“Mama had a baby and its head popped off.”
Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is an edible herb originally from Eurasia and was revered by ancient people for its edible and medicinal value. In the conformist 1950s when everyone was on the lookout for communism and crabgrass, Abraham Levitt & Sons came along. The King of Suburbia built his “11 minute” house subdivisions for the GIs returning from WWII. Introducing the concept of a neat, weed-free lawn appealed to the military trained middle class American, making it the pride of every new homeowner. Lawn chemicals were applied liberally and led to the DDT nightmare in the late 1960s, the glyphosate obsession of today and the obliteration of the dandelion. Luckily this useful “weed” has again risen in popularity and commercial value around the world. Dandelions can be seen happily growing in the lawns and fields of organic minded homeowners.
“Dent de lion,” which translates to lion’s tooth in French, are in the Asteraceae family, and have composite flowers made up of individual florets. Appearing in late March or early April in the northeast, they are a vital source of early spring nectar for honeybees and other pollinators. They produce seeds asexually meaning that they are produced without pollination. Each offspring is identical to its parent plant. The leaves are simple, lobed, and form a basal rosette above the central taproot. The flowers open during the day, then close at night. The hollow stem and the leaves exude a white latex when broken. The flowers mature into spherical seed heads containing single seeded fruits called achenes. It is said that the flower represents the three celestial bodies—sun, moon, and stars. When the “stars” or seeds are released and taken to the wind they tend to stay within 15 feet of the mother plant, but may travel as far as five miles away.
Dandelions are good for more than just making flower chains and wishes blown into the wind.
There are over 100 species of dandelions worldwide, and they were intentionally introduced to North American by European colonists. Its uses range from dying fabric to medicine to edible food. The entire plant is used as a general tonic. It may be taken as an infusion in tea, a juice extraction, a root decoction, or as a tincture. Fresh leaves are eaten in salads or added to cooked dishes. The taproot can be thick and grow up to 1 1/2 feet long or even deeper in loose soil. It is a hardy herb that will regrow from root parts left in the soil during harvest.
The medicinal uses include eradication of warts, soothing bee stings, and minion sores, treatment for liver diseases and cleansing the bloodstream by increasing bile production. The herb is also used as a mild laxative and a diuretic. One of its nicknames is “piss-a-bed”. This diuretic quality helps heart problems and lowers blood pressures. It is believed dandelion can also help reduce stiffness and provide relief for rheumatism and arthritis. The dried root is also used as a coffee replacement. As with all herbal treatments, please consult your doctor first before taking any supplements. These are not meant to replace your prescribed medication and may have a negative effect on your health.
Dandelion is rich in potassium, calcium, lecithin, iron, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, boron, and zinc. It also provides vitamins B, C, E, and K. The chemical constituents in the leaf include glycosides, carotenoids, terpioids, choline, potassium salts, and other trace minerals.
1/3 Cup dandelion flowers—just the yellow part of the blossom. This is about three full cups of entire blossoms. You can use your finger nail to dig out the yellow fleurets or a paring knife.
4 Cups water
4 Cups granulated sugar (white is best because it does not discolor the jelly)
1 Box powdered pectin
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Drop yellow food coloring (optional)
In a medium bowl, mix together the sugar and pectin and set aside.
In a large soup kettle bring the water to a boil with one half the blossoms in it. Once it comes to a boil, turn it off, cover, and let it sit for up to 30 minutes. Strain out the blossoms, put steeped water back in the kettle and repeat with the remaining blossoms. Once it has steeped for 20 minutes or so, strain out the blossoms, being sure to press out all that golden goodness through a fine mesh strainer. Wash out the kettle, then measure three cups of the steeped water back in. Turn heat on medium high and slowly add the sugar and pectin mix, stirring constantly. Add lemon juice and optional food coloring. Bring to a full rolling boil for one minute. Turn off heat and skim off the foamy bubbles on top. Pour into sterilized, hot jars leaving a quarter-inch headroom under the lid. This recipe makes two pints, or four half pint jars. Store in the refrigerator or process in a water bath for 10 minutes.
*The jelly does not set, it remains as a thick gel perfect for adding to tea.
Detoxifying Green Soup
1 Tbsp coconut oil
2 Shallots, chopped
4 Cloves garlic, crushed
4 Cups cauliflower, chopped
2 Heaping cups dandelion leaves, torn up
5 Cups vegetable broth
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper
Heat the coconut oil in a soup kettle, add cauliflower, and shallots. Cook over medium heat for five to seven minutes or until shallots are soft. Add garlic and saute for about one minute then add broth. Bring to a boil, then turn down and cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until cauliflower is tender. Turn off heat and toss in dandelion leaves and lemon juice. Let sit for 10 minutes covered, then with an immersion blender, puree until smooth. Serve immediately
Wilted Dandelion Greens Salad
1 Lb dandelion greens, washed, dried, and torn into bite size pieces
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tsp sugar or maple syrup
1/2 Tsp dry mustard
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp bacon bits or chopped vegan bacon
1 Clove garlic, chopped
1 Sweet onion, sliced
In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, and mustard. Set aside.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet then add garlic and bacon bits. Saute for about one minute then add dandelion greens. Using thongs, keep tossing the greens until they begin to wilt. Turn off heat, add onions, and pour the vinaigrette over the greens. Divide among plates and heat while warm.
*Fresh orange slices or strawberries are delicious when added before serving.