“Even when we grow up we call still whisper our wishes upon the wind – as a child does in innocence, breathing their wishes at a dandelion.” – Jill Hanna

I love dandelions. They are little sun kisses spread between the grasses, waiting to carry your wishes away on the breeze. How can you not love the promise of spring, the nostalgic blossom of childhood, a whisper of nature that squeezes between cracks in the sidewalk – a reminder that no matter how we inadvertently try to beat it away, beauty remains.

With all the endearing qualities of this little herb, it amazes me that people spend so much effort trying to eradicate it from their spaces.

Dandelions are so much more than a weed. We have somehow stuck this label on them and through the years have forgotten that these hearty sprigs are full of medicine and nutrition. If you treat them just right, they will also make a fantastic batch of wine to enjoy on a summer evening, and of course they always hold the promise of carrying our wishes to where they belong.

Like most intriguing wild thin269277_3361725008009_60481041_ngs, dandelions have been the stuff of myth and legend as far as written and verbal history will take us.  Following is a glimpse of the folklore surrounding these happy little herbs:

  • Send a child to pick the tallest dandelion he can find in the spring time. The length of the stem should indicate how much the child will grow that year.
  • If you are in need of good weather, bury dandelions at the northwest corner of your yard and get ready to enjoy clearer skies.
  • A dream of dandelions is the representation of happy unions.
  • Blow your wishes onto a dandelion seed head and they will scatter to the places wishes come true.
  • Dandelions have also been called the Fairy’s Clock or the Shepherd’s Clock because of their use as a natural time piece – their habit of opening with the first rays of the sun (and closing at the approach of a rainstorm) can help with the day’s outdoor plans.

Dandelions are full of more than magic, they also hold medicine. In earlier days there wasn’t a well-stocked medicine pantry without a jar of dried dandelions. The healing power hasn’t run out of these blossoms, we have just traded Earth’s medicine for synthetic pharmaceuticals. All parts of the dandelion are useful – the flowers, stems and roots. Below is a list of traditional medicinal uses for dandelions: file0001978979736

  • As a diuretic
  • To correct liver problems
  • To lower blood pressure
  • As an appetite stimulant
  • To relieve upset tummies
  • To improve gallbladder function
  • To help with digestion
  • To fight inflammation
  • To help lower blood sugar
  • To remove warts
  • To increase milk flow in lactating women

In addition to myth, magic and medicine, dandelions are also chock full of nutrients. Here is a quick breakdown of the nutritional value of these little wonder weeds – dandelions contain healthy doses of the following:

  • Potassium
  • Antioxidants
  • Vitamin A
  • B complex vitamins
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Beta Carotene
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Calcium
  • Copper

The most difficult aspect of picking dandelions for food or medicine is to find a pesticide-free place to harvest them. Unfortunately these innocent yellow beauties are treated like enemies to lawn-lovers everywhere. They have been wacked, pulled, cut and poisoned – really to no avail because these wild things are persistent, adaptable and extremely hardy.

Did you know? An estimated 80 million pounds of pesticides are applied to lawns each year to try and keep dandelions off the turf. – Mother Earth News Article

file0001685497583Once you locate your safe organically grown supply of dandelions, you have a wealth of goods for your kitchen and your medicine cabinet. There are many ways to store them, the best way is to dry them in a dehydrator or on a simple drying rack.

They can also be used fresh, straight from the Earth. The petals can be used in teas, salads and tinctures – the flower heads can also be steeped to make a delicious old-fashioned wine. You can fry the whole flower for a tasty dandelion fritter. The leaves (picked when young) are a great addition to salads, sausages, red sauces and stews. You can eat them year-round, but they are less bitter and more appetizing when they are still young (or when older after a good frost or two).

They can be enjoyed raw, or steamed like you would steam turnip or mustard greens. Pull the roots up, dry and roast them, and then grind them up for a healthy coffee substitute. You can also cut up the roasted roots and use with stews and vegetable dishes. The ground roasted root can be added to warm milk and sugar (or honey) for a delicious and nutritious creamy beverage. The stems contain a sappy substance which is beneficial for skin issues, warts, callouses, burns, bee stings, etc.

If you would like to do some cooking with dandelion, here are a few fun recipes to try:

  • Wilted Dandelion Greens Salad

4 slices of bacon, chopped
1 small red onion, diced
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 bunch dandelion greens, washed and dried, stems removed
Salt and pepper to taste

Fry bacon bits in a skillet until they are crisp and have rendered all their fat. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings and return the skillet to the burner. Add onion and stir in the sugar and cider vinegar. Pour the hot dressing over the greens, tossing the greens so as to coat them with dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste.

  • Simple Sautéed Dandelion Greens

1 to 2 tbsp olive oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bunch dandelion greens, washed and dried, stems removed
Salt and black pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet or wok on medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute or until it becomes translucent. Add the greens and sauté 2 to 3 minutes or until soft, stirring occasionally. If your greens are tough, you may want to cover the pan and steam them for a minute or 2 more. Add salt and pepper to taste.

  • Dandelion Fritters (or Pancakes)

Collect and clean your dandelion flowers. Dip in batter (1 cup flour, 1 egg, 1 cup milk + a little honey or maple syrup for sweetness). Fry until lightly brown – be sure to flip and brown both sides. You can also pluck the flowers and add to batter to make dandelion pancakes.

  • Dandelion Pesto

12 ounces washed and cleaned dandelion leaves
1 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled
6 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 1/2 ounces Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated

Put one-third of the dandelion greens in the food processor or blender with the olive oil and chop for a minute, scraping down the sides. Add the remaining dandelion greens in two batches, until they’re all finely chopped up. Add the garlic cloves, pine nuts, salt, and Parmesan, and process until everything is a smooth puree. Taste, and add more salt if necessary. If it’s too thick, you can thin it with more olive oil or water. (Refrigerate up to 4 days. You can freeze any left overs for later.)

  • Dandelion Lemonade

2 quarts dandelion flowers

1 gallon water

4 lemons

Wash flowers and place in gallon jug with water, juice from 4 lemons and honey (or sugar) to taste. Chill and enjoy. (You can leave the petals in for a pretty flourish, or you can strain out the ‘pulp’).

  • Dandelion tea

Clean a handful of dandelion flowers, put in pot and bring to a boil. Let steep for several minutes, strain, add honey (and/or cream) and enjoy hot.

  • Dandelion Jelly

10 cups of dandelion petals brought just to a boil. Cover and sit overnight. Strain.

3 Cups of the dandelion tea you made last night

4 1/2 Cups sugar

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 box powdered pectin

Add dandelion tea, lemon juice, 1 box of pectin and sugar into large saucepan. Bring to a boil and continue boiling 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and fill jars. You can then process with pressure cooker.

Dandelions aren’t just a pretty play thing from childhood. They remain a great indicator of warmer days to come, a great broad-spectrum herbal remedy and a delicious and nutritious addition to brighten up your dinner plate. And they have no age limit – you can still enjoy making wishes while you harvest these little puffs of sunshine to add to your pantry.

For liability’s sake, the information in this article is by no means an attempt to help diagnose and/or treat medical issues. This is simply an informative piece on the traditional uses of a common beneficial herb. If you intend to experiment with the uses of dandelion be sure to do your research and discuss with your physician if you intend to use as medicine or in conjunction with any synthetic drugs.

(This article was originally published at Atlanta Outdoors Examiner January 31, 2013)