“For people who wish to harvest, process and use their own herbal medicine, I can think of no better introduction than the dandelion.” Gregory L. Tilford, herbalist
There are already signs of spring. Tuesday March 20th, 2:16 p.m. is fast approaching.
What can we do today while we’re waiting for the spring plants to burst forth?
One of the best ways to prepare for spring foraging is to visit the local library, bring home a stack of foraging books, then study and learn as much as possible about a few plants. Choose 4-5 plants and get to be familiar with them. Learn where they live, what part or parts are useful and how they can add to your food/medical knowledge base.
Learn when they usually first appear in your zone and what they look like as young shoots or plants. Can we recognize them as they first poke through the soil when they are tender and sweet and sometimes look nothing like the mature plant that we can more easily identify?
Why forage anyway?
Food and medicine may not always be as easily available by simply driving to grocers or pharmacy. A long list of natural or world disasters can have an impact on our “normal” activities so having a working knowledge of foraging and using plants medicinally can provide a growing confidence in our ability to provide essentials for ourselves and our family when tougher times come.
Edible plants can dramatically lower the food bill and increase our natural vitamin and mineral intake. During the spring and summer months and into the early autumn, as much as 60% of our family’s fruits and vegetables are foraged and free.
The abundance can be preserved in various ways to last throughout the winter. The nutritional benefits are enormous. We can choose to do as little or as much as we have the time to do. Just begin now to increase our working knowledge a little at a time and then as soon as those amazing plants launch through the dirt we’ll be all set to begin an exciting foraging experience.
Originally, I had chosen 5 plants to discuss in this article but in the end, the queen of the spring foraging plants, the Dandelion, (lion’s tooth) took over, which seems to be a characteristic of this hardy plant anyway. So this article is all about the mighty dandelion plant that can supply us with nutritious food and abundant healing.
The Dandelion is at top my spring plant list for many reasons. Its availability is exceptional. They grow everywhere. They are asexual-so they produce their own seeds without the need of pollination.
Dandelion seeds were intentionally brought to colonial America for propagation for food and medicine. It certainly was not seen as the noxious “weed” that we have labeled it today. It was planted around cottages and huts to be used for the healthful properties our ancestors recognized and trusted.
Let’s get back to the real truth of what our modern world calls weeds so we can take advantage of the abundant, highly nutritious, free food and medicine all around us. I think and hope that we are headed in this direction. People want more control over their health and wellness and using more natural plants can be an excellent choice.
As a cleansing herb, dandelion has been used for centuries for ailments from skin disorders to hepatitis. Today, both Germany and France cultivate it. Old cookbooks, granny remedy books, even old medical books provide recipes for spring renewal foods and tonics. So it just makes good sense to get back to what has worked for centuries!
Dandelion Cultivation in France
Where ever you stand on dandelions you owe it to yourself to give them a try. If prepared correctly, they can’t be beat for fresh taste, powerful nutrition and healing properties.
None of us have to venture far from our own backdoor to find one of the most nutrient rich spring tonic plants ever.
What to Make with Dandelions
Tonics, vinegar, jelly, soap, tinctures, infused oil, healing salve, tea, coffee substitutes, infused honey, fritters, pesto, wine, pizza…and the list goes on. There are a few things on this list that I have never made and I’m looking forward to some new experiences this spring.
No matter how much foraging experience we have gleaned along the way, there is always much more to discover. I’ll include a few recipes and suggestions for good things to make at home.
Reminder: Make sure the plants you harvest have not been sprayed with pesticides, and are not near factories or polluted water. Don’t forage on national park land and if foraging on private property, get the permission of the property owner. (That should not be a problem with dandelions!)
Be sure of the identification of every plant you collect by taking along a good field guide and/or an experienced forager and of course you have studied during the winter months, waiting for just this sunny spring day.
Tools: Take along a sturdy towel (in the autumn for roots), plant snippers, a large basket with handle or just a cardboard box. Add some plain brown paper lunch bags if you are collecting more than one species of plant. I’ve found that the bags are helpful to keep various plants separated.
Take your notebook to record the time of year and location of your collections. And to make note of any other foraging plants you may find, even if they are not yet ready to harvest. In the photo below there are several other plants to note besides the dandelions.
Uses for Each Part of the Dandelion
Dandelion: leaf with green stems, flower head, and root. Interestingly every part of the dandelion is used for various health benefits and alternative treatments. We’ll go over three parts and how they can be used. Please note the cautions as well.
Leaves: These are best harvested before the plant blooms. To get the very early sweet, tender leaves you must keep a close watch because you won’t get the bright yellow flowers to mark the location. Just after they begin to bloom you can still find unbloomed plants close by, but don’t procrastinate or there will be flowers and the leaf won’t be quite as sweet and tender.
The liver is a detoxing organ. It’s busy cleansing and working hard to counter balance the pollutants we breathe, ingest, and sometimes slather on our bodies. But what detoxifies the detoxifier? Dandelion root and leaves!
Spring is the perfect time to begin with the leaves. The roots are better left for early autumn. Nature has given us this amazing herb in the early spring to provide a jump start after a long winter absence of detoxifying goodness. And again in the autumn to sustain us with a hot drink. In herbalism this plant is called a spring tonic…and indeed it is!
The very young leaves are tender and tasty. At that time they are in a rosette circle and sometimes the leaves are a little more round edged than the older tooth-edged leaf we are more used to seeing in the summer months. The young leaves can be toothed or smooth, collect both. They can be eaten raw or cooked. Dandelions growing in shady, moist areas are less bitter than ones in sunny locations.
Well cleaned, patted dry and lightly steamed or sautéed in a little butter with a dash of salt, these young morsels can transport taste buds to new places! Serve for breakfast as a side for eggs you’ll start your day with a nutritional boost. As part of a raw salad these are exceptional.
This is aurgula and spinach leaves but danedlion greens are done the same way. I sometimes add apple cider vinegar and a little honey for a change….or just plain butter and a tad of sea salt. Delicious with scrambled eggs.
Older dandelion leaves become very bitter and must be cooked in “waters” – a process I’ve described in earlier articles for other plants. You simply place the bitter leaves in a stainless, ceramic or glass pot then pour boiling water over them and boil one minute. Pour that water out and repeat the steps 2-4 times, depending on the bitterness and age of the leaves.
This works wonderfully to remove the bitterness. Squeeze water out of the leaves, put them in a medium hot well-buttered frying pan, add a little more butter and/or cream with S&P or add to soup or stew. The taste and nutrition are hard to beat. You can freeze the cooked leaves in airtight seal-a-meal type bags for 4-5 months.
This helps carry you through the winter months when market greens are higher in cost and lower in quality. You can also save debittered leaves by canning in jars but because of the high heat, some of the nutrition is lost. They dehydrate and freeze dry then and can be crushed and powdered and added to soups, stews and smoothies.
If you have picky eaters you can sneak some of the powder into pancakes or mix it with plain yogurt with a touch of stevia with perhaps some wild violets on the top for even more vitamin C. Dandelion greens should be treated like any other leafy green vegetable, such as spinach, chard or collard greens.
You can use dandelion greens as a salad booster, to add some unique nutrients to the meal. They are great on sandwiches in place of less-nutritious lettuce and can be ground up and made into pesto and tasty spreads.
Dandelion Presto-Pesto Recipe ~ Serves 10
Prep time 10 minutes
- 3 cups washed dandelion leaves
- ¾ cup good olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
- ½ cup walnuts, lightly toasted in oven
- 1 teaspoon seal salt
- 1/3 cup parmesan cheese
- Juice of ½ a lemon
- Zest of a whole organic lemon (or well washed)
Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender until smooth and creamy! Store in refrigerator in covered glass jar.
That’s all there is to it! We like it spread thinly on Nain bread with any other green that’s in season with curls of parmesan cheese on top and lightly browned in the oven. In the summertime you can top it with fresh tomatoes. See why I can’t wait until spring! I hope you try this recipe. I bet you’ll be hooked.
Health Warnings and Benefits
Warnings: Be aware that people who are allergic to ragweed and related plants (daisies, chrysanthemums, marigolds) are likely to be allergic to dandelion. If you have allergies, be sure to check with your doctor before eating dandelion.
There is a rare type of fiber in dandelions called inulin and some people have a sensitivity or allergy to it which can be quite severe. While adding dandelion greens to your diet in any way, start small and closely monitor your body’s response, just to be sure all is well.
Dandelion might decrease how much antibiotic the body absorbs. Taking dandelion along with some antibiotics might decrease their effectiveness. Don’t ingest dandelion if you are taking Cipro. As always, please check with your pharmacist or doctor.
Coltsfoot is a dandelion look-alike and is used for very different purposes. Its flower is bright yellow and resembles a dandelion, however the leaf is dissimilar. It blooms about the same time as a dandelion so be watchful and don’t include this in your dandelion foraging. It should to be studied for its own warnings and benefits before deciding this is for you.
Benefits: Your liver is a detoxing organ. Its busy cleansing and working hard to counter balance the pollutants we breathe, ingest, and sometimes slather on our bodies. But what detoxifies the detoxifier? Dandelion root and leaves!
Spring is the perfect time to begin this process. Nature has given us this amazing herb in the early spring to provide a jump start after a long winter absence of detoxifying goodness. If you problems with your gallbladder, eating any bitter green will stimulate the proper function and help to keep new gallstones from forming.
According to studies published by the American Diabetes Association, people who eat more leafy greens have a lower risk of developing diabetes. Dandelion juice can help diabetics by stimulating the production of insulin from the pancreas, which helps keep the blood sugar level low.
Since dandelions are diuretic in nature, they increase urination in diabetic patients, which helps remove excess sugar from the body. Diabetics are also prone to kidney problems, so the diuretic properties of dandelion can help in removing the sugar deposits in the kidneys through increased urination.
Dandelion juice is slightly bitter to taste, which effectively lowers the sugar level in the blood, as all bitter substances do. Consistently lower blood sugar and a regulated insulin release prevents dangerous spikes and plunges in diabetics, so dandelion extracts can be a perfect solution!
WARNING: If you are a diabetic make very sure to consult your doctor before trying anything that may alter your insulin requirements. I will say it again: Before adding dandelion supplements or plants on top of your normal diabetic treatment it is imperative that you consult your doctor.
Dandelion contains potent anti-inflammatory properties which may provide benefit to those with asthma and other inflammatory diseases like MS, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative bowel disease, arthritis and even stroke, cataracts, cancer, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, just to name a few.
It is rich in calcium, which is essential for the growth and strength of bones. It is also rich in antioxidants like vitamin C and luteolin, which protect bones from age-related damage. It is a diuretic and comes prepackaged with the potassium that a diuretic depletes. I am continually amazed at the completeness of plants in their natural states. They tend to balance themselves.
Lets Make a Wild Green Smoothie
Get out your blender, your favorite fruits, perhaps an essential oil or two and a few cups of washed, chopped young dandelion leaves. For the liquid component I like plain yogurt but you may use whole milk (raw is nice) or unsweetened almond or coconut milk. Don’t use juice or sweetened milk or else the sugar grams will be sky high.
If you want to try this smoothie when dandelion greens are unavailable I’d suggest using kale as your green because it is high in calcium and it adds great fiber.
Green Smoothie Recipe
Recipe for 3-4 servings & High in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.
- 3-4 cups plain yogurt, you may substitute any other liquid you choose
- 2 – 3 cups washed, chopped young dandelion leaves
- 1 very ripe banana, sliced or chunked. I slice and freeze the banana the night before to make the smoothie colder and with a milkshake like consistency, but this step is optional.
- 1 mango peeled and chunked
- 1 frozen fruit or ½ cup frozen berries of your choice
- ¼ cup soaked chia seeds (optional)
- 3 drops of tangerine or wild orange essential oil (optional, but adds great flavor)
- Stevia to taste if desired
Place yogurt into large blender bowl. Add chopped dandelion leaves and blend until smooth. Add fruits one at a time and blend between each addition. Add soaked and drained chia seeds and essential oil. Blend until smooth and creamy. Lastly add small amount of stevia powder to taste and lightly blend once more. It is good to use as a meal replacement or an on-the-go liquid meal.
This recipe is very forgiving and can be changed to suit your individual preferences.
Be creative. Pineapple with coconut milk as the base is also delicious.
This smoothie is best used right away but it can be stored in a sealed glass jar for 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Dandelion Flowers have a long list of uses. I’ll list a few of my favorites. But first here are some health benefits we should consider. Dandelion flowers are full of carotenoids and flavonoids.
They help strengthen the mucous membranes, boosts the immune system and are antioxidants. The flowers also contain lecithin which is known for nourishing the brain and calming the nervous system and helps the body digest and utilize fats and oils.
Vinegar is a strong drawing agent and the flower head is filled with powerful antioxidants and minerals. I use organic apple cider vinegar with the “mother”.
- After fresh dandelion heads are collected they must be well cleaned, not only to remove dirt but any little bugs that might be hiding there. Rinse them in a bowl by running clean water over them and pouring out the water. Do this until all the sand, dirt and debris are removed, perhaps three times.
- Next fill a glass jar, pint or quart size to the top with the cleaned flower heads. If you want to make the vinegar during the winter months you can get the dried flower heads from mountainroseherbs.com. If using dried flowers, use only about 1/3 as much as you’d use of fresh flowers.
- Gently heat the apple cider vinegar over medium flame in a steel, glass or ceramic pot. Just as it begins to simmer, remove from heat and pour to cover the dandelion heads in the jars. Cool.
- Cover with a plastic lid (not metal as that can react with the acid vinegar) and store in a dark dry place, like a cupboard for 6-8 weeks shaking the jar about every other day. This assures that there are no air pockets and all of the surface area of the flowers are covered and drawing their goodness into the ACV.
- When aged, strain out the flowers and keep the covered vinegar in the refrigerator.
Here are some uses for the vinegar:
- Add a tablespoon of it to a glass of juice. We like to use diluted pomegranate juice with a tad of stevia, for general health and detoxing. We do this with each meal in the spring as a rejuvenating tonic…we call it our “Power Elixir”. You can add this to sparkling water and flavor it with a few drops of your favorite essential oil, like wild orange, tangerine or grapefruit.
- I love making oxymels (same process as the vinegar except you use ½ ACV and half honey plus various healing herbs) because they have the honey as a part of the blend and can be added to any liquid you like. Children like them too.
- Make homemade vinaigrette dressing: Combine 3 tablespoons oil, 2 tablespoons dandelion vinegar, 1 tablespoon crumbled bacon, optional, 1/2 tablespoon chopped onion, 1 teaspoon maple syrup and salt and pepper to taste. Shake together in a jar and let stand for twenty minutes to allow the flavors marry. Shake again and pour over your salad.
- Diluted with water 2:1, dandelion vinegar can be applied to bug bites to help lessen the sting.
- It makes a relaxing addition to bath water along with a cup of Epsom salts to help those tired, achy muscles.
Dandelion Flower Infused Oil
These are made similarly to the vinegar except instead of using vinegar as the soak for the dandelion heads, oils are used. The flowers should be dried out a little because they have a high water content and so when used in an oil soak the resulting infused oil can become watery. Not good!
- Clean flower heads and lay them out on terry towels or plain white paper towels in a warm area for about 3 days.
- Fill quart canning jar almost to the top with cleaned dried out flower heads.
- Gently heat your favorite oil over low flame in a steel, glass or ceramic pot. Just before it begins to simmer, remove from heat and pour to cover the dandelion heads in the jar, almost to the top. They will swell a bit so leave a little room, say one inch. If I will eventually be using this infused oil to make healing salve or to use as a body oil I like to use sweet almond oil or apricot oil as both are soothing and healing to the skin but the choice is yours. I don’t recommend using regular vegetable cooking oils with the exception of good olive oil.
- Next is a 3 hour slow, low, just under a simmer, water bath. Place the canning jar with the oil and flowers into a pot of warm water and allow it to heat for about 3 hours. I like to place a thin wash cloth in the bottom of the pot. I think it helps to anchor and hold it steady. But that’s optional.
- Some people opt for an additional 3-4 day leaching time by putting the jar in the cupboard and shaking it gently once a day.
- When ready, strain out the dandelion heads and store the oil covered in the refrigerator until ready to use as a soothing, healing all over-skin softener and healer. It’s especially beneficial to the heels, knees and elbows. I also use this for making salves (I’ll include that recipe with photos in a later article when the dandelions are blooming).
A dandelion blossom infused oil is our favorite remedy for relief from arthritic joints. I add a few essential oils and that boosts the potency even higher. That same infused oil can be used to soothe chapped and raw skin.
Use just the flower heads with about 1/3 of the bitter “hip” just below the flower cut off. If too much of this “hip” is removed, the petals will fall off. Collect and clean the amount of flowers you need. Make a healthy pancake batter with some added cinnamon. If you’d prefer a sweet batter add a little stevia or sugar.
If you want to keep it savory, you can add any herb you find tasty and leave out the sweeteners.
Coat each flower in the batter. This can be done with individual flowers or you can do several at a time in a small pancake.
Put about ¼ inch of coconut or olive oil in a frying pan and heat the pan till the oil begins to shimmer, then add fritters one at a time. When browned on one side, using tongs, gently turn them over and cook until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Lightly sprinkle confections sugar over the sweet version of this fritter or add a little sprinkled cheese to the savory option. Eat right away. We love these for any meal, any time!
Fancy Spring Garnish
The yellow tops of the flowers, without the green “hip” are actually quite sweet. If you are making Easter cupcakes, pancakes, iced cookies, salad or soups these sweet dandelion petal tops make an outstandingly beautiful garnish.
They make lovely yellow syrup too. Once the “hip” is removed those petals just fall apart and become tiny individual straw-like confetti. They will be a hit and conversation piece at any table. A good lead-in to telling your friends about the benefits and joys of foraging the lovely dandelion!
Benefits of dandelion root:
- Because of its high iron and zinc content, dandelion root is often used as a treatment for anemia.
- Has mild laxative properties and is often used to help maintain regularity.
- Recognized as a great blood builder and for the liver.
- Aids skin problems as well as detoxify poisons and toxic waste in the body.
- Widely recognized as a liver tonic as it nourishes the liver.
- Lowers cholesterol according to some studies. Early results of at least one study show that dandelion root supplements may affect the cholesterol profile in diabetic mice positively by lowering LDL and triglycerides while increasing HDL.
- Filled with vitamins A, C, D and B complex and is very high in calcium.
Foraging Roots and Making Roasted Dandelion Root Coffee
The best plants are at least two years old because big roots are the best. Autumn is a good time to harvest because not the goodness is in the root. The roasting, I am told, sweetens it up a little and so it isn’t bitter tasting.
A friend shared the following recipe with me.
Dandelion Root Coffee Substitute Recipe
- Dig up dandelion roots using a narrow trowel or you can use a shovel to loosen the roots.
- Cut the roots off just below the tops. Save the flowers and leaves for other uses.
- Soak the roots in water to loosen the soil.
- Wash the dandelion roots to remove all of the soil; you can use a vegetable brush.
- Then rinse them well.
- Cut the roots off just below the tops. Save the flowers and leaves for other uses.
- Slice the roots into sections.
- Chop up the roots coarsely.
- Spread the chopped roots thinly on cookie sheet.
- Roast in at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for about 2 hours.
- They are ready when the roots are dark brown the colour of coffee beans. Take care not to burn them. Store roasted roots in an airtight container in a very cool place until you are ready to make dandelion coffee.
- Grind them up in a coffee grinder and brew them just like you would with ground coffee beans.
Unlike regular coffee used throughout the world, there are no chemicals used in making dandelion tea or coffee, and the health benefits in the dandelion version is head and shoulders above your average cup of joe which is a culprit for osteoporosis, accelerated aging, weight gain due to blood sugar fluctuations during consumption, and has been known to carry many pesticides as the coffee bean is one of the heaviest sprayed crops.
My husband drank coffee for years, although he tried two herbal substitutes, Pero and Postum, along the way. He didn’t like either of them, even a little. I must admit that I have never tried to make the dandelion root coffee substitute recipe above.
It is a goal for me in the fall of 2018. However, about 5 years ago I found a coffee sub that my husband liked called Dandy Blend. The best part about this alternative is its seriously impressive health benefits.
He can drink as much Dandy Blend as he wants without the caffeine jitters and sleeplessness and increased pesticide toxicity. He had no headaches or other withdrawal symptoms when switching from coffee to Dandy Blend.
It’s also beneficial for those who are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease since it’s completely gluten free! It is made of water-soluble extracts of roasted roots of dandelion, chicory and beets, and the grains of barley and rye.
I’m excited to see if my homemade version will be as good. I will probably dig some chicory root to add to the dandelion root. The process looks pretty straight-forward so we will see what happens and if it is acceptable it will be less expensive. The 2 pound bag of Dandy Blend contains 454 servings.
Dandelions and Tires: What?
Here is one more surprising use of the dandelion plant. Vehicle tires out of dandelions? Who would ever have thought that the lowly dandelion would ever play with “The Big Boys” on a global scale? Here is a link to the Reuters video on dandelions to tires.
Dandelions are versatile and I’ve only covered a few of its glowing benefits and uses.
Although this humble plant may seem like a small thing as we consider major survival preps, increasing your knowledge of the natural, free and abundant food and medicine around us could very well become the difference between life and death.
We have learned that versatile dandelion can be used as a vitamin and mineral packed food and as a potent booster tonic medicine. Taking the time to learn more about this abundant health resource will be a good step towards fast forwarding your survival preps. Spring foraging can become a family prep activity that’s fun, rewarding and vitally important.
I’d love to hear about ways you have used plants or ways you plan to use them. Which plants are you going to add to you self-sufficiency knowledge base this spring?
Pick some delicious dandelion greens and be healthier!
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