But dandelions’ benefits don’t have to be confined to the first few weeks of warm weather each year. Indeed, anyone who’s tried to maintain a pristine lawn knows that these hardy flowers are ever-present, stubbornly resisting eradication or extinction.
Perhaps we should catch the clue.
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) have long been used in Native American, Arabic, and other traditional medical disciplines. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, dandelions’ historical applications include the treatment of kidney, liver, and skin disorders. More recently, dandelion has been used to promote bile flow, improve digestion, treat urinary tract infections, eliminate excess fluid, alleviate kidney stones and gallstones, treat ulcers, and improve blood glucose levels in diabetics.
There is little scientific evidence to support many of these uses. However, the German Commission E has approved dandelion for treating dyspepsia (stomach upset), urinary tract infections, liver and gallbladder complaints, and loss of appetite.
The Physicians’ Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines lists sesquiterpene lactones, triterpenes, sterols, flavonoids (those beneficent antioxidants), and inulin among dandelion’s potentially useful ingredients.
Nutritional Diversity in a Weed
Dandelion leaves are a rich source of vitamin A – mainly as carotene – and some investigators report high levels of potassium in the young foliage. In his book, The Way of Herbs, Dr. Michael Tierra reports that dandelion root contains high concentrations of minerals.
When lightly steamed, young dandelion leaves make a wonderful potherb, and they can be eaten fresh in salads or in sandwiches as a substitute for the less nutritious iceberg lettuce.
Roasted dandelion root, when ground or powdered, makes a pleasant beverage. Stuff a spoonful into a tea ball or muslin bag, steep in hot water, and consume like any other tea. In a pinch, just drop a chunk of roasted root into a cup of boiling water and let it soak for 10 minutes.
Finally, the next time you’re plucking dandelion blossoms from your lawn to prevent them from going to seed, keep in mind that they make an excellent wine.
One caveat to remember: Dandelion preparations can exert potent diuretic effects in some individuals, so stick around the house until you know how they’ll affect you. And make your first experience with dandelion an early morning one, rather than late at night when you’re headed for bed!
Gathering and Preparing Dandelions
The young leaves of dandelions are best collected in the cool of the morning, before the plants begin to flower in the spring. You can also harvest and dry the entire plant, root and all, in the springtime (better than tossing them on the compost heap). Individual roots that will be dried or roasted are best collected in autumn, when they’re rich in nutrients and inulin.
Dandelion blossoms can be collected when they’re opened or closed. However, if you want to avoid competing with nectar-guzzling bees and wasps, gather dandelion flowers and buds on cloudy days or late in the evening, after the blooms have closed.
Dandelion leaves and roots can be air dried, infused to make a tea, powdered and placed in capsules, or extracted with your favorite spirit to make a tincture that will last indefinitely.
As always, if you’re allergic to dandelions or their relatives (they belong to the aster family), you probably shouldn’t be traipsing around the yard, gathering their parts. Nor should you feel comfortable drinking or eating dandelions or any of their preparations.
There is insufficient data to demonstrate that dandelions are useful for treating or preventing any medical condition, so consult your physician before you use dandelions for medicinal purposes.
As for me, I’m going to go collect my salad…
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Dandelion
- Physicians’ Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines, 2nd Edition: Dandelion; Thomas Fleming, Pharm.D., Chief Editor; 2000
- The Way of Herbs: Dandelion; Michael Tierra, L.Ac., O.M.D.; 1998