Not everyone thinks dandelions are swell like I do. In fact, I’d wager most people consider them another lawn weed to eradicate, one determined, single-minded way or another. In truth, most medicinal herbs are common plants that are prolific and commonly considered weeds. But weeds are, by definition, just plants that grow where they are not wanted.
Most people do their level best to rid their yards of dandelions. I, on the other hand, have a dedicated, protected area in my garden where the dandelions are not only encouraged, but protected and nurtured. Not long ago, the kids who live up the way from us were playing in the area down our lane where my dandelion patch grows. When I explained to them, ever so politely, that they were dancing all over my dinner they looked aghast. Forevermore branded, they wearily look at me now as The Nutcase Woman Who Eats Weeds.
I know what you’re thinking – probably the same thing I thought when I first tried a dandelion leaf. It’s gonna be bitter and terrible like it did when I was a kid. Dandelion leaves, when grown in the wild and not contaminated by common yard chemicals, are lovely, tender, bitter herbs. Maybe it’s just that I have an adult perspective, but the pungent, bitter from the leaves feel clean and refreshing in the same way arugula does.
The leaves are a mild and gentle diuretic, packed with beneficial nutrients like chlorophyll, vitamins A, C, D and B-complex. Bitters are spectacular stimulants for digestion, and I think dandelions are particularly delicious, hearty and fulfilling, especially when they are blended into a salad with other fresh spring greens like chickweed and cleavers. Add a dressing of good organic olive oil, organic cider vinegar and some garlic, salt and pepper and it’s a nutritious feast in a bowl.
The roots are spectacular too. No really. I was taught to harvest dandelions and other root herbs in the fall, when the vital energy of the plant is drawn down, and the aerial parts become dormant. In Oregon, we have had a few near freezing nights already, so a few days ago I dug the roots to infuse in vinegar for salad dressings and to dry, roast and blend with other herbs for warming winter teas.
Dandelion roots are a great source of iron, a staple for herbal liver cleansers, and generally considered safe for pregnant women. But you should note: dandelions do for the earth what they do for our bodies — they help the liver more efficiently process and eliminate toxins. Because they do this so efficiently for the soil and for our bodies, it’s very important to eat them only when harvested from clean places that are free from lawn fertilizers or pesticides. In other words, grown in an organic environment. My favorite way to eat dandelion roots fresh is to simply peel them like a carrot, sprinkle a little salt, and munch fresh. Delicious! No kidding!
Every part of the dandelion is valuable for one thing or another. One of my herb teachers used to make dandelion wine every spring. I haven’t done it, but I plan to next spring. I’ll report back about the results.
And by the way, those kids who think I am the Crazy Weed Lady? They get that dandelions aren’t just weeds. They know to make daisy chains from the flowers and to make a wish while blowing the seeds into the heavens. Intuitive little beings, children appreciate the value of a good weed, even if they can’t imagine eating it just yet.