Dandelions (Taraxacum Officinale)
March 5, 2021
Dandelions are some of the most misunderstood plants in modern society. Sometime during the 20th century dandelions went from being considered a highly prized plant to being seen as a blight on our pristine, monochromatic lawns. I think that is an example of how disconnected we have become from our natural environment. The plant is now classified as a weed, however, it is actually a member of the daisy family. It has provided a plethora of uses since earliest times. Everything from food, drink and medicines have been made from dandelions and it's benefits have been touted for thousands of years.
The name is derived from the French, “dent de lion”, meaning lion's tooth. It got this name from the description of it's toothed leaves. Over the centuries it was cherished and excessively used for nourishment and healing. Ancient Romans, Egyptians, Greeks and Chinese have written of this noble plant and how it cured various ailments. Gardeners in the 1700's and 1800's actually sought out space on their land to grow dandelions! So what happened? When did we stop seeing it's beauty and uses and begin to see it as an ugly nuisance?
Here on the Green Cart homestead, dandelions are popping up everywhere and I happily let them. As we know, people spray chemicals to kill them and in the process kill and poison so many other living things. I have a real problem with that. I understand in certain flower or vegetable beds one would want to remove them for fear they will choke out other vegetation, and that can be done by simply pulling them out as opposed to spreading noxious substances all over your soil. However, on broad stretches of lawn we should let them be. They help aerate and fertilize the ground. They pull calcium to the surface and that nourishes other plants and grasses. They feed the bees and butterflies which is also vital in this time of pesticides. Their main growing season is spring and early fall. The long, hot summer days usually retire them to the more hidden portions of the landscape where they become less intrusive.
We eat dandelion greens often in the spring. I wish I could just forage for them on our land but the sprays from other local properties prohibits me. I buy my dandelion leaves from an organic grower so I know they are chemical free. I suggest this to our customers as well, since sadly, the cultivated ones are safer to eat then the wild ones in today's environment. It is best to pick the leaves right before the flowers bloom because that is when they are least bitter. They can be served raw or cooked depending on your meal. Adding them to a hearty sandwich or tossing some into a salad will add a sharp tart flavor. In the Green Cart Kitchen our customers love them sautéed with garlic and spring onions. I also love adding the young tender leaves to bean casseroles. The tastes complement each other beautifully. There are so many health benefits to adding dandelions to your spring menu. They are loaded with vitamins and minerals. They contain vitamins C, A, K, iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium. They are low in calories and high in fiber. They are also a natural diuretic. The freshly cut flowers can be boiled in water and then left to infuse overnight. It makes a curative tea. I find it needs a bit of sweetness so we add a spoonful of maple syrup but a bit of regular table sugar would work as well. Doctors used to prescribe it to help reduce water retention in the body and lower blood pressure. And as a homeopathic treatment it was very successful.
It's healing properties can also be found in products that use dandelion as a major ingredient. Buttery yellow soaps, lotions and salves are soothing to the skin and smell wonderfully of springtime. Even the dye that is made from the flowers is beautiful and free from chemicals. It can be used to dye cloth or added to paint to create the perfect shade of sunshine. There must be something magical about this versatile plant as it has been treasured by herbalists and apothecaries for centuries. They referred to it as the celestial plant. Its flower resembles the yellow sun, it's delicate seeds resemble stars and the grey puff ball resembles the moon. Even children still blow on them and make wishes! It is a flower that should be reexamined by modern gardeners and I hope to see it returned to it's original glory days.
Spring Picnic Salad baby red potatoes fresh young dandelion leaves spring peas minced garlic (to taste) red onion (finely chopped) olive oil vinegar (we like apple cider vinegar for this salad, but red wine, white or rice vinegar would work as well) salt and pepper dash of sugar Boil potatoes until tender Blanche dandelions and peas Mix all together with garlic and onion Dress with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, sugar to taste Chill Serve cold