Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale)
Aster Family / Chicory or Dandelion Subfamily
By Thomas J. Elpel with additions by Pamela G. Sherman
If you can't beat them, eat them!
Dandelions may be the most recognized plant on earth. They certainly grow everywhere, from lawns to high mountain meadows. Although there are native dandelions in North America, the most commonly found species is Taraxacum officinale, an import from the Old World. For an ecologically sound weed control alternative, try eating your dandelions, instead of poisoning them. All dandelions are edible, though palatability may vary from region to region. The genus name comes from the Greek words meaning remedy for disorder: taraxos, meaning "disorder," and akos, meaning "remedy."
According to National Geographic, the 1984 U.S.D.A. bulletin, Composition of Foods, ranked dandelions, in terms of nutrition, among the top four green vegetables and is the best source of beta-carotene of all green vegetables. It can offer vitamin B, calcium, potassium, and fiber, and ranks as the third-best source for vitamin A after cod-liver oil and beef liver... Modern medical studies have found potential in dandelion for "reducing serum cholesterol, treating liver stones, restricting the growth of cancer cells, and acting as a diuretic in patients with congestive heart failure."
Insects benefit, too. "At least 93 different types of insects have been identified feeding from the plants' bountiful supply of nectar...Dandelions are crucial to the survival of the disappearing honeybee." Dandelions are sold commercially as fresh greens, root, tea, wine, tincture, and pills at big box stores and small retailers.
The cleaned, chopped and boiled roots make a pretty decent meal, and it seems to be one of the more efficient root crops to gather for a meal. The roots are rich in inulin polysaccarides, which have a tendency to sweeten the longer they are cooked.
Mostly I like to harvest dandelion roots out of the lawn at home for use as a coffee substitute. The roots should be washed, dried, and then slow roasted in the oven until they are dark in color and rich in aroma, but not burned. Then the roasted roots can be ground into powder in a grinder as shown here, or on a stone metate. I really enjoy the dandyroot flavor, but the main reason I drink it is to promote healthy liver function. When constipated, the dandyroot drink helps to get my system moving again. Dandelions are not necessarily laxative, but stimulating the liver facilitates better digestion as well as better health overall, so that I can better fight off the colds the kids bring home from school. I also like to eat dandelion greens. At home I frequently add a few leaves to my salads or pile them on thick on a hamburger, veggieburger or egg sandwich.
The Dandelion Celebration
A Guide to Unexpected Cuisine
Edited by Peter Gail, Ph.D.
Dandelions are one of the most nutritious plants on earth, yet every year people senselessly spend millions of dollars on chemicals trying to kill them. Then they go to the grocery store and spend still more money on lifeless, nutritionless lettuce for the table. But now, with Peter Gail's book, The Dandelion Celebration: A Guide to Unexpected Cuisine you can save money, eat better, and still clean up the lawn!
The Dandelion Celebration includes some of the world's best recipes for dandelion greens, flowers and roots. Peter Gail, a colleague of the late Euell Gibbons, collected the recipes over a twenty-year period from friends, colleagues and students. The recipes cover everything from soups and casserole to ice cream and wine.
On average, I eat about one dandelion every two days through the growing season, usually on sandwiches. Dandelions are about the first and the last available greens. I keep a simple digging tool in a handy spot and harvest the dandelions root and all. Most of the time I put the greens on a sandwich. The roots I clean and dry. When I save up enough roots I roast them and grind them for a delicious coffee substitute.
I highly recommend The Dandelion Celebration as a tool for better health and better living. With the aid of this book, you too will be able to prepare gourmet meals from your backyard weeds, and you will eat healthier than ever before!
Celebrating all things dandelion, there are many dandelion festivals all over the U.S., which offer dandelion sausage, dandelion ice cream, dandelion gravy, dandelion bread, dandelion lemonade, dandelion pancakes, dandelion beer and wine-making workshops and medicine-making workshops, games, festivities, and more.
Instant Dandelion Beverage and Coffee Substitute
Looking for a unique gift? Dandy Blend is a caffeine-free gourmet coffee substitute made from roasted, naturally sweetened dandelion roots. It is so good that even our kids like it! The ingredients include totally soluble extracts of roasted barley, rye, chicory root, dandelion root and beetroot. (Chichory and dandelions are closely related.) Dandyblend is sweetened primarily with natural fructose in the dandelion and chicory roots. The other ingredients function as natural sweeteners. Dandyblend has no additives or preservatives, nothing artificial, and no pesticides or irradiation. It contains more than fifty trace minerals and vitamins.
To prepare Dandy Blend, simply add a teaspoon of the powder to 8 OZ. of water or milk, either hot or cold. Dandy Blend can also be served as an iced drink in hot weather. For a coffee-like flavor, Dandy Blend can be added to ice cream, frosting or pudding. Our 14.1 ounce container makes 200 servings! Ingredients: extracts of roasted barley, rye, dandelion root, beet root, and chicory root. Produced in Poland.
- Thomas J. Elpel. Botany in a Day. HOPS Press: Pony, MT. January 2000.
- Hajeski, Nancy. Composition of Foods. National Geographic. Washington DC.
Also be sure to check out Botany in a Day for a unique way to learn about plants and their uses.
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