by Ruth T Hill, The Discerning Gardener
Cheerful, golden yellow dandelion flowers bloom profusely in the late spring, continuing to early fall, attracting bees to their sweet-scented nectar. Fields of dandelion flowers seem to bring back early memories to many people. Personally, I enjoy the yellow field of spring, like the one that I’m expecting very soon in my own garden. Since I will soon have a plentiful organic crop of dandelions, I have been searching for different ways to prepare them for eating.
I knew that dandelions were good for us, for the liver especially, and for detoxifying. In my search for ideas on using them in food, I’ve discovered just how good they can be for our health. They are actually, one of the best healing foods, and have long been revered as a curative remedy.
All parts of the dandelion plant are useful, either for culinary purposes, or as a healing remedy. The first mention of the medicinal value of dandelions comes from the Arabian physicians of the tenth and eleventh centuries. They were brought over to N America by the early settlers, and they naturalized as they did in all temperate areas of the world. People in other parts of the world have had more appreciation of both the culinary and healing qualities of dandelions than most people in the US, where the typical reaction to grab the Roundup spray to kill them. That attitude needs to change along with our aesthetic sense for American gardens, as mentioned in my last blog post Weeds Are Flowers, Too! Gardening WITH Nature.
The greens, flowers, and roots of dandelions contain components that have antioxidant, disease preventing, and health promoting properties. Roots are typically harvested in the summer of the second year for medicinal purposes, and in the fall for drying and grinding for coffee. The plant has several healing properties for the liver, and has been used for liver problems for at least hundreds of years. The sodium in dandelions is important in reducing inflammations of the liver. Even for those with healthy livers, dandelions do have value for detoxifying and strengthening the liver.
Dandelions are loaded with calcium, slightly more than kale. They have a higher amount of both calcium and iron than most cultivated greens, as well as many other health benefits. They have more protein per serving than spinach. Next to parsley, dandelions have the highest iron content, which is needed for red cell production.
Dandelions are one of the highest sources of vitamin A among culinary herbs, which is important for healthy mucus membranes, skin, and vision. The numerous healthy flavenoids in the leaves, along with the vitamin A, help to protect us from lung and oral cavity cancers, and protect our retinas from UV rays.
They are also a good source of minerals, like potassium, calcium, manganese, even copper. Potassium rich foods, especially in balance with magnesium, help to keep blood pressure down, reducing the risk of strokes. They are also rich in many other vital vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamins E & C. The greens can provide 58% of the daily-recommended levels of and are high in Vitamin A in the form of antioxidant carotenoid (beta-carotene).
Recommendations are to consume dandelions, in some form, regularly, to relieve symptoms of osteoporosis, as they are beneficial in strengthening bone density. They can also limit neuron damage in the brain, which gives them a role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Fresh leaves are a good source of dietary fiber, also a good laxative. Dandelions can be helpful in losing weight, as a diuretic, and for controlling cholesterol levels in blood.
HOW do we get enough of this amazing plant into our diets?
— Great in salads, especially the early, tender, young leaves. If you don’t like the bitter flavor, the leaves before the first flower are less bitter, or counter balance it with sweet fruit or dressing.
— Sauteed with garlic — Mariquita Farms suggests dressing this saute with sherry, honey, and toasted almonds. You can find more of Mariquita’s dandelion recipes here: www.mariquita.com/recipes/dandelion.html
— Steamed alone or with cabbage
— Any other way that you use greens in your diet
— Dandelion Fritter Recipe – I like to make veggie patties or fritters, so that a good number can be saved to serve with quick meals or salads, so this is a “must try”. Kimberly Gallagher gives us this delicious recipe, along with her fond memories of flower collecting for it. “If you want to take medicine, it might as well taste good”, she says.: https://www.learningherbs.com/dandelion_recipes.html
— I came across another “must try” idea for dandelions in an article, in Vegetarian Times, by Bryant Terry, author of Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed. In his rural Mississippi tradition, dandelions were usually slow-cooked over low heat along with collards, mustards, and other leafy vegetables. In the spring, when leaves are tender and the tastiest, he enjoyed them in salads, with intensely sweet clementine sections providing a bright counterpoint to the bitter, crisp raw greens. OR, he would saute the greens in olive oil and garlic, then finish off with freshly squeezed clementine juice and a pinch of salt. Sounds delicious!
— Dandelion Tart using blanched dandelions from The New york Times: Recipes For Health
— Smoothies – With all of the nutritional value, dandelions are a natural for the greens in a smoothie, especially if the goal is weight loss, detoxifying, or cleansing. I suggest that you browse online for recipes with dandelions. In general, the bitter leaves can be balanced with sweet fruit, like bananas, strawberries, pineapple, or mango. Use 1-4 cups of dandelion greens, increasing to more as you continue drinking the smoothies.
— I didn’t forget TEA, perhaps the most common way to put dandelions in our diet. I just ordered a few more boxes of this tea. I will try making it from scratch at some point, but for now, this is great:Traditional Medicinals Teas – Supports healthy digestion and gently stimulates the liver. I just ordered a few more boxes of this tea.
Note: Dandelion greens are highly perishable, so store in the fridge in a roomy plastic tub with a large paper towel to absorb the moisture.
If you are not lucky enough to live in one of the temperate zones, where they have naturalized, you CAN buy Organic Dandelion Seeds at: https://www.horizonherbs.com/product.asp?specific=430
The fact that there are so many benefits in just one plant, certainly makes it worth including dandelions in our diet and thinking twice about automatically killing them, if we are lucky enough to have this valuable plant in our gardens. Remember: Dandelions for health AND good eating! - Ruth T Hill
P.S. I was reminded, in the comments section about dandelion wine, made with the flowers – haven’t tried it, yet.