Did you pick dandelions as a child? I remember summer days as a child with my fists full of dandelions running to give them to my mom, grandma, neighbors, whoever I could find. They were so beautiful! Finally my mom broke down and told me they were weeds. No matter how much I tried to rationalize, there was no way that "weed" was going to be translated into "Flower fit for a Queen" as I had originally viewed them. I stopped picking dandelions, and moved onto the "real" wildflowers.
Imagine the joy I felt as an adult when I found out that this "weed", this "menace to society" was actually an amazing plant with great nutritional and healing values! In fact, the dandelion's true name is Taraxacum Officinale, (no, I can't pronounce that) which means "the official remedy for disorders." I could pick dandelions with a smile on my face again! Now, people were confused when I started to tell them, as some of you probably are right now, but believe me- you want these weeds in your life- you'll be ringing the neighbors’ bell asking if you can come over and pick their dandelions.
You can use the whole plant, however, the part I really want to talk to you about is the green leaves of the dandelion. The leaves are an amazing source of calcium, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. They have twice as much vitamin A in a one-cup serving than most supplements, and that one cup also has as much calcium as a half a glass of milk.
Eating something bitter, like dandelion greens, before or early on in a meal stimulates digestive enzymes in your body so as your food is passing through your body it is more readily welcomed, digested, and eliminated than it is without the help of our friends, the bitters. Bitter greens like dandelion greens can also stimulate a sluggish metabolism and can help with weight loss goals!
Dandelion has also been used to regulate blood sugar, promote intestinal flora and fight Candida, cleanse the liver, and purify blood. It is also used as a diuretic, a laxative, a fungicide, an antibiotic cream, wart remover, sting soother, and as an anti cancer food.
You can also sauté the flowers and put them in your dinner, and you can grind the root and brew it for a coffee substitute.
Now, you can go out in your yard and pick dandelion, but if you don't have a yard and you're not that friendly with your neighbors, you can buy dandelion greens at many grocers, farmers markets, and natural foods stores in the spring and summer. You can also purchase tinctures of "bitters" that you can take drops of before meals to aid in digestion.
But, back to the basics, if you are going to harvest your own, the first edible portion appears as a slightly reddish tangle of leaves. The greens grow from these. Dandelion greens are the leaves above the surface. Harvesting them before the flower blooms will ensure that they are younger and less bitter- so you might try them as an introduction to dandelions. After that they will grow tall and proud along with the dandelion flowers and you can and should still eat them- just be prepared as they will have a much stronger flavor than the earlier picks. If you come across a field of them, pick all you can! You can dry them and store them for the off season!
You can eat them raw, steamed, sautéed, whole, chopped, rolled, you name it.
Here's a fun recipe for:
Spicy sautéed dandelion greens:
• 2 lb dandelion greens, very bottom of the stems removed and chop leaves into approx. 4 inch pieces.
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
Steam leaves until ribs are tender, 4 to 5 minutes, then drain in a colander. Rinse under cold water to stop cooking and drain well, gently pressing out excess water.
Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook garlic, stirring, until pale golden, about 30 seconds. Increase heat to moderately high, then add greens, red pepper flakes, and salt and sauté, stirring, until liquid greens give off is evaporated, about 4 minutes.
Enjoy as a side dish or over quinoa, brown rice, or other favorite whole grain!
Tamara Flanders is a Holistic Health Counselor and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Her health coaching practice, Your Body Awake, is located in Rexford, NY. Learn more at her website www.yourbodyawake.com