Why do we hate lions? For reasons that are beyond any logic I can see, we have been convinced that dandelions are posies non grata in our landscapes. Yet they are a critical food source for native pollinators, vitamin-packed culinary delights, and multi-purpose herbal remedies. I’d say that’s not bad for a “weed.”
In fact, dandelion is so well-respected that it bears the Latin name Taraxicum officinale, roughly meaning “the official remedy for all disorders.” It has many reported health benefits, including as a liver support, for alleviating kidney and bladder stones, and as a poultice for boils. I don’t pretend to know every past and present medicinal use of the plant, and I recommend consulting an herbalist, as well as your doctor, before trying to treat yourself.
That said, the University of Maryland Medical School website says this about dandelions: “Preliminary animal studies suggest that dandelion may help normalize blood sugar levels and lower total cholesterol and triglycerides while raising HDL (good) cholesterol in diabetic mice. Researchers need to see if dandelion will work in people. A few animal studies also suggest that dandelion might help fight inflammation.”
You can buy dried and chopped dandelion root in bulk or in capsule form at most health-food stores or you can get it for free in your back yard, providing you don’t use lawn chemicals. Dandelion’s common English name comes from the French dent de lion, or lion’s tooth, referring to the robust serrations along their leaves. Leaves vary widely in appearance, though, and aside from their yellow mane, not every dandelion is as leonid as the next. The French common name, pis en lit, reflects the diuretic action of the roots, which probably shouldn’t be taken at night.
Dandelion greens are best in early spring before they’re done flowering. Harvesting late in the season is kind of like picking lettuce and spinach after they have bolted—edible, but not at their best. If you had a few dandelions take root in your garden last year, they are probably ready to uproot and eat right now. Sort of a new twist on the phrase “weed-and-feed.”
Young greens can be blanched and served in salad, or else boiled, but I like them best when chopped and sautéed. They go well in omelets, stir-fry, soup, casserole, or any savory dish for that matter. Fresh roots can be peeled, thinly sliced and sautéed. A real treat is dandelion crowns. The reason they flower so early is that fully-formed flower bud clusters are tucked into the center of the root crowns, whereas most flowers bloom on new growth. After cutting off the leaves, take a paring knife and excise the crowns, which can be steamed and served with butter.
Roasted dandelion roots make the best coffee substitute I’ve ever tasted, and that’s saying something because I really love coffee. Scrub fresh roots and spread them out on an oven rack so they don’t touch, and then roast them at about 250 F until they’re crispy and dark brown throughout. Honestly I can’t say how long it takes; between 2 and 3 hours. I always roast them when I have to be in the house anyway, and check frequently after the two-hour mark. Use a food processor or mortar and pestle to grind them. Compared to coffee, you use less of the ground root per cup.
The beverage tastes dandy, but as mentioned above, it’s more diuretic than coffee or black tea. I’ve never found this a problem, but if your morning commute involves traffic snarls, choose your breakfast drink accordingly.
I haven’t tried dandelion wine, a tradition that dates back centuries in Europe, and so have no first-hand experience to report, but scads of recipes populate the Internet. Friends and family members have tried it, with negative and positive reviews pretty well split.
Given all the virtues of dandelions, it’s amazing how much time and treasure our culture puts into eradicating them. It seems to verge on an obsession with some people, who drench their lawn with selective broadleaf herbicides like 2,4-D, dicamba and mecoprop. These all come with serious health risks, not to mention price tags.
For those who perhaps take the whole lion connection too far and can’t sleep at night if there are dandelions lurking on the premises, I’ll share a secret to getting them out of the landscape. Set the mower to cut at 10 cm. This will vastly reduce the number of weeds, and will lessen disease pressure and grub damage as well.
I say we give tax breaks to lawns full of dandelions, and criminalize the use of herbicides for cosmetic purposes. It’s the least we can do for pollinators. Let’s stop trying to kill the only North American lion not in danger of extinction, and learn to appreciate it more.
Photo of Dandelion courtesy Cornell Cooperative Extension.