They’re the bane of gardeners everywhere. And adding insult to injury, they’re the happiest of flowers nobody ever planted. Cheerful yellow intruders, they pop up with smiling, sunny faces, as if mocking eradication efforts.
We’re talking the dandelion, of course. Native to Europe and Asia, the dandelion is said to have arrived in the New World in the early 1600s. Were the seeds stowaways when the Pilgrims first set foot at Plymouth Rock? Or were they deliberately brought along by colonists as a medicinal plant? No one seems to know for sure. But once having arrived in the New World, the dandelion quickly set its roots. And it’s certainly made itself right at home.
Like so many things we detest, though, there’s another side to dandelions if we look hard enough. The humble and ever-present dandelion has been treasured for centuries as both a food and a medicine.
Its roots have long been used as a detoxifying “tonic,” stimulating for the kidney, liver and gallbladder. The leaves make a dandy salad or smoothie green (yeah, pun intended), and some folks toss those cheerful yellow blooms in their salads as well. There’s dandelion tea (made by simmering the leaves), and dandelion “coffee” (brewed from the dried, ground root). And don’t forget that home-brewed staple of country living, dandelion wine. (Even proper Victorian women who weren’t supposed to imbibe strong drink were permitted to consume this “medicinal” remedy!)
The white sap that oozes from a dandelion’s cut stems or roots has been used in folk medicine to treat warts. Centuries ago, herbalists used the plant as a remedy for fever, depression and even hair loss. And some today say the root contains substances that could potentially help treat cancer. (Take all those “cures” with a grain of salt . . . but the cancer link just might be worth further research.)
Dandelion tea is easy to make: Just simmer the washed, chopped leaves and root for about 15 minutes, let cool, and strain. (It’s a natural diuretic, so check with your doctor first if you have liver, kidney, or gallbladder issues, or if you’re already taking a diuretic.)
Wash and cook the leaves just like spinach — like spinach, they’re high in iron and calcium.
And if you’d like to try making your very own dandelion wine (and wreak a bit of revenge on those cheerful yellow blossoms in the process), all it takes is a heaping quantity of flowers, a bit of yeast, some citrus fruit and raisins, and a lot of sugar. Oh, and a few weeks of toe-tapping as you wait for it to brew.
There are scads of recipes available online for making dandelion wine, but here’s one with great how-to pictures – plus a bonus recipe at the end for making dandelion cookies:
(Photo at top: Public Domain image shared courtesy of National Library of Medicine; from “Medical Botany” by William Woodville .)