Just Dandy! Using Dandelions for Health

As any gardener who’s ever tried to get rid of dandelions will tell you, those are some very tough plants! And all that robust health translates to some pretty amazing nutrition for you, because every single part of the dandelion is edible — from root to leaves to flower.

Using dandelions, from root to flower

Dandelions have a long history in folk medicine from all over the world. They’re used for boosting energy levels and your immune system (Korea); treating breast inflammation or lack of milk flow (China); eye problems and diarrhea (Europe); and kidney disease (Native American medicine) — and that’s just a sampling of all this tough little plant can do.

Dandelions also have the first part of the alphabet dialed in — they’re rich in vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, not to mention calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, and manganese. They’re also good for your eyes, with four times as much beta-carotene as broccoli and lots of lutein and zeaxanthin too.

Once you spend a while looking at the list of dandelion’s benefits, you may start wondering if there’s anything this tough little plant can’t do. It’s antibacterial, shows promise for treating several types of cancer (including pancreatic cancer and leukemia), may act as an antidepressant, and even shows some promise for regulating your blood sugar too.

One of the best established uses for dandelion — both the root and the leaf — is supporting your liver, kidney and gallbladder function and purifying your blood. The kynurenic acid found in dandelion roots can help soothe the effects of rheumatic arthritis, and the root stimulates your appetite.

As if you needed any more proof that dandelions really can do it all? The ground-up, roasted roots make a delicious coffee substitute. Dandy Blend is one brand that uses dandelion roots in its caffeine-free coffee-like drink.

Dandelion in the produce section

You’ll find dandelion root coffee substitutes in most health food stores and many supermarkets — but it’s the fresh leaves that are really an up-and-coming superstar in some produce sections. Shop for bundles of bright green leaves that don’t show any wilting, browning or yellowing — and if you can’t find fresh, look for freeze-dried dandelion leaves.

The smallest leaves are the most tender and make a soft, tangy addition to any salad or sandwich. As the leaves get larger, they start to take on a bitter taste that can be reduced somewhat by blanching them for 30 seconds before you sauté them with garlic and onions in olive oil, or add them to your soups and stocks.

And finally, you can make a healing tea out of dandelion greens by chopping them and simmering them for about 10 minutes in water; strain the bits of leaf out before you drink.

Go shopping in the yard

You can also “shop” for dandelions right in your lawn or the nearest wild grassy area — just make sure you’ve positively identified the plants and that you’re hunting in a place away from car exhaust, pesticides, and other toxins. As a bonus if you’re foraging for wild dandelions, the flowers are edible — and if you get a burn or an insect sting, the inside of the flower stems makes a soothing balm.

If you plan to make dandelion tea, be sure to pick the dandelion before it flowers.

However you get your dandelion leaves, flowers and stems, care for them by rinsing them, patting them dry, and storing them in a plastic bag in a low-humidity drawer in your refrigerator.

Just a few cautions

Dandelions are one of the safest wild foods out there, although you should avoid them if you have ragweed or iodine allergies. You should also talk to your doctor if you’ve been diagnosed or are taking medication for any of the systems dandelions can affect, including kidney, liver, and gallbladder. Medications to watch out for include antacids, diuretics, blood thinners and even diabetes medications; your dosages may need to be adjusted to accommodate the dandelion’s beneficial effects.