With its bright yellow flowers and wish-granting abilities, Taraxacum, better known as the dandelion, has had many uses across cultures and even in traditional medicines, but did you know you can eat it too?
Originating from the French ‘dent de lion’ (‘tooth of the lion’), the dandelion, named for its noticeably serrated leaves, is a common, often unwelcome inhabitant of our backyards. Although a native of Eurasia and Asia, the dandelion has spread across America, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, and often accompanied colonisers for its medicinal uses.
Faiths and Cultures:
Dandelions are significant in Irish culture as the emblem of St Brigid and are often associated with St. Brigid’s Day, celebrated on the 1st February. Marking the start of spring, when dandelions and other flowers begin to emerge again, people often celebrate this festival by leaving loaves of bread and ears of corn on their windowsills for Brigid, and by weaving wheat stalks into crosses which are then hung inside to protect against fire and lightning.
Dandelion leaves can also be used during Passover for Maror, as an alternative to horseradish or romaine lettuce traditionally used as the ‘bitter herbs’ of the Seder Plate.
Originally used by Arabic physicians in the 10th and 11th centuries, and in Welsh medicine in the 13th century, the dandelion has a rich history as a medicinal herb. Native Americans used dandelions to treat skin problems, heartburn, kidney disease, swelling, upset stomachs, and in traditional Chinese and European medicine to treat eye inflammation.
Using the leaves, flowers, and roots of the plant, the dandelion has also been used to treat appetite loss, viral and bacterial infections, and is currently used as a blood tonic, a diuretic, and as a dietary supplement due to its high potassium content.
Preliminary clinical trials have also been conducted using the dandelion root to treat urinary tract infections, however side effects include fainting and allergic reactions among those allergic to dandelion pollen so trials are still ongoing.
As a rich source of vitamins and minerals, every part of the dandelion can be used to whip up something delicious. Dandelion petals are used in dandelion wine while the roots can be dried and roasted to make dandelion coffee, chocolate or tea, and the leaves are often sautéed or blanched and eaten similarly to spinach, used in salads, or boiled to make soup.
The leaves are especially rich in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as manganese, calcium, iron, and potassium. Because of their bitter taste, most recipes recommend using young leaves because they contain smaller amounts of the chemicals that react with our bitter taste receptors.
The roots can also be fermented and has been a key ingredient in Dandelion and Burdock beer, similar to ginger beer, since the 1800s, although current producers use extracts of both instead.
If you’d like to try some Dandelion recipes, click on any of the below links:
Preferring to grow in temperate areas, the dandelion is an herbaceous, perennial plant with flowers that close at night. This is why it’s best to pick the flowers, whether for food or decoration, during the day.
Dandelions also have many benefits for gardeners and make great companion plants for fruit-bearing and shallow-rooted plants. This is because they produce ethylene, which encourages fruit setting and ripening, attract pollinators, and have deep tap-roots that bring nutrients up towards the surface to enrich the soil.