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The Versatile Dandelion: More Than Meets the Eye

By Andrew Burgon /
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April 2, 2014

By Ragesoss / GFDL

By Ragesoss / GFDL

The Marvel That is the Dandelion

Growing on every continent of the world picking dandelions is one of the common experiences that many of us share. While many consider them weeds the moment they venture into the yard they are probably ignorant that they are digging up free and healthy food and throwing it away! For the humble unassuming dandelion merits praise. A source of food for humans and other animals, a nutritional powerhouse,  possessing medicinal properties used to treat certain health problems and an enchantress of children. It’s also not without beauty and grace.

Folklore has a romantic notion about dandelions. Pluck a feathery dandelion head, fill your mind with tender thoughts of those you love and blow on it in their direction. The parachuting seeds will carry your message faithfully to loved ones.

The name dandelion comes from the French word ‘dent-de-lion’, meaning lion’s tooth which actually refers to their coursely-toothed leaves. At the end of it’s life the flower turns into a sphere of seeds each of which has a pappus of fine hairs which enable the wind to carry them away. A celestial flower representing the three celestial bodies. The yellow flower resembling the sun, the puff ball the moon and it’s airborne seeds the stars.

By Greg Hume / CC-BY-SA-3.0

By Greg Hume / CC-BY-SA-3.0

It is also known for three feats. It has one of the longest flowering seasons of any plant. Despite numerous visits by butterflies and bees they produce seeds asexually without pollination resulting in offspring that are genetically identical to the parent plant. With the right weather conditions their seeds are said to be able to travel up to 5 miles from their origin. I’d like to know how they figured that out!

By Michael Gwyther-Jones from UK / [CC-BY-2.0

By Michael Gwyther-Jones from UK / CC-BY-2.0

The Dandelion is an Edible Healthy Treat

Every part of the dandelion is edible and is rich in beta-carotene, fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, B vitamins and protein.

Dandelions have been prized for a variety of medicinal properties throughout history and has been used in herbal remedies in Europe, North America and China. People have used it to treat a host of conditions including infections, acne, diabetes, bile and liver problems and as a diuretic.

Before you dive into adding dandelion to your diet know that there can be some unpleasant side-effects. The pollen of the dandelion flower may cause allergic reactions when eaten or adverse skin reactions in people who are very sensitive to it. Contact dermatitis can occur from just handling the plant possibly due to the latex in the stems and leaves.

Video Credit: Neil Bromhall

The Leaves of the Dandelion

The best time to harvest the leaves is early spring when they’re the least bitter. Add them to your salads, steam them or saute them with garlic, onions and olive oil. You can also use them to make tea.

The leaves can be a little too bitter for some people’s liking. They are often blanched to remove bitterness. Blanching is a cooking technique where food is briefly immersed in boiling water or fat.

When harvesting dandelions keep in mind it’s a perennial plant and it’s leaves will grow back if the taproot remains in the soil.

The Dandelion Flower

Dandelion flowers are rich in the nutrient lecithin and they’re best harvested in mid-spring. Toss them in when cooking your other vegetables or in the salad your making. You can also use them to make wine, fritters and cookies.

The Roots of the Dandelion Plant

Dandelion roots are full of vitamins and minerals. You can boil them to make tea, add them to soup stock or miso or simply steam them with your other vegetables.

Some people ground and roast them to make a kind of caffeine-free dandelion coffee.

So next time you’re out and about and see some dandelions take a moment to have a closer look at these extraordinary plants.

By Mark Dumont / [CC-BY-2.0

By Mark Dumont / CC-BY-2.0


Wikipedia – Taraxacum

Did You Know?

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