A Brief Look at Dandelion

by Peter W. Simon

            Look at any hardware store lawn care section, and you’ll see many products proclaiming their effectiveness against Dandelions; and I can recall my father bemoaning their presence on his lawn back in my childhood.  But, despite our cultural perceptions of Dandelion as a weed invading our manicured lawns, its history is quite different indeed.  The sunny little flower most of us are familiar with was most likely brought over from Europe by settlers –  not as a stowaway, but as a food crop.

As a food crop, the entire plant can be consumed.  The most commonly eaten part is the leaves, culinarily referred to as Dandelion greens; these can be eaten raw or treated as any other green and are frequently blanched for those who dislike the somewhat bitter aspect of their flavor.  Nutritionally, these leaves are rich in both vitamins and minerals in addition to healthy fiber; Dandelion is a particularly good source of vitamins A, C, and K.  Dandelion is a fantastic plant for harvesting leaves, as it is a perennial and will continue to put up new leaves for years if the root is left undisturbed, which also allows the root to grow larger and deeper, tapping nutrients from further in the earth. In addition, the fresh bright yellow blossoms are used to flavor Dandelion wine, and the root has been roasted as a caffeine-free coffee substitute.

Beyond this, Dandelion has a long history as a medicinal plant; the latter part of the botanical name of the Dandelion most people are familiar with, Taraxacum officinale, refers to its use in apothecaries and pharmacies dating back to antiquity.  It is a very safe herb, with the only notable medical concern being that the leaves are a mild diuretic. In addition to the health benefits of its nutritional density, this herb is well known as a bitter digestive stimulant, which makes a salad of Dandelion greens a perfect appetizer.  The other well known property among herbalists is that Dandelion is beneficial for healthy liver function; and as the liver is one of the main elements in our body’s detoxification system, Dandelion can have a net effect of helping the body purify itself.

This so-called weed’s prolific nature as well as its nutritional and medicinal value make it an ideal renewable crop that can easily be grown on a small scale at home. Dandelion seems determined to follow human activity everywhere, as it is quite fond of disturbed soil; so perhaps it’s time to stop trying to poison them en mass and return to looking at the sunny little flowers as freely offering us themselves as our food and medicine.

 

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