Thursday, February 17, 2011

Herb of the Week - Dandelion

As the signs of spring begin I thought it was a good time to talk about an herb (please remember herbs are “weeds”) that although beneficial, most people reject as noxious. 
This week’s herb of the week is Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale.)
Dandelion is an herb, although most of us rarely grow it on purpose.  And since it does spring forth uninvited, I recommend wild harvesting all that you need or want from unsprayed yards.  You will be doing your neighbors a favor. 
The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has long been cultivated for food, herbs and tea, but most Americans consider them weeds and collectively spend an enormous amount of time and money to eradicate them. Thought by some to have been brought to America from Europe, at least two sources report that several North American Indian tribes have traditionally used the dandelion for food and medicine. Thus, it seems likely that the dandelion inhabited both the old world and the new.
The first mention of the Dandelion as a medicine is in the works of the Arabian physicians of the tenth and eleventh centuries, who speak of it as a sort of wild Endive, under the name of Taraxcacon. In England, there is allusion to it in the Welsh medicines of the thirteenth century. Dandelion was much valued as a medicine in the times of Gerard and Parkinson, and is still extensively employed
A common plant of the Aster family with single flowering heads full of bright yellow strap-shaped flowers on hollow, unbranched stalks with hairless, large-toothed leaves.  It grows from seed, but produced a tap root that will regenerate into new plants if snapped in half.  Seed spread easily from mature flower heads.
Why care about dandelion?  Besides making a good wine and a not bad salad, it is a useful medicinal herb.
Dandelion Wine
For those who do not know, the wine is made from the flower petals only. Pick the flower heads mid- to late-morning and then wash your hands (they get sticky while picking the flowers), sit in the shade and pull the petals off the flowers. Some people have say they use the flower heads without excessive bitterness, but generally it is better to depetal the flowers avoiding any green which can make the wine bitter. You can freeze the petals until you have gathered enough to make a batch of wine.
Dandelion wine is typically a light wine lacking body. It is light and invigorating and suited perfectly served with tossed salad and baked fish (especially trout). If you ferment with a body-enhancer but shave the sugar, the wine will serve well with pastas, heavier salads, fish, or fowl. Sweetened, it goes well before or after dinner. In any form, when chilled to near iciness it is one of the most refreshing drinks to enjoy a very hot summer afternoon. Nothing else tastes like it.
For a recipe and instructions for making Dandelion Wine, see our Seasonal Recipes above.

Cooking with Dandelions
You can use the leaves of a dandelion like any salad green.  Dandelions are great in salads or can be cooked. If they are cooked they don’t need long cooking like the sturdier greens of collards etc. below is a simple cooked recipe for them if you’re looking for an official recipe. Dandelions are a bit bitter, French and Italian cooks and eaters enjoy the bitterness; Americans can sometimes be put off by the bitterness.
Salad of Dandelion and Fresh Goat Cheese
adapted from Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables by E. Schneider
1 bunch dandelion greens, cleaned and dried
about 1/4 pound fresh white goat cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes
1/3 cup or so of chopped red onion
2 T sherry or other light vinegar
2 T walnut or other nut oil, can use a good olive oil if that’s what’s on hand
½ t sugar
1 T. fresh snipped chives
3-4 T toasted and coarsely chopped walnuts
Cut off and discard stem bases. Cut each stalk into 2-inch pieces. Pile on a serving dish; intersperse with cheese. Sprinkle with onion to taste.
In small nonaluminum pan combine vinegar, oil, and sugar; bring to a boil, stirring. Pour over salad and toss lightly. Sprinkle with nuts and serve at once.
Dandelion Greens Sauté
1 lb. dandelion greens
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves garlic
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Wash and slice greens. Blanch in enough water to cover about 1 minute. Drain and sauté in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes, then add the sesame and garlic and sauté for couple minutes more. Add the sesame oil and serve.
Dandelions are great in salads or can be cooked. If they are cooked they don’t need long cooking like the sturdier greens of collards etc. below is a simple cooked recipe for them if you’re looking for an official recipe. Dandelions are a bit bitter, French and Italian cooks and eaters enjoy the bitterness; Americans can sometimes be put off by the bitterness. If your family isn’t sure about it, try one of the richer recipes with bacon, or plenty of olive oil and chili flakes for a vegetarian, even vegan, version. If you’re sure everyone at your table (including you) will NOT enjoy the dandelions, find an Italian or French friend who will enjoy how fresh they are.

Medicinal uses
Dandelion root, ubiquitous in lawns and gardens, is widely-used for cooling and cleansing the liver; it is excellent in herbal formulas for hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver toxicity. It increases the flow of bile and has been used for a variety of liver-associated illnesses. Dandelion has anti-carcinogenic, estrogen-lowering, and blood cholesterol-lowering capabilities. It also helps with headaches, emotional swings before or during menstruation, acne, red, irritated eyes, mood swings.  It is also a strong diuretic. In Chinese medicine dandelion root is taken internally and applied topically for abscesses and nodules. Additionally, it is used to increase lactation and clear liver heat when there are symptoms such as painfully inflamed eyes. Dandelion root tea is also a famous specific for breast cancer but should be taken only in conjunction with advice from a certified herbalist.

Dandelion is a natural diuretic that increases urine production by promoting the excretion of salts and water from the kidney. Dandelion may be used for a wide range of conditions requiring mild diuretic treatment, such as poor digestion, liver disorders, and high blood pressure. One advantage of dandelion is that dandelion is a source of potassium, a nutrient often lost through the use of other natural and synthetic diuretics.

Fresh or dried dandelion herb is also used as a mild appetite stimulant and to improve upset stomach (such as feelings of fullness, flatulence, and constipation). The root of the dandelion plant is believed to have mild laxative effects and is often used to improve digestion. Research suggests that dandelion root may improve the health and function of natural bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Studies have also reported that dandelion root may help improve liver and gallbladder function.

Dandelion may be used in a variety of available forms:

Dried leaf infusion: 1 - 2 teaspoonfuls, 3 times daily.
To make the infusion, pour hot water onto dried leaf and steep for 5 - 10 minutes. Drink as directed.

Dried root decoction: 1/2 - 2 teaspoonfuls, 3 times daily.
To make the decoction, place root into boiling water for 5 - 10 minutes. Strain and drink liquid as directed.

Dandelion Leaf tincture 100 - 150 drops, 3 times daily
Steep 1 part fresh leaves in a solution of 5 parts 30 % alcohol for at least one week.  Strain and store in a refrigerator.

Root tincture 100 - 150 drops, 3 times daily
Steep 1 part cut up root pieces in 2 parts 45 % alcohol for at least 1 week.  Strain and store in refrigerator.

As a caution, one should never self-medicate and always ask a professional for advice.  Please also be aware that one should avoid Dandelion if taking antibiotics or Lithium.

The final way to enjoy rather than be annoyed by dandelions is just to read Dandelion Wine the book by Ray Bradbury.


  1. When I'm making my wine, I not only use just the flower petals, I do not use any flowers that the bees have visited and removed the honey. You can tell which they are by the fine black line in the center of the flower instead of a brilliant white halo. Love that wine!

  2. Wow that is valuable info. Thank you Sharlene.


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