By Dianna Kasprzak
Our family loves dandelions! We celebrate the first blossoms of spring, with little hands clutching bouquets to give to Mommy or Grandma. We also eat them. I am always thrilled when my little grandchildren want to give me a bouquet ... or a snack.
Why are we so excited about dandelions?
Dandelions are backyard herbs.
By definition, herbs are a plant or a part of a plant that is used as medicine or to give flavor to food. In our current culture, dandelions have been viewed as weeds that need to be eradicated from our lawns. Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Poet who lived 1803-1882, wrote:
"What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
In ancient times, the edible leaves, blossoms and soft stems of annuals and perennials, all known as herbs -- were used primarily as medicine. It was a knowledge that was passed on from generation to generation. There are many references to the use of herbs and plants in the Bible. For a list of 14 commonly used herbs and their usage found in the Bible, visit here.
During the 1900's with the rise of "miracle drugs," the use of healing herbs was shelved and the knowledge all-but-lost. In the same way that sourdough bread is returning to our tables, medicinal herbs are returning to our medicine cabinets. Let's take a look at the lowly dandelion and why it is a great place to start in learning about backyard herbs.
Food for Honey Bees
It is the first prolific flower of the season, providing nectar for the honey bees, which faithfully and busily, go about their job of pollination. When a bee visits a flower collecting nectar, pollen sticks to the hairs of her body. When she visits the next flower, some of this pollen rubs off and fertilization occurs, resulting in the fruit of the plant, bush or tree.
Besides being colorful and cheery, the entire dandelion plant has edible and medicinal properties. You can eat dandelions. The whole plant! Nutritionally, dandelion greens are one of the most nutritionally dense greens. Rich in beta-carotene, it has even more units per gram than the highly touted it's-good-for-your-eyes carrot! The dandelion plant is also a good source of fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamine and riboflavin. All parts of the plant are edible and vary in their use and application.
Detoxing the Liver
Utilizing the whole parts of the dandelion plant is especially important in the spring of each year, as it aids in detoxifying the liver. Keeping the liver healthy is essential to good health, as the liver's primary function is to eliminate toxins that come through every avenue of daily living -- our food, the air we breathe, a freshly-painted room, new furniture, over-the-counter drugs, pharmaceutical drugs....and the list goes on. Here are ways you can get the benefit from the beautiful dandelions growing in your yard! (Just be sure to use dandelions that come from unsprayed lawns, fields, etc.)
Dandelions virtually grow anywhere. Even if the soil is rocky, the beautiful blossoms find their way through the barren soil, shining their sunny faces and gracing the brown terrain.
How to Use the Dandelion Plant
Leaves: The fresh, tender leaves of the spring dandelion will taste the best. Add to a salad. You can also use the leaves in juicing or in a smoothie. You'll probably want to use in small amounts until you become accustomed to the taste.
Blossoms: Add to your salad (yes, you can eat the entire blossom!). Use to make Dandelion Tea.
Stems: Juicing, tea.
Root: The root is valuable in liver cleanses and has been used in cancer treatments. For a most amazing explanation of this, please visit CancerTutor.
Always pick from lawns and fields that have not been sprayed with pesticides.
Dehydrating Dandelions The entire dandelion plant can be harvested and dehydrated and preserved for tea as well as medicinal uses. It makes for an interesting experiment too.....for you will notice that the plants will undergo their life cycle in your dehydrator, turning the lovely blossoms to seed! No bother.....you can still store the leaves and now-seeded blossoms in a jar and use to make tea all year long. (Note: It is best to dehydrate the roots separately, as they take longer to dry. You can also effectively dry dandelions in the heat of summer by hanging on a clothesline.)
Summer is the time to gather those dandelions and dehydrate for winter storage. My favorite dehydrator is the Excalibur, which has 9 large trays that are easily accessible. With an adjustable thermostat, you can dehydrate at 105 degrees, keeping the herbs at a "raw" state. Leaves dehydrate quickly - approximately 2 hours. Stems will take longer - 4 hours. The roots will need up to 8 hours. All drying times will vary also, depending upon how densely you have put the plants on your trays. When dehydrating the roots of the dandelion, do not wash them. This is part of the overall effectiveness of the root for medicinal reasons, as mentioned on CancerTutor. The soil will naturally fall off after the roots are dry. The roots can be pulverized using a mini mill, and added to water or a smoothie. The root is bitter -- a sign that it will be effective for detoxing!
A Fun Family Project . . . Make Dandelion Tea!
What a fun way to celebrate spring, teaching your children how to make herbal tea -- with dandelions harvested right from your lawn!
Collect approximately 1 quart of blossoms from a non-pesticided, clean lawn or field.
Wash and drain in a colander.
Heat 1 quart of water to boiling and pour over the blossoms.
Cover and allow to steep (no boiling) for 5-10 minutes.
Strain. This is a tea concentrate.
Add an additional quart of cold water and/or ice to dilute to taste. Add thin slices of lemon or lime. Sweeten with honey or stevia, if desired.
Enjoy the refreshing flavor of dandelion tea!
One of my readers makes dandelion gummies with her little boys, using a mold for gummy worms. They are the real deal...but made with all healthful ingredients -- dandelion tea, honey and grassfed gelatin! The little ones will be so delighted to have these treats. Dandelion & Honey Gummy Bears recipe can be found here.
Celebrate spring, celebrate dandelions -- one of God's gifts to us!
For more information on the dandelion plant and its many uses, visit Dr. Christopher's Herbal Legacy.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to diagnose or cure any disease, but reflects the thoughts and opinions of the author. Seek out information and be in conversation with your healthcare provider regarding any concerns you may have about your health.