Dandelions aren’t all bad

As spring emerges yellow flowers do too, all over our yards. One is the buttercup, which is poisonous. The other is the dandelion. I’m no big fan of them, but I do realize they have their edible and medicinal merits. They can even make an interesting wine. The only plant you could confuse with dandelion is cat’s ear weed (Hypochaeris radicata), sometimes called false dandelion. It’s edible too.

The yellow trespassers have a basal rosette of foliage with irregular opposite pointed lobes. Leaves and stems have a bitter milky juice called latex. Plants have perennial roots and produce abundant seed which blows everywhere, making them one of our most prolific lawn weeds.

Despite dandelion’s productivity, many common broadleaf herbicides are effective, but repeat applications are often necessary. Some chemicals called pre-emergent herbicides are also effective at preventing seed germination, so ridding your lawn of bright yellow flowers is not impossible.

If you shun chemicals you can hand weed but it’s a job. One bonus is that you can save the greens and eat them. I’m not a big fan of raw dandelions. The latex renders them too bitter for my palate. I lightly steam or boil them and then rinse and repeat. This removes some of the bitter flavor, but don’t overcook them. Top with salt, butter and maybe a little vinegar. These cosmopolitan greens are great sources of vitamins and minerals, especially potassium and can lower cholesterol, reduce stroke, and lower blood pressure. The bitter taste is an appetite stimulant and arouses the entire digestive system. Dandelions, especially root extracts might even help treat anorexia.  They improve calcium breakdown and absorption, and encourage healthy bile production. Flowers contain antioxidants that might aid immune systems.

Flowers also have another use, making wine. Several recipes can be found on the internet. I must admit I’ve never dabbled in that, but most recipes are a conglomeration of dandelion petals, some type or mixture of citrus, sugar and yeast. Most concoctions contain other spices such as cloves or ginger. Some formulations are dry or sweet, depending on the amount of added sugar. Reviews are glowing.

Before we get too carried away, precautions abound. Those allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigold, chamomile, yarrow, daisies, or iodine should avoid dandelion. Some people suffer from increased stomach acid, heartburn, and skin irritations. Like many greens, dandelion is a diuretic and could interfere with absorption of medications.

Dandelion has blood thinning properties, which could be good. It could also be a problem if you already take aspirin, Plavix, or Coumadin for that purpose. Chemicals that lower blood sugar levels are also present. That is also generally good but should be noted for diabetics.

When collecting any wild food, be careful where you harvest. Pesticide residues can be real. So can other contaminants, like lead. Older homesteads might have paint residue near the dwelling. This will accumulate in plants. A good practice is to start your collections several feet away if you suspect lead based paint or other persistent toxin might be present.


Dandelion in dormant turf

Dandelion in dormant turf

Cat's ear weed

Cat's ear weed in dormant turf

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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4 Responses to Dandelions aren’t all bad

  1. The Forager says:

    Euell Gibbons may turn in his grave to hear it said between two foragers, but I am refreshed to see someone depart from the party line that dandelions are so irredeemably excellent. Flowers brewed into a country wine or roots roasted for a coffee substitute I have enjoyed. But the leaves, other than for medicinal purposes, I can generally happily do without.

  2. tedmanzer says:

    Thanks. There are so many more palatable greens out there. Give me lambsquarter or fiddleheads anyday.

  3. Oh wow i didnt know that dandelions are posionous. Or that the leaves and stems of the yellow trespassers have a latex taste to them. But then agian I dont eat flowers so I reallywouldnt know.

  4. amandawensel says:

    These flowers are poisonous?! How come i never heard of it being poisonous? I’ve only known it for being a pain to get rid of and they make your lawn look horrible since its a type of weed.

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