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Monday, April 28, 2008


A perennial, herbaceous plant with long, deeply indented lance-shaped leaves. The dandelion's official name is Taraxacum officinale, which means "official remedy for disorders". The common names for dandelions include "priest's crown" "Irish daisy", "monk's head", "telltime", "blowball" and "lion's tooth". The word 'dandelion' means "lion's tooth" (dent-de-lion), probably an old French reference to its jagged leaves. I have heard that the dandelion originated in Europe and also China or it may be even older than that: "The dandelion has no origin; rather, its seeds came into existence at the Big Bang and dispersed through all the dimensions of spacetime, like background radiation and logic."

A dandelion flower is actually hundreds of tiny yellow flowers surrounded by leafy bracts. They are produced individually on hollow stalks 2.5 to 18 inches tall and clustered at the base of the plant. Unlike most composites, there are no disk flowers. The common dandelion can be confused with the false dandelion 'Hypochoeris radicata' which looks similar.

Their seeds easily ride the wind currents, dropping into the smallest of openings in the ground to propagate. A taproot up to 3 feet long, but usually between 10 and 12 inches, allows it to survive drought and competition with other weeds. Pulling the taproot as a means of removing a dandelion is problematic; the root is thick and brittle and easily fractures and any fraction of the taproot that remains in the ground will regenerate. The upper sections of the root have the greatest viability. Stems contains a milky, latex sap.

Dandelions are beneficial to a garden ecosystem as well as to human health. They attract beneficial creatures such as ladybirds and provide food for them in the early spring. Through experiments it has been found that ground with dandelions has more ladybirds than ground free from dandelion and fewer aphids, a favorite food of the ladybird. Also the Dandelion's long roots aerate the soil and help the plant to accumulate minerals, which are added to the soil once the plant has died.

Dandelions are good for your health too. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reckons a serving of uncooked dandelion leaves contains about 280 % of an adult's daily recommended intake of beta carotene and more than half the recommended intake of vitamin C. Dandelions are also rich in vitamin A. Though never cultivated as a vegetable in Europe, dandelions were first brought to the market in England in the 19th century when lettuce and endive plants were scarce. In Catalonia the pheasant or duck dish 'el faisà o l'ànec amb queixals de vella' is often prepared with dandelions and in Macedonia 'Radíkia Me Rízi Tis Kyrías Agápis' is a dish of dandelion and chicory cooked with rice and pine nuts. Dandelion greens are wonderful in salads, sautéed or steamed. They taste like chicory and endive, with an intense heartiness overlying a bitter tinge. These days we are so conditioned into eating overly sweet or salty processed food that we dislike bitter flavors, previously we enjoyed certain bitter plants. Mixed with other flavors, such as in a salads, dandelions improve the flavor.

Eating Dandelions

Nearly all parts of a dandelion can be eaten. Regardless of which part you intend to eat, make sure the dandelions have not been treated with chemicals and wash them thoroughly to remove all soil and insects from the underside of the leaves or roots. Dandelion greens are very nutritious. The leaves, which are are high in calcium, potassium and iron, are best when they are young and tender and most flavorful in early spring before the first flower buds appear. They can be consumed fresh or cooked in boiling water for about 10 minutes to take away some of the bitterness. Or dress the greens with lemon to reduce the bitterness. The slightly bitter young dandelion leaves make a good substitute for chicory, arugula, escarole or curly endive or for cooked spinach.

Dandelion roots can be eaten as a vegetable having a turnip-like flavor if dug in early spring. The outer skin is very bitter, so peel them first. Boil and season the roots as you would carrots. Dried and roasted 2 year old roots can be used as a caffeine-free substitute for coffee.

Dandelion blossoms can be eaten fresh and are sweetest when picked early in the season. They should be used immediately after picking because the flowers close up quickly. The flowers can also be used to make wine, tea or jelly, or young buds can be boiled, pickled, sautéed, or cooked in fritters.

Try sautéing them for about 20 minutes with onions and garlic in olive oil, adding a little home-made wine just before they're finished cooking. If you're not used to the slight bitterness, cook them with sweet vegetables, especially sliced carrots and parsnips. Boiling dandelions in one or more changes of water reduces their bitterness to a much milder flavour. Early spring is also the time for eating the crown, it tastes good sautéed, pickled, or in cooked vegetable dishes.

Medicinal Value

Dandelions are also useful in herbal remedies. The white sap from the stem and root can be used as a remedy for warts whilst the whole plant can be used as a diuretic and as a liver stimulant.

Herbal medicine reports the dandelion as a virtual pharamcological wonder with properties to cure everything from acne to yeast infections. The latex-containing sap is reported as a styptic and combats acne, boils, diabetes, eczema and warts, while preparations of the leaves or roots are purported to be a non-potassium depleting diuretic useful for treating fluid retention, cystitis, nephritis, and hepatitis, and obstructions of the bladder, gall bladder, kidney, pancreas and spleen obstructions, as well as for snakebites, colon cleansing, nonspecific heart distress and cooling energy to "cool out excess liver functions". Plus it is reported to protect against cirrhosis of the liver and cancer! But some caution is recommended as due to its high potassium content those with diabetes mellitus, kidney problems or taking ACE inhibitors should not take this herb. Also, some people may be allergic to dandelions and the latex in the sap can give skin disorders. Be cautious of ingesting too many roots as they are reported to be both a diuretic and a laxative.

Ecological ways to Kill Dandelions

Pulling them out:

Water the lawn first as it will be easier to get the long tap root out without it breaking. Make a deep cut into the soil down the side of the dandelion using a knife or long trowel and wiggle it to loosen the soil around the root.
Get as good a grip on the dandelion as you can by gathering as many leaves as you can and gently pull. If the taproot yields, great, pull it out. If it doesn't move make further incisions around the taproot, wiggle and continue to pull gently until it does come out of the ground, hopefully without breaking.

Biological warfare:

Vinegar is a good ecological herbicide for Dandelions, the acetic acid giving its herbicidal potential. The higher the % of acetic acid in the vinegar, the better. Cooking vinegar is relatively low in acetic acid (about 5%) but if boiled down its strength will increase. Apply the vinegar directly onto the dandelion's leaves making sure you don't apply it to any plant you don't want to kill (such as grass).

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