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To some people, dandelion is just a pesty weed. But to herbalists, the dandelion is an exalted herb with a lot of healing secrets.
Other Names: Blowball, Cankerwort, Lion’s Tooth, Priest’s Crown, Swine Snout, Wild Endive
Dandelion is grown commercially in both the United States and Europe. Some authorities have suggested that the yellow flowers might be compared to the golden teeth of the heraldic lion, while others say that the whiteness of the root is the feature which provides the resemblance. Still others say it’s just an annoying weed messing up our yards every summer!
Besides culinary use as a coffee substitute and a salad ingredient, the root and leaf of this pervasive weed of the aster family are also used in traditional medicine.
The leaves are not often used, except for making Herb-Beer, but a medicinal tincture is sometimes made from the entire plant gathered in the early summer. It is made with proof spirit.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to treat dandelion as a weed. The agency’s official position is: “There is no convincing reason for believing it possesses any therapeutic virtues.” Many herbalists of today strongly disagree.
Dandelion as an Herb for Medicinal Uses
Both dandelion leaf and dandelion root have been used for centuries to treat liver, gall bladder, and kidney ailments, weak digestion, and rheumatism. They are also considered mildly laxative, as the bitter compounds in dandelion root help stimulate digestion. The fresh root or its preparations are thought to be more potent than the dried root. The leaves have traditionally been used as a diuretic.
Dandelion root and leaf are widely used in herbal medicines in Europe. The leaves are high in potassium, so they help to compensate for potassium lost with increased urination when dandelion is used as a diuretic. The leaves are prescribed as a diuretic in cases of water retention and for bloating accompanied by flatulence and loss of appetite.
The roots have been shown to be moderately anti-inflammatory, which supports their traditional use in the treatment of rheumatism. The root is used for dyspepsia, loss of appetite and for disorders associated with inhibited bile secretion from the liver.
Extracts (in 25 percent alcohol) are preferred for bile flow stimulation as the active compounds are more soluble in alcohol than in water.
The tincture made from the tops may be taken in doses of 10 to 15 drops in a spoonful of water, three times daily.
In Russian Folk Medicine the root is prepared as an extract in vodka and taken like tea or coffee; called ‘Life Elixir’ it is used as a blood purifier, expectorant and nervine (probably more due to the vodka than the dandelion root), and to treat liver problems/diseases, jaundice, gall bladder problems, skin conditions, digestive problems.
The Mohegan Indians of North America steeped the leaves for a physic. The Potawatomis used the roots as a bitter tonic. The Meskwakis used the root for chest pain when other remedies did not work.
The German Commission E monographs on dandelion leaf and root indicate that in cases of gallstones, dandelion products should be used only under a physician’s supervision. If bile ducts are obstructed, dandelion should not be used at all. The milky latex in fresh dandelion leaves may cause contact dermatitis. Bitter herbs such as dandelion root may also cause hyperacidity in some individuals.
Culinary Uses of Dandelion
The young leaves of the Dandelion make a wholesome addition to spring salads. The full-grown leaves should not be taken, being too bitter, but the young leaves, especially if blanched, make an excellent salad, either alone or in combination with other plants, lettuce, shallot tops or chives.
Young Dandelion leaves make delicious sandwiches, the tender leaves being laid between slices of bread and butter and sprinkled with salt. The addition of a little lemon-juice and pepper varies the flavor. The leaves should always be torn to pieces, rather than cut, in order to keep the flavor.
The young leaves may also be boiled as a vegetable, spinach fashion, thoroughly drained, sprinkled with pepper and salt, moistened with soup or butter and served very hot. If considered a little too bitter, use half spinach, but the Dandelion must be partly cooked first in this case, as it takes longer than spinach. As a variation, some grated nutmeg or garlic, a teaspoonful of chopped onion or grated lemon peel can be added to the greens when they are cooked. A simple vegetable soup may also be made with Dandelions.
Chop the young raw leaves and sprinkle over the sour cream on a baked potato. Some people like to soak the young leaves in salt water for 30 minutes to remove the bitter taste.
The flowers are minced and added to butters and spreads for color. Flowers are also used to make jelly, muffins, cookies, and soup.
The Pennsylvannia Dutch make a salad dressing of hot cider and sugar to use over dandelion greens.
The root is cut in small pieces, then slow roasted in oven at 225 degrees until color of coffee, then ground up for coffee substitute (a pinch of orange peel makes a nice addition to a cup of this beverage). The roasted and ground root was once combined in equal parts with roasted acorns and roasted rye as a coffee substitute.
A tea can be made from the root by adding about 4 tablespoons of dried herb to 1 quart of water; cover and bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
Flowers are good dipped in batter and fried.
The dried Dandelion leaves are also employed as an ingredient in many digestive or diet drinks and herb beers. Dandelion Beer is a rustic fermented drink common in many parts of the country and made also in Canada. Workmen in the furnaces and potteries of the industrial towns of the Midlands have frequent resource to many of the tonic Herb Beers, finding them cheaper and less intoxicating than ordinary beer, and Dandelion stout ranks as a favorite. An agreeable and wholesome fermented drink is made from Dandelions, Nettles and Yellow Dock.
In Berkshire and Worcestershire, the flowers are used in the preparation of a beverage known as Dandelion Wine. This is made by pouring a gallon of boiling water over a gallon of the flowers. After being well stirred, it is covered with a blanket and allowed to stand for three days, being stirred again at intervals, after which it is strained and the liquor boiled for 30 minutes, with the addition of 3-1/2 pounds of loaf sugar, a little ginger sliced, the rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon sliced. When cold, a little yeast is placed in it on a piece of toast, producing fermentation. It is then covered over and allowed to stand two days until it has ceased ‘working,’ when it is placed in a cask, well bunged down for two months before bottling. This wine is suggestive of sherry slightly flat, and has the deserved reputation of being an excellent tonic, extremely good for the blood.
Alternatively, here is a recipe from Dr. Lehman of Mountville, Pennsylvania.
- 4 quarts dandelion flowers
- 4 quarts boiling water
- 4 pounds sugar
- 1 lemon
- 2 oranges
Pour boiling water over the flowers. Let stand 24 hours. Then boil 20 minutes. Put in the rind of the lemon and orange in when boiling. Strain through colander. Add the pulp of the lemon and orange sliced in when it is lukewarm. Add a tablespoon of yeast and let stand a week. Strain through a cheesecloth and put it up. Keep a month before using. If you put it in a jar, do not tighten the lid all at once. Sealing too soon will over-pressure the bottles.
The roasted roots are largely used to form Dandelion Coffee, being first thoroughly cleaned, then dried by artificial heat, and slightly roasted until they are the tint of coffee, when they are ground ready for use. The roots are taken up in the autumn, as this is the best time for this purpose. The prepared powder is said to be almost indistinguishable from real coffee, and is claimed to be an improvement to inferior coffee, which is often an adulterated product.
More recently, Dandelion Coffee has come more into use, being obtainable at most vegetarian restaurants and stores. Formerly it was occasionally given for medicinal purposes, generally mixed with true coffee to give it a better flavor. The ground root is often mixed with chocolate for a similar purpose. Dandelion Coffee is a natural beverage without any of the injurious effects that ordinary tea and coffee have on the nerves and digestive organs. Try making your own!
- 1/4 cup dandelion roots
- 2 teaspoons chocolate bits
- 2 tablespoons rum
Collect dandelion roots from healthy plants. Wash and scrub roots to remove all dirt. Dry the roots thoroughly and roast in a 250 degree oven for 2 to 4 hours, until they are brittle and dark brown inside. Grind them and use the powder to make 4 cups coffee. A drip pot with filter paper works well. Add chocolate and rum to serve after dinner. Serves 4. Source: Edible Plants Cookbook, Greenhills Environmental Center, Dallas TX
Dandelion Coffee exercises a stimulating influence over the whole system, helping the liver and kidneys to do their work and keeping the bowels in a healthy condition, so that it offers great advantages to dyspeptics and does not cause wakefulness. You can even purchase dandelion coffee pre-made! Search Amazon to the right to find “Dandy Blend”. Dandy Blend tastes remarkably like a rich, full-bodied cup of coffee. It is caffeine free, and has no acidity or bitterness.
Cooked Dandelion Greens Recipe
Cooked dandelion greens can go from ravioli or lasagna fillings to a simple saute in olive oil with garlic as a side dish.
Ingredients and Directions: Cut the roots from the greens and discard. Wash well in cold water. Bring a large pot of water to a full boil and put the greens into the water by the handful. Bring water quickly back to the boil and cook just until wilted, two or three minutes. Drain and run cold water over to stop the cooking. Squeeze as much moisture out as possible. At this point you may wrap well in plastic wrap and freeze for future use, 8 to 10 ounces per package is a useful size.
These greens may be used as a substitute for spinach or Swiss chard in any number of recipes.
An old charming practice was for children to blow against the seedheads as hard as they could, then count the remaining seeds to see how many children they would have. OR you can blow your romantic thoughts to your sweetheart.
Tea made from the root will help promote psychic power when you drink it. Place the tea next to your bed to call spirits.
Dreams with a dandelion present were believed to be bad luck, although how that got started is uncertain. Today’s understanding is that there is something good in your life which you are overlooking, symbolically: the gold or sun at your feet.
It’s said that if you can blow all the seeds off a dandelion with one blow, you are loved with a passionate love. If some seeds remain, your lover has reservations about the relationship. If a lot of the seeds still remain on the globe, then you are not loved at all.
No health hazards are known in conjunction with the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages. Superacid gastric complaints are possible due to the drug’s secretion stimulating effect. The drug possesses weak potential for sensitization reactions.
If you have kidney disease or diabetes, it may be best to avoid dandelion.
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