You may see them as weeds, but I invite you to take a second look at dandelions from an herbalist point of view. In fact, this common weed is a welcome sign of spring for locavores and herbalists alike. First the green leaves poke through the dark wet earth, then the cheerful yellow flowers spring forward to the sunshine. The whole plant is a prized springtime edible as well as a medicinal tonic. Dandelion is a powerful but also a safe and effective remedy that can be used in strong herbal teas or brewed into wine, fried into yummy fritters or tossed into a green salad.
Dandelion has a strong will and feisty spirit and will grow in the toughest conditions from a city sidewalk crack to a chemical-laden yard. That strong will to survive is telling of the role it plays in its environment. Dandelion does a spectacular job of cleaning up toxicity in both the environment it dwells in and the human body. Not to mention the joy it gives to children when they blow the white globe of seeds into the wind. How smart of the plant to make it fun for people to spread its seeds!
Dandelion root is known as an effective liver tonic with the ability to help the body in its detoxification process. The root is one of the most-loved digestive bitters and is used to juice up digestion by stimulating the release of bile and other gastric secretions that are essential to good digestion and good health.
Dandelion leaf is an excellent herbal diuretic that helps to stimulate and tone the kidneys and aids in proper water elimination. It’s also a superb source of potassium along with other vitamins and minerals including calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamins A and C.
If you are interested in cooking with the roots, leaves or flowers, now is the time! Make sure to harvest the plant in a very clean, healthy and unsprayed environment. The leaves get incredibly bitter as the days go on. So really, harvesting the smallest ones early in spring is your best bet. I would recommend just adding a few leaves into your normal salad because they truly are bitter to the American palate. Making fritters with the flowers is a very fun family activity! Here is a nice locavore recipe that appeared in our local Vermont paper. Yum!
Try Some Dandelion Tea
Another, more medicinal way to get dandelions into your spring diet is to make a tea with the leaves and the roots and drink it throughout the day.
Try harvesting the whole plant from your yard, clean it thoroughly and chop up the root like you would a carrot (make sure you're not harvesting your dandelions from areas that have been sprayed with pesticides or herbacides!).
Toss it into a pot of simmering water. After 10 minutes on the stove, turn the heat off and add in the green leaves.
Let the herbs steep in the pot for 20 minutes before straining and drinking. A little burdock, ginger and red clover will be a nice addition for a little more flavor. Don’t be shy about adding a bit of honey or maple syrup if the taste is going to prohibit you from drinking it. And remember: Always check with your physician before beginning a new regimen (especially if you're on medication).
Enjoy and cheers to a healthy and rejuvenating spring!