Hopefully all those out there with the mildest foraging inkling or pursuant to optimal naturally-derived health have become familiar with our generously abundant friend, the dandelion [Taraxacum Officinale]. This blog post skips over "what is a dandelion" and seeks to expand upon "what can the simple dandelion do for me?" and "how best to use it?".
------ What can the simple dandelion do for me? ------
Every part of the dandelion is useful to man(kind). The flowers, foliage and roots are all chock full of health-promoting properties. While the seed heads could also be consumed they're best utilized in the hands of children experiencing the timeless joy of blowing them into the wind to ultimately create MORE dandelions, to the scowled face of many a suburbanite.
Nutritionally dandelion greens (most typical part consumed purely as food) are abundantly high in Vitamin K and A. One small cup of chopped greens contains > 500% daily value of K and > 100% of A. It also has significant vitamin C for a non-fruit source. In a situation where fresh fruit was unavailable making a tea using available dandelions in addition to other wild sources such as stinging nettles (see previous blog post) or pine needles would more than meet someone's daily requirements. Other notable vitamin / mineral content includes Vit E, Calcium, Iron, Maganese, Potassium, Phosphorus, dietary fiber and a bit of Zinc, Copper and Sodium.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine Dandelion is known as Pu Gong Ying (蒲公英) which already appeared in the Tang Dynasty materia medica (around 700 AD). The whole plant is used either alone or in combination formulas with other medicals such as Wild Chrysanthemum (野菊花 - see previous blog). It's primary purpose is in aiding and detoxification of the liver and to reduce swelling. From a TCM perspective it acts upon the Liver, Stomach and Lung channels. Symptoms that manifest in which Dandelion is utilized include sore throat, fever, acute mastitis, inflamed eyes, abcesses, early-stage cough, jaundice and more.
In modern studies and application it has been found effective against streptococcus, regulating blood sugar, promote healthful vision, promoting optimal wound healing, lowering LDL while raising HDL. Most importantly it has been found to aid the body in promoting it's own natural-killer (cancer-killer) cells. So far searchable research has been found on colon, leukemia, pancreatic, breast and prostate cancer all with statistically significant beneficial results. Dandelion greens (not flowers or roots) can act as a mild laxative. In some cases this is a huge benefit but if someone already has loose bowel movements then an excess of dandelion greens should be avoided until things return to normal.
------ How best to use Dandelions? ------
My personal favorite part of the dandelion is the flower head, if one couldn't tell from the pictures already. My preferred time to collect is early spring. While the rest of the garden either has yet to be planted or is fighting to get started the faithful dandelion is already offering up in abundance (alongside a few others like the wild violet - future blog). The best time to pick is early in the day when the sun is out. This is when the flower heads will be most open and vibrant.
To utilize couldn't be more easy, straight into the teapot w hot water. A few flowers alone makes a wonderful tea. The flowers mix great with green tea (not black tea for this one), chrysanthemum flowers (see previous blog) and a few slices of fresh ginger (from TCM perspective the ginger helps balance the "cooling" aspect of the dandelion and activate all the medicinals. outside that the ginger adds a flavorful spicey kick). Any flowers not used fresh can be put onto a rack and dried. Once thoroughly dried they remain flavorful for up to 1 year.
If one finds dandelions in the grocery store it will almost certainly be the greens. In all honesty the greens don't have a taste worth celebrating. They are mildly bitter but their nutritional profile more than compensates. I much prefer to forage young tender greens over large rougher ones. I sneak them into salads, sandwiches, soups or just munch on a few while working in the garden. One chinese recipe that makes them a flavorful treat (at the loss to some nutrients) is to quickly blanch the greens then stir fry with garlic, soy sauce, vinegar and chili oil.
Dandelion roots is another way I immensely enjoy using my dandelions. The only reason I use dandelion roots less than flowers is it's considerably more work. The roots can go deep and are amazingly capable of moving around rocks and other roots. Bring a good spade and dig a bit outside where the roots appear to be growing. Brush off the dirt and go inside to rinse off any remaining dirt. The roots can be chopped up into small sections.
Using fresh as tea is already enjoyable but roasting the roots first brings the beverage to another level. Other "roasted root" teas are enjoyable, roasted chicory root, roasted nettle root to name a few. But none so pleasing as roasted dandelion root. It has it's own unique taste but can vaguely be described as coffee-like and earthy but in a remarkably smooth and aromatic way. After coarsely chopping the dandelion roots bake @ 350 for 20 minutes. The goal is that point where they are deeply brown up the point BEFORE turning black. If harvesting while out on an adventure roast in a cast iron pan over an open wood flame while lightly shaking.
Anyone else have ideas to share on how they like to use dandelions? Inspired to evangelize through the suburbs to stop the elimination of so many an innocent dandelion across countless lawns? Go forth! ;)