Shining Flower: The Dandelion

Shining Flower: The Dandelion

By Joyce Huff

Cool spring rains turn brownish lawns into lush greenery. People smile and begin to plan their spring gardens. Soon their smiles turn to frowns as numerous, yellow flowers dot their lawn. They reach for the dandelion tool, put on their gloves and declare war on these cheery little plants called dandelions. Is the dandelion just an annoying weed to be pulled up and thrown away? Not everyone thinks so.

The dandelion is a hardy perennial native herb growing throughout the northern hemisphere. A member of the Compositae family makes it a close relative to chicory. Dandelions pop up in pastures, meadows, along roadsides and the well-tended lawns on the neighbor block. Growing about 12-inches tall, the lance-shaped leaves are deeply toothed, shiny, hairless and arranged in a ground- level rosette.

Yellow flowers bloom for most of the year and are sensitive to light and weather. They open at daybreak and close at nightfall. They show their yellow faces in nice weather but if rain is coming they close up tight. Once the flower matures the petals wither and it soon forms a puff-ball containing seeds that are dispersed by the breeze.

Aiding the dandelions stubborn refusal to "go away" is it's long tap root. If you dig up a dandelion and don't get all of it's root it will quickly regrow. Dandelions are extremely self- sufficient and hard to destroy. To assure it gets the most from mother nature the rosette formation of grooved leaves channels rain water into its center and down the taproot. A dandelions taproot it thick and dark brown (almost black) on the outside. The root is cylindrical, tapering and somewhat branched. People spend hours of their time and many dollars buying tools and weed killers in their attempt to eradicate this sunny little plant who refuses to go away.

Although despised by many, the dandelion is cherished by others. To herbalists, the dandelion is considered a nutritious healing herb with a medicinal reputation dating back more than 1,000 years. Chinese physicians have used dandelion since ancient times to treat various illnesses. During the Middle Ages, Europeans believed in the Doctrine of Signatures---the idea that plants' physical characteristics reveal their healing value. Under this doctrine, anything yellow was linked to the liver's yellow bile and considered a liver remedy. That's why dandelion gained a reputation in Europe as a treatment for jaundice and gallstones. The Doctrine of Signatures was also used to explain dandelion's use as a diuretic to treat water retention.

Dandelion has a juicy root, stem, and leaves. Anything juicy was linked to urine production. Thanks to17th century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, dandelion's medicinal reputation spread as widely as a dandelions across an untended lawn. Eventually the dandelion was used for so many ailments, it became known as "the official remedy for disorders." Early colonists introduced dandelion to North America, and the Indians quickly adopted it as a tonic. Despite dandelion's incorporation into the "U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1831 to 1926, many 19th century herbalists reverted to calling the dandelion a herb of little value.

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) continues to treat dandelion as a weed. The agency's official position is: "There is no convincing reason for believing it possesses any therapeutic virtues." Many herbalists of today disagree with that. They say that the FDA forgot to read their Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"What is a weed?" Emerson wrote. "A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered."

Thanks to some modern herbalists the dandelion's virtues have been well documented. Studies show that the dandelion to be a rich source of vitamins and minerals. The leaves have the highest vitamin A content of all greens. Herbalists say that dandelion root heads the list of excellent foods for the liver because of it's relatively high amounts of choline which is an important nutrient for the liver. Dandelion leaves are a diuretic, meaning that they help flush excess water from the body. Dandelion flowers are well-endowed with lecithin, a nutrient that has been proven useful in various liver ailments. In addition to dandelion's medicinal use, it is consumed as a nutritious food and beverage.

Young dandelion leaves are delicious raw in salads and on sandwiches. Lightly steamed leaves with bits of crisp bacon or seasoned with cider vinegar or lemon juice and butter are a delightful change from common vegetable greens. For years the leaves and flowers have been brewed into a traditionally popular dandelion wine. Even dandelion buds are useful as a foot. Harvest them in early spring, preboil them a few minutes to remove some of the bitterness, then cook the buds as a vegetable mixed with onions. Add salt and pepper along with butter sauce. Dandelion also are used as a breakfast food.

Dandelion Blossom Fritter

Dandelion blossom fritters are easy to make. You simply mix wheat flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, milk, beaten eggs and butter together. Stir in dandelion blossoms and drop by spoonfuls onto a hot greased griddle and fry them until they are golden brown. Try topping them off with you homemade dandelion jelly.

Dandelion Jelly

Snip off the golden blossoms and boil them in water. Add a package of powered pectin and a little lemon juice. Bring everything to a boil again, add some sugar along with a few drops of yellow food coloring. Boil until it reaches the jelly stage.

Dandelion Coffee

If you want a hot beverage simply make dandelion coffee. Dandelion coffee is made from the root of the plant. Gather your roots in the fall or in the early spring before the plant blooms. Scrub the unpeeled roots with a stiff brush. Use the big part of the root for a vegetable. It's the skinny side roots that you need to dry , grind, and roast for you brew. Simply dry the roots in an oven (150 degrees) until they are brittle and snap easily. Then roast them at about 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until they are dark brown inside. Now grind them in the blender until they look like coffee. For a steaming cup of dandelion coffee use about one teaspoon of ground root to a cup of boiling water. This brew will have a flavor all its own, vaguely chocolaty and pleasing.

Changes are you will be able to find many dandelions growing wild. Check nearby lawns or country roadsides. (Editor's Note: be cautious of this and check to make sure pesticides or other sprays have not been used near the plants.) It's unlikely anyone would mind if you took some of these prolific plants. Dandelions are good container plants for apartment dwellers. Dandelion seeds may not be readily available, but check herb catalogs. There is now a cultivated dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) that is said to make bigger and better greens than the wild dandelions. Greens will be ready six weeks after planting your seeds and blossoms will follow shortly. The earlier you pick you greens the less bitter they will be. If you plant your dandelions outside and let them go to seed you will have volunteer dandelions there forever. We are learning more and more about beneficial plants from the teachings of our ancestors. The dandelion has been such a widely despised weed that it's sometimes difficult to see this plant for what it really is---a nutritious healing herb with a medicinal reputation dating back more than 1,000 years.

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