What most people think of as a nuisance and a hideous weed is such a well respected plant that it sits on the U.S National Formulatory, as well as the Pharmcopeias of Poland, Hungary, Soviet Union and Switzerland. It is also one of the top six herbs in the Chinese herbal medicine. This is the common dandelion plant.
Dandelion plants are highly nutritious edible plants that are omnipresent and within easy access of everyone. The leaves are the more commonly consumed part of the plant however the root and flowers can also be eaten. While they may be consumed in raw form many people also cook them to tone down their bitter flavour.
Hundreds of varieties of the dandelion grow all over Europe, North America and Asia, in the more moderate climate zones. They are a hardy perennial plant that grows to roughly twelve inches in height when fully mature. The hairless, shiny leaves have jagged, toothy edges and are grooved to channel rain water into the roots. In fact the plants are known as “dent de lion” or “lion’s teeth” in France, a reference to the long jagged leaves resembling a lion’s mane. The stems of the plant are topped off with bright yellow flowers. The flowers open with the rising sun and close in the evening or during overcast weather. The brittle, brown roots are fleshy with milky white liquid. It is the liquid that gives the plant the bitter taste and a mild odour.
When harvesting your own leaves, it is best to pick from plants that have as yet not gone to flower. This is because the energy travels up to the flower, and as a result the greens become very bitter. Such leaves would require a number of blanching baths to cut down the bitterness. The flowers can be employed to make wine. Also avoid picking leaves from public places which might have been treated with insecticides and pesticides.
History of Dandelion Greens
Even though the dandelion had travelled significantly prior to written history, it can be stated with a fair degree of certainty that the plant is a native of Europe and Asia. Earliest recordings of the plant are seen in Roman times and its use is recorded by Normans of France and Anglo Saxon tribes of Britain. Arabian physicians were the first to note the use of dandelion for medicinal purposes in the tenth and eleventh centuries. The Welsh medicines mention it in the thirteenth century.
Dandelions have been intentionally carried throughout history across the lands and oceans by humans. The plants were carried to the New World by the Puritans because they were considered to be very useful. The primary planned reason for bringing dandelion to America was medicinal. Initially dandelions were not valued by the settlers as a food commodity. Another reason they cultivated it was because it was known to them and in an unknown land it reminded them of home.
Health Benefits of Dandelion Greens
Dandelion greens provide a large array of health benefits. Back in 1927 it was noticed that dandelions caused contraction of the gall bladder and promoted bile flow in dogs. Bile is a liquid produced by the liver and stored in the gall bladder until needed. Its job is to emulsify fats during the process of digestion. Use of dandelion enhances the flow of bile by three to four times. Dandelions can be used to treat inflammation of the bile duct, liver congestion and gall stones.
Japanese researchers in 1981 discovered that dandelions showed anti-tumour activity. There was clear correlation between timing of dandelion extract administration and the observed anti-tumour activity. It is believed that this activity is partially due to the nutritional content of the plant. Additionally dandelion has high content of the compound inulin, which is useful for diabetics in regulating blood sugar levels. High levels of blood sugar produce the damaging chemicals called glycation end products or AGEs that speed up aging, dementia, diabetes and cause cancer. The University of British Columbia reports in a 2004 study that dandelion flowers have high luteolin and luteolin-7-0-glucosid, both of which show major antioxidant and anti cancer benefits.
A 2007 study carried out by the Osaka City University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan discovered that dandelions heightened the activity of female hormone receptors in mice indicating that the herb might help reduce symptoms of PMS. According to the findings of the study, reproductive hormones act through receptors in body tissues and the more active the receptor become the greater the effect of hormones.
Nutritional Value Dandelion Greens
Dandelions rank in the first four positions according to USDA Bulletin #8, “Composition of Foods” (Haytowitz and Matthews 1984). While “Gardening for Better Nutrition” puts them in a tie for ninth place for all vegetables inclusive of grains, greens and seeds. The data further states that they are the richest green source of beta-carotene, precursor of vitamin A, and the third richest when considering all foods, following cod-liver oil, and beef liver. Dandelion is also especially rich in fibre, potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium. Additionally it is an excellent source of B vitamins, thiamine, riboflavin and protein. Russian and Eastern European studies by Gerasimova, Racz, Vogel, and Marei (Hobbs 1985) further indicate that dandelion is loaded with micronutrients like copper, zinc, cobalt, molybdenum, boron and Vitamin D1.
Other nutritional components found in dandelions include flavonoids, among them a number of luteolins that also act as antioxidants. The leaves contain natural chemicals called terpenes giving the leaves their bitter taste and plant sterols such as beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol. The plant sterols have a structure that resembles cholesterol. They provide natural anti-inflammatory properties and aid in cutting down on the absorption of dietary cholesterol into the blood stream.
Uses of Dandelion Greens
As a rule it is best to use dandelion greens as soon as they emerge out of the ground. The longer they are allowed to mature, the more bitter they become. They can be use raw to add a new layer of flavour to salads and in the same way as chicory or endive. Cook dandelion by lightly steaming or sauté with other vegetables. If they are too bitter, boil them by changing water several times to wash out the bitterness. The flowers can be steamed, fried or used in brewing wines. Flowers can also be eaten as pickled condiments. The roots may be boiled, roasted, or stir fried. Roots pair well with naturally sweet vegetables like carrots, or yams.
Not only can dandelion tea be therapeutic but it can be the perfect substitute for those trying to give up coffee. It provides the energy lift similar to that of coffee without the caffeine. Dandelion coffee for ready use is typically made by roasting and grinding dandelion roots. Once the powder is made, it can be used in water just like instant coffee. The powder is almost identical to real coffee and users claim it is better tasting than low quality coffee. Some people add dandelion powder to real coffee or chocolate to give it a better flavour.
Since dandelion greens tend to be bitter, it is a good idea to combine them with something sweet to cover the flavour. This is why they go great in a smoothie. Combining chopped dandelion greens with favourite fruits in season like mango, citrus, pineapple or strawberries not only taste great but provide a truckload of healthy nutrients.
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup chopped dandelion greens (loosely packed)
- 1 small banana
- ½ cup strawberries
- Honey or other sweetener of choice (if needed)
Place all ingredients, except sweetener and blend for approximately thirty seconds. If you prefer extra sweet then add desired amount of sweetener at the end.
Dandelion leaves are recommended as supplementary food for women who are pregnant due to the numerous nutrients they house. Additionally they have been shown to produce diuretic effect which makes them useful for PMS syndrome. Like other bitter herbs, dandelion root can be used to enhance appetite.
The University of Maryland Medical Centre states that foods containing high amounts of oxalates and calcium can lower the occurrence of kidney stones. Dandelion is naturally high in oxalates and when eaten in combination with foods high in calcium, the two compounds bind in the intestines thus protecting the kidneys. Columbia University claims that dandelion leaves made into tea can reduce swelling and fluid retention in addition to promoting weight loss.