Although some landscapers and lawncare companies may beg to differ, dandelion is far more than just a pesky weed. This herb is a nutritious edible. It’s useful in the herbalist’s apothecary and, since it grows wild everywhere, it doesn’t take up any of your precious garden space!
The dandelion gets it common name from the French “dent de lion,” meaning tooth of the lion. The name describes the herb’s deeply jagged leaves. The bristled yellow flower is also reminiscent of a lion’s mane, further supporting this creative descriptor.
You can find the common dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, across most of North America. But the species is actually native to Europe and Asia and was introduced to this continent sometime in the early to mid-1600s. The flowers were widely cultivated by European settlers as a food crop as well as for medicinal applications.
Dandelion in the Kitchen
All parts of the dandelion plant are edible. Dandelions are rich in vitamins A, C and K and are a great source of iron, calcium, magnesium and B vitamins.
The young leaves possess a bitter flavor, and you can add them raw to salads or cook and eat them like spinach. Chop older and larger leaves to add to soups, or try including them in nutritious green smoothies.
Dandelion flowers can be enjoyed raw as well, but are exceptionally delicious when battered and fried! Using a tempura batter will give your dandelion fritters a light texture and crisp crunch without overpowering the flower’s delicate flavor.
Dandelion wine is a popular use for these golden flowers, too. It does take up to two weeks for the fermentation process and another 6 months for the wine to age. But the vintner’s patience is rewarded with a surprisingly sweet and decadent adult beverage.
In the Apothecary
Dandelion’s specific epithet, officinale, indicates the herb’s long use as a medicinal plant. Its use has been documented by the ancient Greece, Egyptians and has been utilized in traditional Chinese medicine for over a thousand years.
Dandelion is packed full of anti-oxidants and has been used internally for a wide range of ailments such as high blood pressure, inflammations and high cholesterol. Also a diuretic, the herb some suggest dandelion use as a tea in weight loss regimens.
Often times, medicinal applications call for use of dandelion roots, although once can certainly find value in the leaf as well. Dandelion root extract is a well-known tonic to support liver health.
The herb can also be used topically, when crafted into a salve or lotion, to heal minor cuts and scratches. Some also use it to relive itching caused by dry, irritated skin conditions.
Dandelions are perennial plants that prefer full sun and well-drained soil. They will, however, do just fine in partial sun and poor-quality soil. Dandelions will easily reseed themselves. But since their seeds get dispersed by the wind, it is nearly impossible to control their spread.
If you’d like to grow dandelions from seed, plant them four to six weeks before your last frost date. The seeds can also be sown any time in the fall or late winter of the previous year. Plant at a depth of approximately 1/4 inch. Then lightly cover the seeds, as they require sunlight to germinate.
The recommended spacing between plants is around 6 inches, but this is only crucial if you plan to harvest your dandelions for leaves or roots. The plants will need this space to fully develop.
You’ll find a number of dandelion cultivars available for the home garden. Some possess striking white or pink flowers, while others are grown for their substantial leaves.
Even if you decide that growing dandelions in the garden isn’t right for you, be sure to take the time to appreciate the beauty of these very beneficial wildflowers!