It’s the vibrant yellow plant that is hard to miss: dandelions. Herbaceous dandelions are one of the first foods to poke through the cool northern soil in spring. The plant’s long, thick, fleshy taproot can descend more than one-metre below the surface, which helps restore minerals and other nutrient-rich ingredients and create drainage channels in compacted soils.
The best times to gather dandelion roots are in spring (before the plant flowers) or in autumn (after the first frost). Young leaves are gathered in early spring and throughout the summer. Do not harvest roadside dandelions, as they may be full of contaminants from vehicles. Subsequently, lawn dandelions may be full of harmful pesticides.
Bitter compounds in the root give the plant its diuretic proper- ties, which in turn help purify the blood and liver, relieve muscle spasms, and reduce inflammation. Furthermore, the jagged, irregular-lobed green leaves have more diuretic action than the root.
Dandelion root has digestive and bitter properties, which are helpful when used for indigestion, spleen disorders, relieving heartburn and constipation, and stimulating the appetite.
If taken before a meal, dandelion root will increase the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, increasing bioavailability of nutrients, especially calcium. Some studies suggest that inulin found in dandelion root may assist in beneficial bacteria growth in the digestive tract.
In addition, the anti-inflammatory properties of dandelion root are used to treat rheumatism, gout, and eczema. The root may also help with lowering cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Dandelion root is getting a lot of press these days for its potential to heal an aggressive form of leukemia. Oncologist Dr. Caroline Hamm has gotten the green light from Health Canada to perform clinical trials with dandelion-root extract to help heal patients with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML), a type of cancer that starts in the blood- forming cells of bone marrow. Laboratory tests found the roots killed cancer cells without any toxic side effects. Dr. Hamm was inspired to research the plant’s effects after several of her cancer patients saw significant improvements from drinking dandelion-root tea.
High in sodium and potassium, young dandelion roots can be eaten as a nutritious vegetable. Like carrots and other root vegetables, the roots can be boiled, baked, or diced up and added to soups and stews.
Nourishing vinegars can be made with the roots, leaves, and flowers for use in salad dressings, sauces, and marinades.
Dandelion leaf is a nutritious vegetable high in calcium and vitamin C. The leaves can be eaten fresh in salads, steamed like spinach, added to a stir-fry, soups, and stews, and can also be used fresh or dried for making tea.
The bright yellow flower heads are com- posed of many small ray florets, as well as inner and outer green bracts at the base. The blossoms are rich in the “sunshine vitamin”—vitamin D—and are wonderful on their own, fried in a bit of butter and
garlic, or dipped into a savoury batter and baked or fried. They can also be added to salads for a splash of colour or used for Dandelion Petal Cake (*see recipe). Those with allergies and sensitivities to plants in the Asteraceae family may want to be cau- tious when first using dandelions as food.
Dandelion Petal Cake
The beauty of the dandelion flower shines through in this moist, delicious cake.
2 cups (500 ml) all-purpose flour 2 tsp. (10 ml) baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. (7 ml) baking soda
1 tsp. (5 ml) cinnamon
1 tsp. (5 ml) salt
1 cup (250 ml) cane sugar
1 cup (250 ml) honey
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) melted butter or sunflower oil
4 eggs, beaten
1 can (approx. 500 ml) crushed pineapple, drained
1/2 cup (125 ml) coconut, shredded 2 cups (500 ml) dandelion petals
1) Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
2) Mix dry ingredients in a bowl (except for sugar).
3) In a separate bowl, mix sugar, dandelion syrup, butter, and eggs until creamy.
4) Fold in pineapple and coconut. 5) Stir in dry ingredients until blended well.
6) Fold dandelion petals into batter. 7) Pour batter into greased 11” x
13” (28 cm x 33 cm) cake pan and bake for about 40 minutes. Allow cake to cool before icing.
Note: Icing is optional; this cake is great with or without it.
2 cups (500 ml) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (250 ml) honey or maple, birch, or dandelion syrup Dandelion petals
1) Pour honey or syrup over cream cheese and blend together with a fork.
2) Spread icing on cooled cake. Decorate by sprinkling dandelion petals on top.
Dandelion Root Coffee
When properly brewed, roasted dandelion-root coffee closely resembles regular coffee in flavour and body.
6 or more large and fresh dandelion roots
1) Preheat oven to 250°F (120°C).
2) Wash roots thoroughly and finely dice them.
3) Spread chopped roots so they are about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) deep on cookie sheets and put in the oven. This dries and roasts the roots at the same time.
4) After the roots dry they will begin to roast, turning from a blonde colour to a dark coffee colour. Stir roots on cookie sheet often to assure even drying and roasting. The roasting process can take as long as two hours. Be careful not to burn them!
5) Remove from oven and let the roots cool. Then grind them in a coffee grinder.
6) Store in a glass jar.
Preparing a cup of dandelion-root coffee
Use 2 tsp. of roasted root grind for each cup of water. You can make the coffee in a coffee press, with a tea strainer, or like instant coffee by just adding the grind to a cup of hot water. Serve hot. You can add any type of milk and sweeten with honey or birch syrup. Try experimenting—use it to make chai, lat tes, and mochas.