Dandelions are widespread in the UK, from pavement cracks to lawns, many view them as an invasive weed that’s a nightmare to get rid of. But the humble dandelion holds a powerhouse of health benefits, it has been used throughout history to treat everything liver problems and kidney disease to heartburn and appendicitis.
The Health Benefits of Dandelions
Every part of this common weed – from the roots to the blossoms – is edible. It’s a good thing too, as the humble dandelion is bursting with vitamins A, B, C and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium and zinc.
Some benefits of eating your weeds:
- The leaves boast more beta carotene than carrots, meaning they are great for healthy eyes!
- The greens also provide 535% of the recommended daily value of vitamin K, which is vital for strengthening bones and preventing cognitive decline.
- A 2011 study showed that dandelion root tea may induce leukemia cells to die. Researchers reported that the tea didn’t send the same ‘kill’ message to healthy cells.
- The plant is a diuretic that helps the kidneys clear out waste, salt and excess water by increasing urine production – perhaps the reason that European children’s lore claims you will wet the bed if you pick the flowers!
- With such a rich nutrient load, the plant is filled with antioxidants – which may help stave off premature aging, cancer, and other illnesses caused by oxidative stress.
- Animal studies discovered that dandelion root and leaf manages cholesterol levels.
- Research also shows that dandelion extract boosts immune function and fights off microbes.
- Dandelion can also help the digestive system according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Fresh or dried dandelion can stimulate the appetite and settle the stomach while the root of the plant may act as a mild laxative.
Dandelions in the Kitchen
The leaves are the most nutritious and oft-used part of a dandelion. Pick them in the spring, when they are young and small and do not yet have buds or flowers. This ensures the least bitter flavor. You can also blanch the leaves in boiling water for 1 minute to help remove the bitterness, but you will loose some of the nutrients in the boiling water.
The flowers (all stems and sepals – the green stuff just beneath the petals – removed) should be fresh and can be eaten raw, cooked, or made into wine.
The roots are said to be tastiest once the cold weather sets in – from fall through very early spring. They are mostly used as any root vegetable would be used, in stews, soups, and roasts. They also make a coffee-like drink (without the caffiene).
Because the entire plant is edible there are a myriad of ways in which you can use dandelion for culinary purposes. Here are some ideas:
Sautéed Greens and Garlic
Sautéing with garlic adds flavor and negates some of the bitterness associated with these leaves. Blanching them by immersing in boiling water for 20 to 30 seconds also helps reduce the acrid taste. Avoid very mature leaves, these are too unpleasant for some. This double garlic and greens recipe is a simple and delicious one to start with.
Dandelion Pumpkin Seed Pesto
This nutritious pesto is perfect for a simple pasta, sandwich spread or veggie dip. Because the dandelion greens have a slight bite, the toasted pumpkin seeds, lemon juice and parmesan are vital to bring balance. Here is the original, and here is a milder version.
Fried dandelion flowers, first dipped in seasoned batter, make a tasty, attractive and novel snack or side dish. By removing all the bitter green parts, you’re left with the mild-tasting and faintly sweet blossoms. Find a recipe here.
Enjoy increased wellbeing by using this herbal vinegar on salads, in dressings, soups, stews and sauces or by simply mixing with water and drinking as a revitalizing tonic. Infuse dandelion flowers in apple cider vinegar for four weeks, strain and store in a dark place for up to twelve months. Find instructions here.
A dandelion greens and spring onion risotto provides a sharp and smooth contrast that works rather well, try out the recipe here. Or, cook with just the flowers and make them into a jewel-like mild and sweet risotto. The recipe can be found here.
Instead of the traditional Korean kimchi which is made with cabbage, try this foraged alternative uses dandelion greens. Eat your way to good gut health by fermenting the greens with herbs, spices, green onions and soy sauce, as outlined here. A vegan fish sauce recipe can be found here.
These soaked muffins, made with whole wheat flour, oatmeal, coconut, honey and dandelion petals are perfect for serving with Spring soups, or smeared with honey as a snack. Learn how to make them here.
Make a delicious iced treat from freshly picked dandelion blossoms. Perfect for a summer’s day in the garden, or served after one of the many dandelion-inspired main meals. You’ll find the recipe here. You can even add other edible spring flower petals for color and taste variation.
This delicate jelly is delicious and sweet as honey. Use it on top of toast, crumpets or anything else that takes your fancy. It keeps in an airtight container for up to two weeks – but it definitely won’t last that long! Follow the recipe here.
Love pancake syrup but want to avoid the sickly sweet store-bought variety, which is loaded with nasty artificial additives and preservatives? Then this is the recipe for you! It’s made with just three ingredients – dandelions, lemon and sugar (or honey). The process is described here.
Dandelion Root Coffee
After you’ve sautéed the greens, and used the blossoms in your dessert, hang onto the roots and brew a caffeine-free alternative to coffee. It’s as simple as roasting and grinding them for a deep, earthy flavor. Follow step by step here. You can add cinnamon and vanilla for an extra tasty cup.
Iced Lime and Dandelion Tea
This iced lime and dandelion tea is so good even the kids will love it. It’s refreshing, natural, and has many skin promoting properties. Blended with fresh lime juice, and dried red raspberry leaf – learn how to make this healing tea here.
Surprisingly, these weeds can make a fine country wine – rich, strong and medium sweet. Find two separate recipes here.
If country wine isn’t your thing, perhaps a Danish schnapps sounds more appealing? Make it with the flower heads for a fresh, aromatic and mildly sweet taste which goes well with chocolate and other sweet offerings. Or, for a dry, spicy, aromatic drink – brew it with the roots. The recipes can be found here.
Dandelions for your body
Dandelion’s properties extend beyond the dinner table – they can also be harnessed to reduce pain and inflammation, and treat minor skin maladies.
Pain Relieving Oil
Dandelions are one of the most useful plants to reduce joint pain and aching muscles. Infuse the flowers in an oil and rub onto sore muscles and joints, or anywhere pain strikes. Making the infused oil is very simple, for instructions see here.
Pain Relieving Salve
For a more portable version of the pain relieving oil, turn the above oil infusion into a soothing balm. Simply blend at a ratio of 3:1 oil to beeswax (or candelilla wax for a vegan alternative) over a double boiler. Pour this mixture into a jar or tin and allow to cool before using. Exact measurements and instructions are here.
These therapeutic lotion bars help the toughest cases of cracked, dry skin by adding moisture and alleviating inflammation and soreness. It’s a lot less messy than salve. Again based on the above oil infusion, blend with beeswax, shea butter and lavender essential oil for a silky, smooth healing bar. The full process is detailed here.
Dandelions are a natural wart remover. The roots, stems and leaves of the plant exude a white sticky resin – this is the secret weapon against warts. Apply this sap directly onto warts once, or several times, per day and they should soon disappear.
Dandelions in the Home…
Use dandelions to add a pop of color to your home, or some nutrients to the garden.
Make a dandelion centerpiece simply using reclaimed wood and small nails. Assemble a box from the wood, hammer small finishing nails through the underside, and slide hand-picked dandelions on top – bright yellow flowers or if you’re careful, even the seedheads.
Natural Yellow Dye
Cook dandelion heads for an all-natural alternative to chemical-based dyes. This is an especially useful tip for those who weave their own wool but can be used on any garment. Here is how you can use the dye to brighten up your fabrics.
A liquid fertilizer, or ‘weed tea’ is simple to make and will give your garden a boost of nutrients. Since you can’t toss them into the compost pile as their seeds are still viable, brew up this organic fertilizer instead and pour or spray it onto flower beds and vegetable gardens. Here is the simple process for making the fertilizer.
Feed Your Goats
If you keep goats then you’ll know that they need a diverse, vegetarian diet, so use your unwanted dandelion weeds to form a part of that diet. Research has shown that animals choose what to eat based on their individual nutritional needs; so simply leave the dandelions growing, and they’ll most likely get munched up!
Save Some For The Bees!
Dandelions are the first food of the season for the bees. So, when picking the dandelions, make sure not to claim them all for yourself. Leave enough for the bees to survive.