Latin Name: Taraxacum officinale
Energetics: Cooling, bitter tonic
Taste: Bitter, sweet, minerally
In the early days of spring, Dandelions draw the eye with their tufts of golden petals perched on a single, hollow stem. Prolific is their nature. To one it is either a bane to behold, undermining all previous attempts at lawn care, or a sun-fed medicinal plant to cherish, you may choose your side.
For me, as the warm days roll in I witness the first Dandelion blossom with awe, celebrating its simple beauty, year after year. If you watch children and their first spring encounters with Dandelion, many are just as enthralled as I, if not more so. And why wouldn’t they be! The flowers serve as body paint and lawn snacks all in one, and when the seeds come, a breath filled wishing game on a stalk.
I say follow the children’s lead, let go of the dull idea of a pristine lawn and appreciate the Dandelion for what it is, a weed of wonder.
So ingenious are its seeds they carry their own parachute, floating on the wind in elegance, capable of up to a mile’s travel. This plant, subjected to the most toxic pesticides by some, is actually a medicine the likes of which our society needs in mass. And their food utility, edible from root to flower, was appreciated enough by humans past to carry it to many far-off places.
Long considered a traditional spring tonic, Dandelions were anticipated in the first warm days to provide the nutrient density of fresh vegetables missing from a winter’s diet.
Growing in a basal rosette, these early spring Dandelion greens are most palatable picked before flowering. The leaves as they grow older become tougher and increasingly bitter. The greens are packed full of nutrients, you can try them in a salad or a sauté, as they can be consumed raw or cooked.
The flower can be eaten raw, along with the flower stem, or cooked in any manner you see fit.
Dandelion roots can be chopped and put into stir fries. Filling a necessary bitterness to the diets of today. The roots also house inulin, an indigestible fiber that feeds our gut microbiome.
Most have moved far from the necessity of depending on weeds like Dandelion as a food source, but the world could benefit from its reintroduction. While we have an assortment of foods at our disposal our dietary choices have left our bodies in a stuck state, a perpetual digestive winter if you will.
Dandelions wild and bitter flavor helps to awaken us from the cold slumber and challenging our bodies into action. This stoking of our digestive fires physiologically provokes our bodies to better health through increased whole system functioning. Cultivating our digestive capabilities by motivating the release of gastric fluids and improving nutrient absorption, all of which creates a cascade of beneficial bodily effects from there.
Sesquiterpene lactones are responsible for the bitter principles in Dandelion and impart an anti-inflammatory nature through this stimulation of healthy digestive function and flow.
Our livers profit greatly from Dandelion, and the plant is specific to stasis in this system. Capable of reducing inflammation and congestion of the organ in ailments such as fatty liver, hepatitis and jaundice. It improves not only bile flow but production as well. And as a general tonic to the liver, it is one of the best we herbalists have.
Considered to have hypoglycemic effects, along with its digestive capabilities the bitter taste of the root and leaf can help reduce cravings for sugary foods and hamper our desire to overeat. It improves our bodies utilization of insulin and can be employed to balance blood sugar in cases of insulin resistance or diabetes.
The mineral filled leaves are a mild diuretic, stimulating the release of urine, especially helpful in cases of water retention associated with weakness in the cardiovascular system. Dandelion is considered a potassium-sparing diuretic. When the flow of fluids is increased out of the body, potassium loss occurs, but herbs like Dandelion that are high in potassium replace the lost mineral, in turn sparing overall levels of potassium in the body. All the while reducing inflammation and congestion in the kidneys and urinary tract.
Dandelion is a cooling plant, traditionally called for in cases of heat and irritation throughout the system, apparent in many chronic conditions of the inflammatory kind. It is employed in structural system complaints where there is not enough fluid incensing the inflammation and causing pain in the joints and muscles.
Dandelion is a readily recognizable flower, it grows in most all temperate regions showing its yellow head to many across the globe. But before you decide to eat this plant or make medicine with it be sure to make a positive identification of dandelion, as it does have some look alike plants.
Botanically, Dandelion has a couple of telling characteristics. The leaves have toothy edges and are smooth to the touch, growing in a basal rosette. The flowers never bract but have just one per flower stem and the inside of the stem is hollow. Once you are sure you have Dandelion, and not Cat’s Ear, Goat’s Beard or some other Asteraceae, take advantage of this plant’s prolific nature and utilize it to your heart’s desire.
But be warned, Dandelion requests attention from the wildness inside of all of us. You may not realize it, but it’s there. Allowing this pervasive plant a place in your world will awaken a part of you that yearns for nature and a greater connection to the ecosystem in which we live. Should you heed its call, you will be better off for it.
Spring Dandelion Leaf and Walnut Pesto
4 cups Dandelion greens
2 cup Walnuts
1 cup Olive oil
1 cup Parmesan (optional and can be substituted with ½ cup of nutritional yeast)
6-8 Garlic cloves
3 tbsp. Lemon juice
1 tsp. Salt (to taste)
½ tsp. Black pepper
- Harvest fresh, light green Dandelion leaves from a place where no spraying of toxic chemicals has occurred. You can bring a knife along and when you find the pre-flowering rosettes on the ground you can slice the leaves right at the base of the crown, getting the whole bunch in one go. And not to worry they will grow back. There is a difference found in leaf flavor, for those plants found in full sun will have more bitter, while the ones growing in the protection of partial shade will be less so. Once you have collected four cups you may head back to your place to begin prep.
- At this time, you will need to garble. Garbling is the process of removing any other plants, insects or debris from your leaves. You will also need to rinse the dandelion greens to remove any dirt. Once this is complete set them aside.
- Prepare the rest of your ingredients and combine, except for the olive oil, in a food processor. Give everything a cursory breakdown, then start drizzling olive oil in. Make sure everything is processed well and the desired consistency is reached.
- Once finished place the pesto in a mason jar. This should stay good for at least a few days in the fridge, any left overs can be frozen. I like to make large batches and freeze them into ice cube trays to have premade pesto portions to toss into meals. Use the fresh pesto in everything from noodle dishes to a dipping sauce and enjoy the taste of wildness Dandelion pesto brings to your palate.