Health & Wellness

Dandelion, the useful weed

Janet Moje
Harvested and cleaned taproot.
Harvested and cleaned taproot.
Janet Moje photo

How many times in our youth have we plucked the fluffy head off a dandelion and made a wish as we blew on it to scatter the mini-parachutes to the wind? And then we counted how many seeds clung on to find out how many children we would have?

Back then, we didn’t know that we just helped to propagate one of the biggest curses to the well-manicured lawn, but perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.

High in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins A, C & K -- mineral rich in zinc, iron, magnesium and potassium, dandelion has more beta-carotene than carrots! In spring, the tender greens are good in a salad, and are now being cultivated commercially for that very purpose. The flowers can be dried and saved for a healthful tea and the roots, chopped and roasted, to make a delicious, caffeine-free coffee substitute.

Dandelions are related to daisies, dahlias, thistles, ragweed, lettuce, artichokes and sunflowers. If you have allergies to any of these, you may want to use dandelion cautiously.

It has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. In Chinese medicine it is said to be a blood purifier and immune booster. The Arabic world used it to treat liver and kidney disorders. Other historical uses include increasing bile flow, treating gallstones, appendicitis, fever, boils, heartburn, stomach upset, diabetes and diarrhea.

Dandelion sap or “milk” is highly alkaline giving it germicidal, insecticidal and fungicidal properties. It can be used topically on itching, ringworm, eczema, bruises and other skin conditions such as acne.

Dandelion greens promote eye health, reduces bloat, lowers triglycerides, aids in weight loss and helps protect the liver. They contain 115% of our daily recommended allowance for vitamin A, 500% of vitamin K, a third of our vitamin C, and 2 grams of fiber in one cup of greens.

Dandelion tea, made from the bright yellow flowers, can detoxify the liver, lower blood sugar, ease bloat and cramping, stimulate digestion and is said to reduce urinary tract infections. It makes a pretty wicked homemade wine too!

Some research has shown dandelion root helps kill cancer cells, lowers cholesterol, detoxifies the kidneys, supports liver health and fights bacteria. Traditionally mixed with chicory or barley, it is quite flavourful on its own.

Harvest roots by selecting older, bigger plants and digging into the soil around the base to pull out the long taproot. Scrub them well under running water to remove all the dirt then chop into bean-sized pieces. Roast in a slow oven 250 degrees F until the corners start to blacken. This may take between 2-4 hours, depending how much moisture is in the root. When they turn a dark brown, watch them often because they will burn quickly.  Remove from oven and let cool. Grind it as you would coffee beans. It can be used in a regular drip coffee maker, or steeped like tea to produce a rich, dark brew. It has a coffee-like flavour, with a hint of caramel. Sweeten with a bit of sugar and add some cream to give it a smoother quality.

WEBMD has a list of precautions regarding the use of dandelion, especially if you are on medications. It is always a good idea to check with your physician before adding wild foods to your diet.