Remember the joy of closing your eyes and blowing with all your might on a dandelion puffball . . . possibly while someone nearby cringed at the thought of all those “pesky weed” seeds spreading? Well, although the saying goes that some may see a weed and others see a wish, they’re not weeds at all – they’re a medicinal and culinary adventure waiting for you in your backyard.
“Dandelion is a generous plant in that every part of it can be used as food or medicine,” writes Rosalee de la Forêt in her gorgeous new book, Alchemy of Herbs. And it’s true. Dandelion flowers, roots and leaves can be made into salads, teas, decoctions, tinctures, syrups, wines, skin healing salves and more.
Since they’re everywhere in the spring and summer, dandelions are a wonderful way to introduce kids to the magic of herbs right in your backyard. Just make sure your dandelion harvest has not been sprayed with harmful chemicals – that’s lesson #1 in wildcrafting for kids! Lesson #2 is how to properly identify dandelion – you can find a guide to doing that here.
Keep an eye out for dandelion recipes on the blog, which are coming soon, but first you’re probably wondering . . .
What are the benefits of dandelion flowers, leaves and roots?
If you’re familiar with using yellow dock as an herbal ally, this list of benefits from dandelion might look very familiar. Yellow dock and dandelion do have many similar health benefits. For example, both support:
- Detoxification, which is especially helpful for those of us with the MTHFR mutation
- Hormone balance
- Digestion (helping to keep things moving, nutrient absorption)
- Blood sugar balance
- Skin health
- Gut health
That’s because both dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, and yellow dock are bitters and prebiotics, which are renowned for their ability to support detoxification, liver function, and blood sugar as well as nourish the good bacteria living in our digestive tract.
But dandelions have many additional health benefits that set them apart from yellow dock, and they’re well worth including in your home apothecary.
What else are dandelions good for?
Dandelion is chock-full of useful constituents that make it a wonderful, and easy-to-find herb that we can gather when needed for:
- Liver and gall bladder support due to the presence of bitter lactones
- Eye health from the lutein
- Soothing skin irritations or making into a base for a sore muscle rub due to it’s anti-inflammatory properties
- Water retention thanks to its diuretic properties
- Digestive and gut health due to the bitter flavonoids and lactones, and the prebiotic inulin
- Skin health thanks to the detoxifying properties of the roots
- Supporting healthy respiratory function during allergy season due to the liver supporting properties of the roots
- Supporting healthy bowel function due to the bitter components
What part of the dandelion should I use?
Dandelion roots, leaves, stems and flowers have different properties, so you’ll want to select the part you use based on your goals.
What are the benefits of dandelion leaves?
Use the leaves of dandelions when you are looking to assist your digestive issues with an herbal bitter. Just throw a few un-sprayed leaves into your before-dinner salad or into a pesto dip. (source) Be careful, though: the leaves are quite a diuretic so you don’t want to eat too much of that pesto right before bed! (source) Fortunately, “unlike many pharmaceutical diuretic drugs, dandelions are naturally high in potassium and do not promote potassium excretion or deficiency.” (source)
Dandelion leaves are also a great way to get some addition vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin C, B-complex, betacarotene, magnesium, iron, and calcium.
What are the benefits of dandelion roots?
Use the fresh or dried roots of dandelion to support hormone balance, or when you need liver support during allergy season or for skin and detox issues. (source) Dandelion root is also very high in minerals (iron, manganese, calcium, potassium) and nutritive compounds such as carotenes. It’s a mild laxative, contains the prebiotic inulin to feed your microbiome, and is anti-inflammatory due to the presence of taraxasterols. (source)
You can add these nutritious fresh roots to soups (cook like a carrot) or make dandelion tea out of the roasted dried roots – although roasting reduces the inulin, you still get all of the benefits from the minerals and liver-supportive properties. (source 1, source 2, source 3)
What are the benefits of dandelion flowers?
That beautiful yellow flower is full of anti-inflammatory antioxidants and flavanoids that support and protect your cells, vascular system, and even your eyes! (source)
To harness the power of the bold dandelion flower, pull off the yellow petals and throw them into a salad or make up some dandelion infused honey, vinegar for dressings, or a healing skin salve. Or you can just walk around your yard in the morning and chew up some petals as you get your burst of sunlight for circadian rhythm balance (hey, us busy mommas have to multi-task where we can)!
How to use dandelion stems and seeds
Herbalist Rosalee de la Foret ferments the stems in a true “waste-not, want-not” fashion, and the seeds are edible as well. And then there are the free wishes, of course!
Stay tuned for the more dandelion recipes, including:
When to pick dandelion
Perhaps the best thing about dandelion is how widely available it is. As long as you confirm that the location hasn’t been sprayed with harmful chemicals, dandelion can be found in every crack and corner. There are a few look-a-likes, so make sure what you are harvesting has these features:
- No spines or hairs on the leaves
- Only basal leaves (no leaves on the stems)
- One flower per stem
Practically speaking, you can harvest any part of the plant at any time. However, leaves are best harvested when the plant is young before it has flowered if you want the vitamins and minerals, but later in the year after the plant flowers if you want more bitters.
Roots are best harvested earlier in the year for the bitter qualities (found in the outside of the skinnier roots), but later in fall after a freeze if you want the gut-nourishing inulin from big, starchy roots. (source)
Harvest flowers in the morning or early afternoon when they are still open: they close before the sun goes down to warn the shepherds that it’s time to head home! (source) Make sure and leave enough flowers for the bees, and make wishes as you blow those seeds for future dandelions! If you leave pieces of the root in the ground as you harvest, the plant is more likely to regrow for a sustainable harvest in the future.
Is dandelion safe for pregnancy?
According to the Botanical Safety Handbook, dandelion is a Safety Class 1A herb – the safest rating possible. It is described as:
“Herbs that can be safely consumed when used appropriately.
- History of safe traditional use
- No case reports of significant adverse events with high probability of causality
- No significant adverse events in clinical trials
- No identified concerns for use during pregnancy or lactation
- No innately toxic constituents
- Toxicity associated with excessive use is not a basis for exclusion from this class
- Minor or self-limiting side effects are not bases for exclusion from this class”
Always check with your doctor before adding herbs to your diet, and listen to your intuition to help you make the best choice for yourself.
According to the Botanical Safety Handbook, 2nd edition, it’s important to be careful with hypotensive drugs or other diuretics due to the diuretic nature of dandelion. If you are taking potassium-retaining drugs (ex: Lisinopril) be cautious with dandelion as it is high in potassium. If you have gall stones, be careful with the choleretic (gall bladder-stimulating) activity of dandelion. If you are already cold and/or dry by constitution, make sure and couple dandelion with warming and moistening herbs and foods. Dandelions are part of the aster family, so avoid them if you know you have an aster allergy.
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