Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) belong to the Asteraceae family, along with the herbs arnica, burdock, boneset, calendula, chamomile, chicory, cronewort (mugwort), coltsfoot, echinacea, elecampane, feverfew, gravel root, grindelia, liferoot, milk thistle, tansy, yarrow, valerian, wormwood, and wild lettuce. The family also contains the foods sunflower seeds, lettuces, true artichokes, sun chokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes), escarole, and endive. And it contains the decorative flowers asters, chrysanthemums, dahlias, bachelor’s buttons, daisies, cosmos, coneflowers, goldenrods, sunflowers, and zinnias.
The English name, dandelion, is a corruption of the French dent de lion meaning “lion’s tooth,” referring to the coarsely toothed leaves. The plant is also known as blowball, cankerwort, doon-head-clock, witch’s gowan, milk witch, lion’s-tooth, yellow-gowan, Irish daisy, monks-head, priest’s-crown and puff-ball; other common names include faceclock, pee-a-bed, wet-a-bed, swine’s snout, white endive, and wild endive.
Dandelions likely evolved about thirty million years ago in Eurasia. They have been used by humans for food and as a medicinal herb for much of recorded history. Dandelions were well known to ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, and have been used in Chinese traditional medicine for over a thousand years. The Latin name Taraxacum originates in medieval Persian writings on pharmacy. The Persian scientist Al-Razi around 900 A.D. wrote “the tarashaquq is like chicory.” The Persian scientist and philosopher Ibn Sīnā around 1000 A.D. wrote a book chapter on Taraxacum. Gerard of Cremona, in translating Arabic to Latin around 1170, spelled it tarasacon.
When the Mayflower arrived in 1620, European immigrants to North America used dandelions as part of their regular diet. The plant was also used in New Mexico by Spanish immigrants as a medicine and food source; they called it chicoria. In Canada, French immigrants in the 18th century used dandelions in salads and as a health remedy. Germans immigrants used dandelions in Pennsylvania in the 1850s as an early spring infusion of nutrition and vitamins. The English immigrants also used the plants to cure liver problems and other illnesses.
In France and England in the 19th century, a type of forced, blanched dandelion shoot (like endive) was popular, along with the greens. The plant is grown in India and is used mainly for a remedy for liver problems. Most recently the dandelion root is being grown and exported to Russia for use in medical remedies.
Dandelion greens have been used to cleanse the liver and kidneys, promote weight loss and cardiovascular wellness, and potentially even prevent serious malignancies of the mouth and lungs. For millennia, dandelion tonics have been used to help the body’s filter, the liver, remove toxins from the bloodstream. Dandelions were prescribed for every ailment from warts to the plague, including baldness, dandruff, toothache, sores, fevers, rotting gums, weakness, lethargy and depression.
Not until the twentieth century was the underlying cause of many of these symptoms realized: vitamin deficiencies. In its time, scurvy was as dreaded as AIDS is today. Dandelions probably helped alleviate many ailments because of their vitamins and minerals: They have more vitamin A than spinach, more vitamin C than tomatoes, and are a powerhouse of iron, calcium, and potassium. In fact, dandelions, which are considered a weed by many gardeners, are more nutritious than many of the vegetables in their gardens.
To this day, herbalists promote dandelions as the perfect plant medicine: It is a gentle diuretic that provides nutrients and helps the digestive system function at peak efficiency. It is reported have the same diuretic strength as Lasix, which is the trade name for furosemide. Unlike prescription diuretics, dandelions do not leach potassium from your body because they themselves have such a high potassium content. Dandelion is also a kidney and bladder tonic and cleanser, and they may help urinary infections and liver complaints. It can also be taken for gallbladder problems and constipation. Some people suggest that dandelions are good for rheumatics and gout. The latex from the leaves and stalks can be used to treat corns and warts. Dandelions also reduce swelling and inflammation and support healthy teeth, gums, and skin.
Fresh dandelion greens, flower tops, and roots contain valuable nutrients that have antioxidant, disease-preventing, and health-promoting properties. Fresh leaves are very low in calories; providing just 45 calories per 100 grams. In addition, the latex is a good laxative. These nutrients in dandelions help reduce weight and control cholesterol levels in your blood.
Fresh dandelion greens provide 10,161 IU of vitamin A per 100 grams, about 338% of Daily Value (DV). Vitamin A is an important fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant, required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes, skin, and vision, which plays an important role in bone growth, reproduction, growth and health of cells and tissues in your body, and helps regulate your immune system. Dandelion greens are packed with health-benefiting flavonoids such as carotene-β, carotene-α, lutein, crypto-xanthin and zeaxanthn. Eating foods rich in vitamin A and flavonoids (carotenes) helps protect your body from cancers of epithelial tissue, including mouth and lung. Zeaxanthin has photo-filtering functions and protects your retinas from ultraviolet rays.
Dandelion greens are a good source of minerals like manganese and iron. They are also rich in the antioxidant vitamins vitamin E and vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful natural antioxidant that helps protect body cells and helps heal cuts and wounds. Dandelion greens provide 58% of the DV of vitamin C.
Dandelion greens are probably the richest herbal sources of vitamin K; they provide about 650% of DV. Vitamin K K has potential role in building bone mass by promoting osteotrophic activity in the bones. It also has an established role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in the brain.
Dandelions acquire their rich mineral and vitamin content because their long taproot reaches down to the rich subsoil, which other plants can’t reach.
Dandelion greens are also rich in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, and protein.
Dandelion greens also contain:
- A balance of potassium and magnesium, which helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure and reduces risks of strokes;
- Fiber, which fights diabetes, lowers cholesterol, reduces cancer and heart disease risks, and assists in weight loss by slowing down digestion so you feel full longer;
- Calcium, which can build strong bones and can lower blood pressure;
- B vitamins, including riboflavin, vitamin B6, thiamine, folate, and niacin, which help reduce stress
- Inulin and oligofructose, which may help prevent constipation, promote enzyme activity, and improve the pH levels in your colon. In addition, inulin promotes Lactobacillus acidophilus to produce butyrate, a beneficial short-chain fatty acid that helps inhibit inflammation in your intestinal tract, and helps regulate blood sugar;
- Tof-CFr, which is a glucose polymer similar to lentinan, a yeast glucan (glucose polymer) that increases resistance against protozoal and viral infections and may act against cancer cells;
- Pectin, which is anti-diarrheal and also forms ionic complexes with metal ions, which removes heavy metals and radioactive elements from body tissues; pectin can also lower cholesterol, especially in combination with vitamin C;
- Coumestrol, which mimics estrogen and which possibly is responsible, at least in part, for stimulating milk flow and altering hormones;
- Apigenin and luteolin, two flavonoid glycosides, which have diuretic, anti-spasmodic, antioxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-hypoglycemic, and liver-protecting properties, and also strengthen the heart and blood vessels and stimulate milk production and alter hormones;
- Gallic acid, which is anti-diarrheal and anti-bacterial;
- Linoleic and linolenic acid, which are essential fatty acids required by your body to produce prostaglandin, which regulates blood pressure, immune responses, and menstrual cycles, lowers chronic inflammation, and prevents platelet aggregation;
- Choline, which can improve memory;
- Several sesquiterpene compounds, which are what make dandelions bitter, are highly anti-fungal, and may partly account for dandelions’ tonic effects on digestion, liver, spleen, and gall bladder;
- Several triterpenes, which may contribute to bile or liver stimulation;
- Taraxasterol and taraxerol , which may contribute to liver and gall bladder health and may balance hormones, which may be helpful in treating conditions such as Pre-Menstrual Syndrome.
- Taraxacin, a bitter crystalline compound, and taraxacerin, an acrid resin, that may trigger the gallbladder and liver to release bile and also stimulate the digestive system.
- Caffeoylquinic acids in dandelion may be responsible for increasing the volume bile and solids secreted from your liver.
Why pay extra at the store to purchase foods with similar (or, often, inferior) nutritional value, when you have a free source in your yard?
Nutrients in 100 Grams of Raw Dandelion Greens
|vitamin K||778.4 µg||
|vitamin A||10161 IU||
|vitamin C||35 mg||
|vitamin E||3.44 mg||
|vitamin B6||0.251 mg||
|pantothenic acid||0.084 mg||
Dandelion greens taste like other salad greens with a “bite,” such as chicory and escarole. How you go about harvesting and cooking them also plays a role in the taste. Ideal foraging times will vary, depending on location, but in regions of the Northern Hemisphere with four distinct seasons, the window of opportunity for collecting the best dandelion greens will likely occur over a couple of weeks in April or May, when crocuses are coming up but snow hasn’t entirely disappeared from forests and fields. Depending on your region, you may be able to find dandelion greens as early as January and as late as May. In areas that experience low temperatures in winter, harvesting dandelion greens in early spring is best. You should harvest dandelion greens in early spring, before the flowers appear. That’s when they’re the tenderest and least bitter. After the first frost in fall is another time when dandelion greens aren’t so bitter. While you may be able to find dandelions throughout the summer, older leaves tend to be rather bitter. Avoid harvesting near roads, because road salt and toxins may be present. Likewise, you obviously shouldn’t harvest from a lawn where herbicides have been used.
As with most greens, you should look for dandelion leaves that are green and crisp. Avoid leaves that appear yellow, bruised, wilted, slimy or have any discoloration.
To store, first soak briefly in cool water, drain, and spin off excess water. Then wrap with a paper towel and store in a bag. Refrigerated in the crisper, greens will keep three to four days. Additionally, most greens can be preserved by giving them a quick blanch, then layering them on a cookie sheet before freezing. Once they’re frozen, you can put them in a labeled, airtight bag in your freezer, where they will keep for about nine months.
All parts of the dandelion are edible.
Eat a raw leaf to determine how you want to cook them. If you like them raw, try them in a sandwich or salad. Raw or wilted dandelion greens are delicious alone in salads or when mixed with other lettuces. Tart dressings, such as sherry wine or balsamic vinaigrette, complement them well.
If you don’t care for the flavor and texture of raw greens, sauté the veggies with a tiny bit of olive oil and garlic, or cook them as you would any other green. Prepare quick, delicious braised dandelion greens by heating a teaspoon or two of olive oil over medium heat. Stir in 2 teaspoons of slivered garlic cloves, ½ teaspoon crushed red chilies, 4 cups washed, stemmed and chopped dandelion greens, and ½ cup vegetable stock. Season with fresh ground black pepper and sea salt. Covering them and boiling them will further reduce their bitterness.
Stir sliced or shredded dandelion greens into bean dishes during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Substitute dandelion greens in soup or stew recipes that call for spinach or kale. Use them in a scramble or frittata, or on top of pizza or in a calzone.
The roots are best as part of a soup, roasted, or steamed. Lightly roasted and grounded roots used to make wonderfully flavorful dandelion coffee. In Iceland, the roots are traditionally eaten fried. Dandelion root is also used in Japanese cooking.
The flowers are also edible, with a very mildly sweet flavor. They are often used as a garnish, though you can also eat them raw, or use them to make jams and jellies. They can be used to make wine, schnapps, pancakes, and are favored in Arab baking. Dried leaves as well as flower parts used to make tonic drinks and herbal dandelion teas.
You can pickle dandelion buds or make a lacto-fermented dandelion soda. Or make dandelion vinegar and dandelion bud “capers.” You can even make a dandelion salve to sooth your skin.
Sautéed Dandelion Greens with Vinegar and Paprika
2 large bunches dandelion greens, washed and dried
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon paprika
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Have an ice bath ready in a medium bowl.
- Remove any thick stems from the dandelion greens and discard.
- Add dandelion greens to boiling water and blanch for 1-2 minutes.
- Remove from water and plunge into your waiting ice bath.
- Drain greens thoroughly, patting as dry as possible with towels.
- Chop greens crosswise into 1-inch slices.
- In a large, heavy pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the minced garlic clove.
- Cook and stir until the garlic is fragrant and just golden (do not let brown).
- Add the chopped dandelion greens, a pinch of salt, and a couple grindings of fresh pepper, and stir to coat.
- Sauté for about 2 minutes.
- Stir in the cider vinegar and stir for 1 minute more.
- Transfer to a small serving platter.
- Sprinkle with paprika and serve immediately.
This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this blog to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.
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