Taraxicum officinale – Dandelion

DandelionTaraxacum officinale

Taraxacum = tair-axe-a-cum, G. taraxos means disorder, while akos means remedy, thus “Disturber” (from a Persian name for a bitter herb);

officinale = L. “sold in shops”;

Identification: This common plant hardly needs identification. It is a perennial composite with a solitary yellow flower head, made up of many flowers. The stems are hollow with a milky juice. The leaves are in rosettes and are deeply pinnately toothed, arising from a fleshy tap root. The seeds are achenes with white pappus.

Distribution & Habitat: There is barely a lawn in the city that is void of this common herb. It is so plentiful that it is usually not considered a God-sent “gift”.

“Dear common flower that grow’st beside the way
Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold
Tis the spring s largess which she scatters now
To rich and poor alike with lavish hand
Though most hearts never understand
To take it at God s value, but pass by
The offered wealth with unrewarded eye.”

— James Russell Lowell

Preparation & Uses: The young leaves of dandelion can be used for salads or cooked as greens if collected before the flowers appear. The best place to look for dandelion leaves is in deep shady areas covered with sand or leaf litter. The leaves of plants growing in such places are naturally blanched. These yellow or whitish leaves, which haven’t had enough sunlight, are the tenderest and the best tasting. You can dig up a bunch of dandelion roots, plant them in boxes and store them in the basement. This is best done in the fall and will give you a natural, tasty “green” all winter.

A good salad can be made from blanched dandelion leaves, onions, radishes, parsley and a little sugar. The blanched leaves also taste good with diced eggs, vinegar and oil.

The leaves of dandelion are extremely high in Vitamin A. (Beta Carotene, pro-vitamin A, 7,000 I.U./oz). They are also an excellent source of B complex and Vitamin C.

The leaves of dandelion can also be cooked like spinach. If they are slightly bitter, because of age, the water should be changed once or twice. Cooked leaves can be dressed with crisp bacon, and hard boiled eggs. They can also be creamed into soups, scalloped or baked with meat.

I once found this interesting recipe for dandelion pancakes. Take young blossoms and drop the heads onto the pancake batter while it is cooking in a frying pan. When the pancakes are turned over, the heads will cook. This will add variety and colour to any camp breakfast.

The roots can be sliced and cooked like carrots or as a delicious addition to stew. Dandelion root can also be roasted slowly until dark brown inside, ground up and then brewed like coffee. For making coffee, it is best to dig up the roots in the autumn. This coffee has none of the side effects that caffeinated coffee has. In fact, it is very healthy and can be found commercially in many health food stores.

Both the leaves and roots were listed officially for several years in the British Pharmaceutical Codex and in the U.S. Dispensatory from 1831 – 1926 and the National Formulary until 1965. It has been listed as a medicinal plant since the tenth century.

The Mohegan Indians steeped the leaves for physic uses, whilst the Ojibwas Indians made a tea from the root for heartburn. Meskwaki Indians used the root for pains in the chest when other remedies failed. Kloss, in his famous book “Back to Eden“, says dandelion has 28 parts sodium, making it a natural nutritive salt for purifying the blood and destroying acid in the blood. He usually used the roots. The roots of dandelion are also said to increase urine flow, while being slightly laxative. The roots are reported to be good for jaundice, skin diseases, scurvy, eczema, and useful for all kinds of kidney and liver troubles. Diabetics can use the dandelion as a very tasty coffee substitute. Lust says that dandelion can strengthen female organs.

This amazing plant can increase the activity of the liver, pancreas and spleen, and is especially good as a treatment for the enlargement of these organs. For bladder trouble, a tea is best made with cider vinegar.

It has also been reported that dandelion roots can lower blood sugar, have an antimicrobial effect (especially against Candida albicans ) and be useful for weight loss. One of dandelion s major constituents, inulin, is known to be immunostimulatory. Dandelion has been shown to work against two tumor systems, stimulating macrophage action, thus substantiating the Chinese use of dandelion for breast cancer during the last 1,000 years.

The white latex of fresh dandelions is the best thing I have ever found for treating warts. Apply topically 3 times a day for 7 – 10 days. The warts will turn black and fall off. The seeds are used in China as a strong antibiotic, specific to the lungs.

Hobbs reports that dandelion can lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, while giving support for emotional problems, skin problems and P.M.S. After seeing all of these uses, one wonders why we want to destroy this wonderful “free health food pharmacy“ that grows everywhere.

When you want to use dandelion, make sure you get it from an unsprayed area. Of course no description of dandelion would be complete without a recipe for dandelion wine. I found this one in Harrington s Edible Plants Native to the Rocky Mountains.

Dandelion Wine
– 1 gallon dandelion petals
– 4 lb. sugar
– 1 gallon boiling water
– 1 yeast cake(compressed)
– 4 oranges
– 1 lb. chopped raisins
– 1 lemon
– 1 slice toast

Pick the flower from the heads, throwing away the hollow stalk and the denuded heads. Place them in a crock or jar and pour the boiling water over them. Cover and leave for about five days, stirring several times during that period.

Strain off the liquid and add the sugar to it. Peel the orange and lemon and drop in peel, then add juices of these fruits and the chopped raisins. Boil for 20 minutes in a preserving kettle and return it to a crock.

Cool the liquid, place the yeast on the toast and put it in. Cover and leave for about 3 days. Then decant the liquid into jars or bottles. Some say that the wine should be aged for at least a year before using.

This wine has been claimed to have good tonic effects on the blood. If you would prefer a non-alcoholic drink of dandelion, try one developed by the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service:

Non-alcoholic Dandelion Drink
– 100 small, washed dandelion leaves
– 1½ cups tomato juice
– 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
– Dash of tabasco

Place all ingredients in a blender, blend for 3 – 5 minutes. Serve.