Often considered a pesky weed, dandelions have become an underappreciated, yet highly nutritious, perennial plant. Dandelion’s scientific name is Taraxacum Officinale, which roughly translated means the “official remedy for disorders.” Dandelion leaves (along with the roots and flowers) have enjoyed a long history as a highly regarded folk remedy throughout the world. Dandelion was used in Europe to treat boils, fevers, eye disorders, diarrhea, edema, liver congestion, digestive complaints and skin disorders. Chinese used it mainly for breast, liver and digestive disorders. In India, Russia and other parts of the world, it was used as a general liver tonic. Legend has it that even the people of Atlantis relied on dandelion as a food and nutritive tonic.
Originally from Europe, dandelions were brought to America by early colonists. Healers on the early American frontier often recommended dandelion greens as a rejuvenating springtime tonic because of its high nutrient content and vast healing properties. Today, the dandelion is beginning to see a resurgence in appreciation among the general population, and for good cause! Dandelion leaves are a rich source of many vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, E, D, K, the range of B vitamins, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, and magnesium. They are higher in beta-carotene than carrots and have more iron and calcium than spinach. According to scientific analysis, a one-cup serving has more vitamin A than most supplements and as much calcium as half a glass of milk. As if this wasn’t enough, the greens are also a natural source of omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids.
The healing properties of dandelion greens center primarily around the digestive organs. As a bitter green, dandelion helps support digestion by encouraging the production of digestive enzymes and stomach juices. It has a mild diuretic effect, improving the way kidneys cleanse the blood and recycle nutrients. However, unlike over-the-counter or prescription diuretics, it doesn’t leach potassium. Dandelion greens are a rich source of chlorophyll (the green pigment that helps plants turn sunlight into energy), which helps to promote the growth of beneficial intestinal flora. Their digestive-stimulating, blood-cleansing, kidney-improving properties also make dandelion greens beneficial for clearing up skin issues and reducing swelling and inflammation.
Although this “official remedy for disorders” is available year-round, its peak season is April and May. The easiest way to get your hands on some is to purchase a fresh bundle at your local grocer or farmers market. But if you decide to give foraging a go, keep in mind that the greens are best picked when they are young and tender, before the flowers have bloomed.
Dandelion leaves have a bitter and tangy flavor that is a great addition to salads. They are also delicious quickly steamed then sautéed with garlic and olive oil. Older leaves tend to be a little tougher and should be cooked longer in soups or stews. To prepare dandelion greens simply wash them under cold water to remove any dirt and trim the bottom where the leaves were picked. Then toss into your salad, soup, stir fry, or sauté pan! purify the blood and