Dandelions have come a long way since the ’70s and 80’s when most people considered them an evasive weed that no one wanted in their yards. People spent hours pruning their green and lush lawns of those bright yellow flowers, only to have them return year after year.
Not anymore! Now people welcome them to their landscapes and they are smart to do so. Topping Kale and Spinach, they have become a superfood with health benefits that are worth considering.
Scientific Name: Taraxacum
The most common variety found in the United States is the Taraxacum officials. There are over 100 varieties in the world.
The dandelion is considered a herb by botanists. It is actually considered part of the sunflower family. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) now considers the dandelion as being safe to include in food products.
The dandelion is easy to misidentify. There are many plants that have leaves that are look-alikes.
Remember, their leaves are hairless, almost toothy notched, and usually between 5 and 25 cm long. The leaves stay low to the ground. The flowers are bright yellow. Their seed heads look like cotton fluff in the shape of a ball.
9 Health Benefits of Dandelions
The health benefits are many, however, most uses are not researched on humans. Testing and research have been done in numerous areas where health is concerned, but mostly on laboratory animals and on diseases like cancer inside of test tubes. I have included links within this article for you to refer back to the research that has been performed.
1. Lowering Blood Pressure
Dandelions are an excellent source of potassium, and there is clinical evidence that potassium reduces blood pressure. In the future, we may see more natural medications that treat blood pressure being offered. In the meantime, consuming this plant in any form can possibly be helpful when regulating blood pressure.
2. Reduces Cholesterol
One study, in animals like rabbits and mice, shows that consuming dandelions have reduced cholesterol levels and even levels of fat within the liver. This is a great sign of hope for natural methods to control cholesterol in patients. However, again this has not been tested on humans.
3. Reducing the Risks of Cancer
Researchers found that the impact from dandelions of growth on cancer grown in test tubes shows that it may actually slow the growth of colon, pancreatic, and liver cancer. This is a positive turn for future cancer treatment.
4. Regulates Blood Sugar
Research in one study found that certain compounds found in dandelions may treat Type 2 Diabetes. They are currently working on research towards definitive claims.
5. Boosts the Immune System
Dandelions have antiviral and antibacterial properties. If researchers can provide enough evidence of this, many immunity problems can be treated better with them.
A 2014 study found that they even help limit the growth of Hepatitis B in humans and animals.
6. Aids in Weight Loss
This plant can quite possibly help in weight loss patients as well. Dandelions are know to improve carbohydrate metabolism and even reduce fat absorption. This is a great help when trying to lose weight.
Research also shows that some chemicals found in dandelions may help improve digestion system processes which is good news for people who suffer from constipation, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), and other digestive disorders.
7. Provides Antioxidants
Everyone’s body produces free radicals naturally. Some of these are good and some are bad. These free radicals can be the reason for accelerated aging and the progression of many natural diseases. The antioxidants found in dandelions, according to one study, neutralize those free radicals.
Dandelions also provide beta-carotene (antioxidant). Beta-carotene can help protect cells from damage. The flowers contain polyphenols, another type of antioxidant as well.
8. Reduces Inflammation
Some studies indicate that dandelion extracts and compounds may have an impact on reducing inflammation in the body. Again, these studies were not done on humans, only animals.
9. Keeps Skin Healthy
A 2015 study found that dandelion reduces the impact of one type of UV light on skin cells. This could be potentially helpful in preventing or treating skin cancer in the near future.
Common Uses of Dandelion
Many people are using dandelions for their health in their own homes recently. Some common uses are the following:
- Used to increase urine production
- As a laxative to increase bowel movements
- As a skin toner
- As a blood tonic
- As a digestive tonic
Other Uses for Dandelions
Dandelions are not just for treating health issues. Many people use them for many other uses from skincare to food ingredients and additives. And can you blame them? Some common uses are as follows:
- Skin Care Lotions
- Infused Oils
- Bath Bombs
- Facial Masks
- Lip Balms
- Shampoo Bars
Did you know that 1/2 cup of dandelion greens equals more calcium than a glass of milk?
Dandelions are a great source of vitamins C, A, and K. They are rich in potassium, zinc, magnesium, iron, calcium, and choline. The best part about dandelions is that you can use every single part, the leaf, the stems, the flowers, and the roots!
Dandelions as a Food Source
Dandelions are often used in many everyday foods. These include:
- As a coffee substitute (roots)
Before using dandelions in your menu, consider the following facts. The older the dandelion is, or the later in the season the more bitter they become. Their taste is almost like that of a turnip. Honey and sweeteners are often added to recipes to battle the bitterness.
How and Where to Forage Dandelions
Dandelions are found almost everywhere. They grow in sunny, open locations and most abundantly in the Northern Hemisphere, Southern parts of Africa and Australia. The northern US seems to thrive with them. Spring is the best time to harvest them and early fall works well too. The earlier the better.
If you are lucky enough to have them growing wild please keep a few rules in mind before grabbing them up.
- Do not dig up dandelions growing along a busy highway, they may be treated chemically and who knows what they have been covered with from passing traffic.
- Make sure you are not foraging on protected ground like wildflower preserves and parks.
- Do not pick them where animals like dogs frequent. Dogs may have “relieved themselves” on that spot.
- If foraging in your own yard or friends, make sure the owners do not have their yard treated with chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers.
If you do happen to have a nice, healthy spot where dandelions are free for the picking, have at it. Just make sure to get the entire plant, roots and all if you have intentions of using the whole thing. If not, pick the part you need so the plant can continue and reproduce again.
Preserving the Harvest
Unless you are lucky enough to find an abundance of flowers at one time, chances are you may need to save what you have already collected until you can get more elsewhere or at another time.
You have a few options here. You can simply freeze the flowers in a baggie in the freezer until you have enough and are ready to use them. You can dry the petals and keep them in an airtight container. You can even dry the leaves for later. I have not tried just freezing the whole plant at one time because I always have a specific part I wish to use and only forage for that part but I am sure you can do so safely.
The use of a dehydrator can come in handy for drying the petals and leaves of the dandelions. For freezer bags, I recommend using a vacuum system so you can remove as much as possible before freezing.
Using Dandelions in Your Cooking and Pantry Items
There are many ways to use dandelions in the food and even drinks you serve your family.
The roots, when ground, can be used for teas and wine. Usually, you will use the main taproot and discard the small finger-like roots that grow off the main root. These finger-like roots are used by the plant to send runners to form new plants from the parent plant. When ground the roots can be used as a coffee substitute.
The main taproots can also be boiled and made as if you were making carrots as a side dish. Just season them as you would your carrots.
The flower petals can be used as a garnish or in salads and desserts. The youngest blossoms will have a honey-like taste and are delicious. You can also dip the flowers in Tempura batter and fry them in oil.
The leaves can be fried just as you would any type of green from your garden. The youngest greens can be eaten raw in your salad.
Words of Caution
As with all foraged foods and new additions to your diet, please consult your physician before consuming dandelions if you are pregnant, nursing or have allergies to other similar plants.
People that suffer allergies to the following should be careful before consuming dandelions in any form:
Lesser Known Facts About Dandelions
There are some interesting facts about dandelions you may not know!
- The white milky substance found in the stems can be used as a glue, as a mosquito repellent and to treat warts.
- The flower opens every morning and closes every evening.
- Until about 1800 or so most people pulled all the grass in their “yards” to leave room for foraging plants which they used in cooking and medicines.
- A dandelion plant has one of the longest flowering seasons of any plant.
- Seeds can be carried over 5 miles by way of wind.
- The 3 stages of the dandelion plant resemble the celestial bodies of the sun, the moon, and the stars. The yellow flower for the sun, the seed head for the moon, and blowing seeds for the stars.
- The name comes from the French “dent de lion” meaning lion’s tooth for the serrated edges of the leaves.
- They do not need to be pollinated to go to seed.
Final Thoughts on Dandelions
Dandelions have many uses, from treating illness and health issues to providing vitamins and nutrients our body needs. They provide an added amount of nutrition, flavor and even garnish to our family’s meals.
Have you tried this superfood yet? Maybe it is time to try them for yourself! Check out my free download below where I give away 3 free recipes using them! I am sure you will agree they are tasty and versatile!
Want to learn more ways of using food from your own yard? Check out my Food Forest posts, How To Establish a Fantastic Food Forest Easily, and The Most Popular Options For Food Forest Perennials. Then check out my shop page for my Food Forest Ebook!