Eat Your Dandelions

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Image courtesy of thaowurr.deviantart.com

“You EAT them?” a little boy new to the neighborhood asks. He leans forward for the answer, his face ready to constrict in doubt.

Children already well acquainted with our family’s springtime ritual stop picking.

“Yeah!” they eagerly assure him, “They’re really good.”

They aren’t referring to a new vegetable in our garden. They’re talking about dandelions.

Herbalists tell us exactly what we need grows nearby. Those plants we call “weeds” may in fact remedy what ails us. They are so common that their properties are easily overlooked in a culture searching for packaged wellness. Plantain, mullein, comfrey,mint, mugwort,St. John’s wort, chicory and purslane spring up wild in my untreated lawn and garden. Weeds, but also powerful healers.

Today we’re picking dandelions in full flower. It isn’t about finding a remedy. For me the harvest is has to do with celebrating spring and affirming the beauty around us. For my children and our neighbors it’s about fun. I wait until the blooms are at their peak. Then I call friends and neighbors to announce, “Today is the day!”

Children spread out across the yard holding little baskets. A girl squats in front of each plant, pausing a long moment before she reaches out to pluck a flower from its stem. The  oldest boy in the group walks by many dandelion plants to pick only those growing in clusters. And the newest little boy falls silent, as the rest of the children do, taking delight in the seriousness of the harvest.

European settlers brought the dandelion plant to this continent for food and medicinal purposes. The perennial spread easily across most states. It’s a testament to the power of herbicide marketers that such a useful plant became so thoroughly despised. Standing under today’s blue sky, I look at exuberant yellow rosettes growing in bright green grass and feel sheer aesthetic pleasure.

After the children tire of picking we sit together on the porch and snip off the dandelion stems right up to the flower. We mothers look over their busy heads—blonde, brown, black—and smile as we watch them stay at this task with the kind of close attention children give to real work. One girl remarks that the flowers look like the sun. Another child says her grandmother told her that in the Old Country they call the plant by the same name as milk because of its white sap. The newest boy chooses to line the stems neatly along the wide porch planking, arranging and rearranging them by length.

Every aspect of a ritual holds significance so I pay attention to the warm breeze, the comfortable pulse of friendship, and flowers so soft against my fingers they remind me of a newborn’s hair.

When we’re done the flowers are rinsed in a colander, then it’s time to cook them. I’m not a fan of frying. There are better ways to preserve the flavor and nutrients in food. Consequently I’m not very skilled. But this is easy. The children, their mothers and I drop the flowers in a thin batter, scoop them out with slotted spoons and fry them a dozen at a time in shallow pans.

After the blossoms cool slightly on paper towels they’re put on two platters. One is tossed with powdered sugar and cinnamon, the other sprinkled with salt and pepper. Handfuls are eaten in the kitchen while we cook. Then we carry the platters outside. Children run off to play in grass polka dotted with bright yellow flowers. We adults sit on the porch laughing and talking.

It’s suggested that we should be eating healthfully prepared dandelion greens and roots rather than indulging in delectable fried blossoms. That sentence fades into a quiet moment as a breeze stirs new leaves on the trees and lifts our children’s hair. I feel enlivened. Everywhere, around me and inside me, it is spring.

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Gather dandelion flowers from areas free of chemical treatments or fertilizer. Pick in a sunny part of the day so the flowers are fully open, then prepare right away so flowers don’t close.
Cut away stem, as this is bitter, leaving only the green part holding the flower together.
Douse briefly in salt water (to flush out any lurking bugs). Dry flowers on dish towels while you prepare batter.
Ingredients
3 to 4 cups dandelion flowers, prepared as above
1 cup milk (dairy, soy, almond, coconut, any variety)
1 egg (or equivalent egg replacer product)
1 cup flour (slightly smaller amount of any whole grain alternative)
½ teaspoon salt
oil (frying is best with healthful oils which don’t break down at high temperatures, try safflower oil, coconut oil or olive oil)
Method
1. Combine milk, egg, flour and salt in wide bowl. Mix well. Heat an inch or two of oil in skillet (350-375 degrees).
2.  Drop a dozen or so blossoms into the batter, stir gently to coat. Lift out with slotted spoon or fork. It’s best to hold the bowl over the skillet as you drop each blossom into the hot oil.
3. Turn flowers over to brown on both sides. Remove with slotted spatula to drain briefly on paper towels. Continue to fry remaining flowers using same steps. Toss cooked dandelions with sugar and cinnamon. Or salt and your choice of savory flavoring such as garlic, pepper or chili powder.
4. Making flower fritters is a speedier method than frying individual flowers. Simply drop flowers and batter into the oil by the spoonful, then turn like a pancake. Serve with jam, maple syrup or honey. Or try savory toppings like mustard, ketchup or barbeque sauce. These fritters are endlessly adaptable. Try adding sunflower or sesame seeds to the batter and serve with either the sweet or savory toppings.
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Image by photobri25.deviantart.com

What You May Not Know About Dandelions

The common dandelion, Taraxacum officinal, has been used in traditional medical systems around the world to boost nutrition as well as treat conditions of the liver, kidney and spleen; slow abnormal growths; improve digestion and more. Recently science has taken a closer look at this often scorned plant. No surprise, traditional wisdom holds up under scrutiny.

~Dandelion root stimulates the growth of 14 strains of bifidobacteria.1 This is good news, because bifidobacteria aid in digestion. Their presence in the gut is correlated with a lower incidence of allergies.2

~Dandelions appear to fight cancer. Researchers testing for biologically active components to combat cancer proliferation and invasion note that dandelion extracts have value as “novel anti-cancer agent[s].” Their studies show dandelion leaf extract decreases growth of certain breast cancer cells and blocks invasion of prostate cancer. The root extract blocks invasion of other specific breast cancer cells3  and also shows promise inhibiting skin cancer. 4

~Dandelions work as an anti-inflammatory and pain relieving agent.5

~Dandelion extract lowers cholesterol. This, plus its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities leads some researchers to believe that the plant may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).6

~The plant’s leaves are an effective diuretic.7

~Dandelion shows promise in diabetic treatment. It slows the glycemic response to carbohydrates, thereby helping to control blood sugar.8

~Dandelion extract increases the action of estrogen and progesterone receptors. It may prove to be a useful treatment for reproductive hormone-related problems including PMS.9

~ Leaves, roots and flowers of the humble dandelion are fully edible. USDA National Nutrient Database analysis proves that a festive array of nutrition awaits any lawn harvester. One cup of chopped fresh dandelion greens are extremely rich in vitamins K, A and C as well as good source of vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6,  calcium, iron, ,magnesium, manganese, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.10

The flavonoids found in dandelions are valuable antioxidants and free radical scavengers.11

 
1 I. Trojanova, V. Rada, L. Kokoska, E. Vikova, “The Bifidogenic Effect of Taraxacum Officinale Root,”  Fitoterapia vol 75 issue 7/8 (December 2004), 760-763.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15567259  (accessed 8-29-09)
2  Bengt Bjorksten, Epp Sepp, Kaja Julge, Tiia Voor, Marika Mikelsaar, “Allergy Development and the Intestinal Microflora During the First Year of Life,” The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology vol 108 issue 4 (October 2001), 516-520. http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(01)96140-8/abstract  (accessed 8-29-09)
3 S.C.Sigstedt, C.J. Hooten, M.C. Callewaert, A.R. Jenkins, A.E. Romera, M.J. Pullin, A. Korneinko, T.K. Lowrey, S.V. Slambrouck, W.F. Steelant, “Evaluation of Aqueous Extracts of Taraxacum Officinale on Growth and Invasion of Breast and Prostate Cancer Cells,” International Journal of Oncologyvol 32, num 5 (May 2008), 1085-1090.  http://www.spandidos-publications.com/ijo/article.jsp?article_id=ijo_32_5_1085  (accessed 8-30-09).
4 M. Takasaki, T. Konoshima, H. Tokuda, K. Masuda, Y. Arai, K. Shiojima, H. Ageta,  “Anti-carcinogenic Activity of Taraxacum Plant,” Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin vol 22, 6 (June 1999), 602-605.  http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.cpl.org/ehost/detail?vid=1&hid=108&sid=b7ce94b0-1484-4aef-a5a8-73e1efddb194%40sessionmgr104&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=cmedm&AN=10408234  (accessed 9-1-09).
5 H.J. Jeon, H.J. Kang, H.J. Jung, Y.S. Kang, C.J. Lim, Y.M Kim, E.H. Park, Anti-inflammatory Activity of Taraxacum Officinale,”  Journal of Ethnopharmacology vol. 115, 1 (January 2008), 82-88.  http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.cpl.org/ehost/detail?vid=1&hid=108&sid=4b56dd3a-f9b3-4444-b85d-80d79eb1f3ce%40replicon103&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=cmedm&AN=17949929  (accessed 9-1-09).
6 Jinju Kim, Kyunghee Noh, Mikyung Cho, Jihyun Jang, Youngsun Song, “Anti-oxidative, Anti-inflammatory and Anti-Atherogenic Effects of Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) Extracts in c57BL/6 Mice Fed Atherogenic Diet,”  FASEB Journal vol 21, issue 6 (April 2007), 1122.  http://wf2dnvr17.webfeat.org/aNuiM141/url=http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=1&hid=5&sid=a168be9f-0a5c-41c6-b86d-2a9c3677c6f4%40sessionmgr4&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&AN=25598840   (accessed 9-1-09).
7 Bevin A. Clare, Richard S. Conroy, Kevin Spelman, “The Diuretic Effect in Human Subjects of an Extract of Taraxacum Officinale Rolium Over a Single Day,” Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine vol 15, issue 8 (August 2009), 929-934.  http://wf2dnvr17.webfeat.org/aNuiM14/url=http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=1&hid=9&sid=a26346e7-f010-44fc-88ea-891214f7539a%40sessionmgr10&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&AN=43671001     (accessed 9-1-09).
8 Secil Onal, Suna Timur, Burcu Okutucu, Figen Zihnioglu, “Inhibition of a-Glucosidase by Aqueous Extracts of Some Potent Antidiabetic Medicinal Herbs,” Preparative Biochemistry & Biotechnology vol 35, issue 1 (February 2005), 29-36.  http://wf2dnvr17.webfeat.org/aNuiM141/url=http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=8&hid=104&sid=982fd009-501c-4a90-9ce3-7d5475b2ed05%40sessionmgr4&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&AN=16133864    (accessed 9-1-09).
9 Zhi Xu, Ken-Ichi Honda, Koji Ozaki, Takuya Misugi, Toshiyuki Sumi, Osamu Ishiko, “Dandelioin T-1 Extract Up-regulates Reproductive Hormone Receptor Expression in Mice,” International Journal of Molecular Medicine volume 20, 3 (2007) 287-292.  http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=19007317   (accessed 8-27-09).
10 USDA Agricultural Research Service, USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21, (2008) NDB # 11207  http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/cgi-bin/list_nut_edit.pl  (accessed 9-1-09).
 11 Hu C. Kitts, “Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) Flower Extract Suppresses Both Reactive Oxygen Species and Nitric Oxide and Prevents Lipid Oxidation in Vitro,” Phytomedicine 12, 8 (August 2005), 588-597. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16121519?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DiscoveryPanel.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=2&log$=relatedarticles&logdbfrom=pubmed  (accessed 9-1-09).

This post is reprinted from an article that first appeared in Natural Life Magazine

About Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is a writer and editor, perhaps due to an English professor's scathing denunciation of her writing as "curious verbiage." She's the author of "Free Range Learning," a handbook of natural learning and "Tending," a poetry collection. (lauragraceweldon.com) She's working on her next book, "Subversive Cooking" (subversivecooking.com). She lives on Bit of Earth Farm where she is a barely useful farm wench. Although she has deadlines to meet she often wanders from the computer to preach hope, snort with laughter, cook subversively, talk to chickens and cows, discuss life’s deeper meaning with her surprisingly tolerant offspring, sing to bees, hide in books, walk dogs, concoct tinctures, watch foreign films, and make messy art.
This entry was posted in food, gratitude, memory, mindfulness, mothering, simple living, subversive cooking and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Eat Your Dandelions

  1. Perfect! My sons were just trying to find a way to fry these the other day! Thank you – they’ll be on it this afternoon…
    ~ Melissa at

    http://tillieisms.blogspot.com/

  2. Brittany says:

    I am obsessed with dandelion tea. I just ran out, and was thinking about buying more literally a minute before I read your post. Now I must get more.

  3. Dick Stacy says:

    When I was growing up in a small town in southwestern New York State, my aunt used to have me pick the early leaves of the dandelion plants in our front yard, which, when washed and boiled, we ate like spinach … delicious !

    • Laura Weldon says:

      I’ve done that, using them like spinach or kale weeks before those plants come up. If I remember correctly, they’re supposed to be picked before the flower head matures. That’s my problem, I don’t get out there fast enough.

      • Dick Stacy says:

        Because of the bitterness of the leaves, my aunt would boil them repeatedly, discarding the water each time. My uncle use to joke, watching this process, that after the third re-boil, we should just throw the dandelions leaves away and eat the pan.

        • Laura Weldon says:

          Oh, that’s a problem. They really need to be picked before the blossom emerges, otherwise they’re bitter. I wonder if there were any nutrients left after all that boiling!

  4. I love eating dandelions! Thanks for this reminder to go foraging for them today. They’re right outside in our yard. We also have a lot of violets blooming so we will harvest a whole bunch of those as well.

  5. Christen says:

    Awesome! I’m glad you included the recipe–I was going to ask for it if you didn’t :)

  6. I followed you over from the Earth Day blog hop! Thank you for sharing.
    I was captivated by your beautiful writing and now my mouth is watering for fried dandelions. They sound delicious.

  7. moonsprig says:

    Love how you have made this a ritual for your entire neighborhood?? What a gift you are giving these children and their families!! Absolutely beautiful!

  8. pshillington says:

    It’s interesting that I read your article this morning and also, unrelated, read an article about digestive bacteria which also mentioned dandelion. “Inulin increases calcium absorption[4] and possibly magnesium absorption,[5] while promoting the growth of intestinal bacteria. In terms of nutrition, it is considered a form of soluble fiber and is sometimes categorized as a prebiotic.” -http://health.howstuffworks.com/diseases-conditions/digestive/leaky-gut-syndrome.htm
    Thanks for sharing all that wonderful information about dandelions. We are always looking for new things to stimulate good gut bacteria as my son has been unwell and needs constant nutritional management to maintain good health. Now I just need to find some dandelion seeds to nurture.

    • Laura Weldon says:

      That IS interesting. I think leaky gut syndrome is much more prevalent than we know. There are plenty of other sources of inulin if dandelions don’t grow where you live, here’s a list I grabbed from our pals at Wiki:
      Natural sources of inulin

      Plants that contain high concentrations of inulin include:
      Elecampane (Inula helenium)
      Coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
      Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
      Wild yam (Dioscorea spp.)
      Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)
      Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
      Jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus)
      Burdock (Arctium lappa)
      Costus Saussurea lappa
      Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
      Onion (Allium cepa)
      Garlic (Allium sativum)
      Agave (Agave spp.)
      Leopard’s-bane (Arnica montana)
      Yacón (Smallanthus sonchifolius spp.)
      Camas (Camassia spp.)

  9. pshillington says:

    Sorry – it’s wasn’t ‘interesting’ as such since there is a clear link. I just happened to stumble upon the second article and learned about Inulin. :)

  10. Kimerly says:

    Sounds yummy! And hopefully a few flowers left over to make a wreath to top the hair of a would-be May Queen.

  11. Vicki says:

    Sweet information!! Thanks!

  12. ethanre says:

    I have tried the roasted root tea and un-roasted root tea. The roasted one has a stronger taste, cab be a coffee alternative. I keep hearing of how detoxing dendelions are but I dont know which part is the best for tea and should it be roasted or not in order for it to be liver-detoxing?

    Flowers? stems? dried roots? roasted roots? anyone knows how what makes for the best liver detoxing tea from these choices?

    • Laura Weldon says:

      A quick search shows that root as well as leaves are good for detox, according to herbalists. Have no idea about roasting. Bet just eating them in salads would do the trick.

  13. Faith says:

    I never thought I’d like dandelion tea but I’m all over that stuff. I like it not just for its medicinal properties but because it tastes good. I have to admit too, I like that such a wonderful taste comes from a weed that people spend a lot of time trying to destroy. :-) What a beautifully strong plant.

  14. Faith says:

    I think my comment got lost in the WP login process so I’m going to try this again……
    I really like the flavor of dandelion tea. I didn’t think I would but I do. I know it has medicinal properties (its detox abilities are quite incredible) but the taste is wonderful too.
    This particular flower is an inspiration to me because of how hearty it is. People go out of their way to kill it but it still stands tall and proud to be what it is, a pretty and tasty weed.
    Faith

  15. Abby Quillen says:

    I’m definitely going to try this! I harvested so many amazingly deep dandelion taproots when I was preparing my garden this spring. I can see why they’re so nutritious with roots like that! I know we’re going to love these fried blossoms next spring. What a fun way to welcome spring.

  16. Amanda says:

    And all these years I’ve been growing dandelions in my garden and feeding them to our guinea pigs?!! So pleased to have read this.

  17. Lawrence says:

    Lucky guinea pigs!

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