelion fritters: The whole flowers can be dipped in batter and fried in vegetable oil to make fritters. Apparently, they’re quite tasty!
It’s possible to store dandelion flowers for later use. Collect the flower heads, remove the petals and store them in a plastic bag in the freezer, they keep longer that way.
Edible Dandelion Leaves
Dandelion leaves can be eaten raw, put into salads, sandwiches or cooked in stews, casseroles or any other dish where greens are used. The youngest, greenest leaves at the center of the plant are best for eating raw, as the older ones become more bitter. Cooking dandelion leaves eliminates some of the bitterness.
Edible Dandelion Roots
Dandelions have a long, thick tap root which can be dried and roasted for use as dandelion root coffee substitute.
- Wash dandelion roots to remove and soil and dirt.
- Chop dandelion roots finely into small pieces to make drying easier.
- Dry the chopped dandelion root pieces in a food dehydrator, or in an oven at 120°C (250°F) until they are well dried.
- Roast the dried dandelion root pieces in the oven at 180°C (350°F) until they turn brown, but don’t burn them!
- To use, place two tablespoons of roasted dandelion root into 500ml/0.5L (2 cups/16 oz) of water in a pot, then simmer for 20 minutes.
- Pour through a strainer to separate the roots out, and it’s ready to drink.
It’s also possible to make a dandelion tea with roots, which is much quicker and easier.
- Chop dandelion roots finely into small pieces.
- Steep the dandelion root pieces in boiling water for 2-3 minutes.
- Pour through a strainer to separate the roots out, and it’s ready to drink.
If the dandelion root tea is too bitter to taste, add some honey to the tea to reduce the bitterness.
Edible Dandelion Seeds
Most people aren’t aware that dandelion seeds are also edible. The seeds are nutrient-rich, packed with carbohydrates, proteins and fats – but they’re also quite small, so a large amount needs to be harvested.
The single yellow dandelion flower at the end of the 30cm long hollow flower stem eventually becomes a white puffball seedhead, where each seed is attached to its own fluffy parachute, allowing them to be dispersed by the wind and carried far away!
To separate the seeds from their fluffy white parachutes, either pinch off the fuzzy part, or put the seeds in a paper or plastic bag and rub them with your hands, this will cause most of the seeds to fall to the bottom of the bag for easy collection.
Dandelion microgreens: Another way to use dandelion seeds is to use them to grow dandelion microgreens. The benefit of microgreens is that their nutrients are more concentrated, which means that they often contain higher vitamin, mineral and antioxidant levels than the same quantity of mature greens. Nutrient levels in microgreens can be up to nine times higher. They contain a wider variety of polyphenols and other antioxidants compared to their mature counterparts.
Microgreens can be produced fairly quickly. They’re not as fast as sprouts, which have a much shorter growing cycle of 2–7 day, microgreens are usually harvested 7–21 days after germination, once the plant’s first true leaves have emerged.
In the book “The Wild Wisdom of Weeds; 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival“, the author Katrina Blair describes her recipe for dandelion seed milk, where she mixes a handful of the dandelion seeds with vanilla and dates and blends them in water, sometime add a banana or another seed or nut to thicken it.
Precautions When Collecting Wild Greens
When harvesting dandelions or any other wild greens, it’s important to only harvest from area that are safe.
Don’t forage in areas that may have been:
- Treated with chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides
- Contaminated by pollution from high traffic areas such as roadways
- Fouled by animals or pets, making the are unhygienic
Always wash dandelion leaves, flowers and roots before preparing them for eating. To get rid of excess from leaves and flowers, use a salad spinner to dry them. Store any harvested plants in the fridge in the same way as you would store any other herbs or salad greens.
Dandelion Identification and Look-Alike Plants
When collecting wild greens, it’s important to identify plants correctly. Dandelions are so common they’re quite unmistakable, but there are a few plants that look quite similar and can be mistaken for them.
Dandelions have characteristic leaves that have jagged margins, usually with backward pointing teeth, and grow in a rosette formation (a circular arrangement of leaves, with all the leaves at a similar height) close to the ground from the base of the plant.
Chicory (Cichorium intybus) leaves look very similar to dandelion leaves, and are also edible, but they have hairy undersides, while dandelion leaves are smooth all over. Chicory is also from the Asteraceae (daisy) family, but the flowers are blue in colour, and there are multiple flowers on each stem. In contrast, dandelions only produce a single yellow flower on each stem.
Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) flowers resemble dandelion flowers, as they’re also from the Asteraceae (daisy) family, but they have branched stems with many flowers on each stem.
Cat’s Ear, also known as False Dandelion, Flatweed, Hairy Cat’s or Hawkweed (Hypochaeris radicata), is from the Asteraceae (daisy) family too, and often mistaken for dandelions. This plant has a long taproot, a basal rosette of leaves, and yellow flowers that produce wind-borne seeds, just like a dandelion. The distinguishing features are wiry, branched stems, hairy leaves that are less deeply toothed and flowers with fewer petals.
What Medicinal Compounds Are in Dandelions?
For anyone interested in the medicinal compounds in dandelions, what class of chemicals they belong to, what they do, and what parts of the plant they’re found in, I found the following information in a research paper – The Physiological Effects of Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) in Type 2 Diabetes. Even though it’s mainly concerned with anti-diabetic actions, it covers many other medicinal properties.
Active Compounds in Dandelion and Their Properties
- Taraxasterol (phytosterol) – Antihyperglycemic, anti-inflammatory properties (roots)
- Tetrahydroridentin B (sesquiterpene lactone) – Anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties (roots)
- Taraxacolide-β-D-glucoside (sesquiterpene lactone) – Antihyperglycemic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and hypolipidemic properties (leaves and stem)
- Caffeic acid (phenolic acid) – Anti-oxidative and immunostimulatory properties (flower, stems, leaves and roots)
- Chlorogenic acids (phenolic acid) – Anti-oxidative and immunostimulatory properties (flowers, stems, leaves and roots). Strongest antioxidant
- Luteolin 7-O-glucoside (flavonoid) – Antioxidant properties (flower)
- Taraxinic acid-β-D-glucopyranoside (sesquiterpene lactone) – Anti-inflammatory, anti- hyperglycemic and antimicrobial properties (roots, leaves and stems)
- Stigma sterol (phytosterols) – Anti-inflammatory, anti- hyperglycemic, antimicrobial properties (roots)
- Ixerin D (sesquiterpene lactone) – Anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties (roots)
- Quercetin glycosides (flavonoid) – Antioxidant properties (leaves and stems)
- Chicoric acid (phenolic acid) – Immunostimulatory and anti-hyperglycemic (most abundant compound found in roots leaves and stem)
For anyone doubting the benefits of dandelions as a ‘superfood’, this information and that presented earlier, all drawn from mainstream scientific research, should allay any doubts!
- Michigan State University Extension, Five ways to eat dandelions, Michelle Jarvie, May 25, 2017. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/five_ways_to_eat_dandilions
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