Dandelions: Not Always Your Enemy!

By: Patrick Troyer, Education Specialist

Certainly many of us can recall being a kid and finding enjoyment of closing our eyes, taking in a big breath, and blowing with every fiber of our beings at a dandelion puffball and watching all the little puffs (seeds)

While many might view dandelion of a yard enemy that must be eliminated, it is actually more useful than you think. Source: Countryside Network.

scatter all over the place. As a kid, you thought it was the coolest thing ever seeing the puffs scatter, but if you are a homeowner or a farmer, you likely cringed at such a sight. For many farmers and landowners, dandelions are a nuisance that is certainly not desired. Those pesky little menaces dot our yards with a sea of yellow each spring but are they really all that bad? The answer to that question may actually surprise many farmers and landowners. Some may see the dandelion as a weed while others see it as a valuable plant full of many great uses.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, dandelion is native to Europe & Asia and a member of the aster family. For many early cultures, it was viewed as a highly valuable plant in which just about every part of the dandelion from the roots to the flower was utilized either as a nutritious food or a natural and rather effective natural medicine. Fast forward to today, and the value placed on dandelion is rather low.

Dandelion is not too hard of a plant to spot in your yard. It has the characteristic golden yellow flower that appears at the end of a long, narrow stalk later in the spring or also in early autumn. The flower is filled with a sweet tasting and scented nectar which is quite popular among pollinators such as bees. The dandelion is anchored by a solid and rather fleshy taproot that will project a white, milky sap when you cut into it.

Believe it or not, dandelions have a multitude of uses, many of which you may not even realize they could be used for. Did you know that dandelions can be made into salads, teas, syrups, wines, skin healing salves, and so much more? That is a proven fact says Rosalee de la Foret, author of Alchemy of Herbs. Foret says that the dandelion is a rather generous plant with just about each part of it able to be used as food or medicine. In the world of herbs, dandelion is a rather hot commodity to have around.

Foret writes that dandelion is a great way to show kids the power of herbs right in your own backyard. Just what are some herbal benefits of dandelions? Dandelions benefit us by providing a source for detoxification, hormone balance, aiding in digestion (keeping things moving), blood sugar balance, and skin health. Foret says in her book that dandelion, known by its scientific name as Taraxacum officinale, also benefit the good bacteria living in our digestive system which aids in digestion. Who knew!

Dandelion is quite nutritious if you think about it. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, dandelion herb greens rank as follows nutritionally per 100 grams: Protein: 2.7 grams, Fat: 0.70 grams, Dietary Fiber: 3.5 grams, Carbohydrates: 9.2 grams, and Sodium: 76 milligrams. According to Rosalee de la Foret, you will obtain the most benefit from the dandelion if you use to roots, leaves, stems, and flowers; selecting the parts to use to obtain your goals.

Leaves help if you are looking to aid in remedying digestive issues using herbal means. Foret writes that the leaves are also a great source of Vitamin C & B, magnesium, iron and also calcium. Nutrition and You.com writes that dandelion leaves also have Vitamin A and flavonoids which help protect our bodies from lung and oral cancers. Roots also provide some benefits to your health when you use dried or fresh roots. Roots are high in minerals such as iron, manganese, calcium, and potassium while also helping to support hormone balance.

When is the best time to pick dandelion and enjoy its benefits? One thing for sure is that you will not have a hard time finding dandelion to pick! Of course, before you pick any you should make sure the area you are picking your dandelions in have not been sprayed with any harmful chemicals. Look for the following features on the plant when it is best to pick: leaves without hairs or spines, stems without leaves, and one flower per stem. Rosalee de la Foret, author of Alchemy of Herbs writes that it is best to harvest roots early in the year if you desire a bitter taste or after fall freeze if a starchy taste more suits your palate. Flowers should be harvested in the morning or early afternoon before they close in the afternoon. Of course, don’t forget about the pollinators who need flowers so leave some behind for them!

Hopefully not you may give a second thought to dandelion and see that it can be quite useful beyond its viewed role as a pesky weed that must be terminated. The dandelion is a good example of how nature has many treasures hidden within it that are just waiting to be discovered.