Garden Thugs and Bedwetters: How to Eat More Dandelion
Trampled over, peed on by dogs, and otherwise ripped out of the ground and flung into the air with distaste. This is the common fate of a resilient weed called dandelion.
Sure, they are garden thugs. They will crowd out lawns and gardens with their sunny heads and deeply toothed leaves. They will choke out your begonias and mob your green grass. Upon maturity, they will transform their blossoms into a globe of fluffy, parachuting seed-minions that, with the encouragement of the slightest breeze, will travel far and wide in order to implant themselves to ensure the continuation of their species. They will resist plucking, stomping, and chemical warfare.
Those dandelions, they are fierce.
So if we can’t beat ‘em, let’s eat ‘em.
And as it turns out, this is a pretty good idea. Dandelions, scientifically known as Taraxacum officinale, are both nutritious and medicinally relevant.
The French word for dandelion is pissenlit, which means, literally, to “pee the bed”. (Rather rude) English folk names for dandelion also include “wet-a-bed” and “piss-a-bed”. These names give us an indication of one of the primary uses for dandelions, which is as a diuretic. In addition to encouraging bladder function, dandelion leaves and roots have been used in herbal medicine for other purposes too.
Let’s go into those now!
Please note that while the health benefits of dandelion leaves vs. dandelion roots do overlap a bit, generally they are used for different things. The part used will be referred to in brackets.
Dandelion leaves act as a diuretic , increasing the volume of urine your body makes. Diuretics help relieve fluid retention, and so can be helpful in reducing blood pressure. Diuretics also support bladder health, as the flushing action of diuretics can prevent and treat infection related to stagnant bacteria in the urinary tract.
Liver Health (root)
In a study using mice, the use of dandelion root was shown to be protective against alcohol-related liver damage . This is thought to have occurred due to dandelion’s effect of raising glutathione levels. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that plays an important role in the body’s ability to detoxify from harmful substances and repair from stress.
Digestive/Appetite Stimulant (root and leaf)
Along with pungent and aromatic herbs, bitter herbs have long been used in traditional herbal remedies to stimulate digestion and appetite . Both dandelion leaves and roots are bitter and are often included in herbal “digestive bitters” formulas.
In a number of studies looking at various types of cancers, dandelion root extract has been shown to promote cancer cell death, while still preserving the health of non-cancer cells. [4,5,6,7]
Cholesterol (root and leaf)
Recent understanding shows that cardiovascular disease is often linked to oxidative stress (which, in short, is too many free radicals and not enough antioxidants to counteract them). Again, possibly through its antioxidant-increasing properties, one study showed that using a preparation of dandelion roots and leaves improved blood lipid markers in rabbits .
Dandelion leaves can be eaten fresh or dried and made into a tea. Dandelion roots are typically sold dried and must be brewed into a tea.
The recipes below use the bold and bitter leafy greens of the dandelion plant. Please note that while dandelions grow in abundance around the city, most plants you see will not be safe to eat. Many are treated with pesticides or herbicides, or, as mentioned above, peed on prolifically by neighbourhood dogs. Purchase dandelion greens from a trusted grocery store [*cough cough*], or wild harvest them from an area you know to be free of chemical and environmental contaminants.
Now let’s kill some weeds! (With our mouths)
Alex Picot-Annand, BA (Psych), Registered Holistic Nutritionist & Certified Life Coach