by Kim Falcone – Wakefield, RI

Reviled by kelly green lawn enthusiasts, the seemingly lowly Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has developed a bad reputation in America. Cast as the cunning, cagey bad guy in TV ads for the chemical giant Monsanto’s Roundup, who would suspect that this lion is powerfully nutritious food? Its name, Dandelion, originates from the French ”dent de lion,” which translates to “lion’s tooth” and refers to its dentate foliage.

Native to Eastern Europe, Dandelion is a member of the Asteraceae family of plants. Its leaves and roots have been harvested throughout the ages as an important wild food. Nowadays, you can find the cultivated version in the grocery store. In France, where this plant has been part of the diet for generations, Dandelion leaf is known as “pis-en-lit” or, “pee in the bed,” because of its diuretic action on the kidneys. Its leaves are rich in Vitamins A, B complex and C, as well as minerals like calcium, iron and potassium. It is used by many herbalists as a potassium-sparing diuretic.

Dandelion roots are high in protein—about 14% by weight—as well as inulin, a carbohydrate that keeps the intestinal lining strong and healthy with prebiotics and pectin. Dandelion root also has a direct action on the liver as a cooling bitter. For the sake of our good health, demonizing bitter flavors must change. Bitters are very, very important to the body. They actually stimulate the liver to produce thin, good-quality digestive fluid, or bile, to help the body digest and process fats and hormones. And so it is with Dandelion, which improves the function of the pancreas, stomach and kidneys. It is helpful for a variety of illnesses such as hepatitis and gout, as well as high cholesterol, osteoarthritis, heartburn and constipation.

Eat Dandelion greens as you would spinach, turnips or collard greens. Steam the leaves until they’re tender, then garnish them with butter and lemon juice. Or sauté them with garlic and olive oil. Add them to pasta or veggie medleys. Add them to your green salad. Just be sure to wash them in very cold water and keep them covered and chilled until ready to use. Add some homemade garlic vinaigrette and you’ll be surprised how good they can taste! Roasted Dandelion root tea is my favorite coffee substitute. Dig the roots up with a spade and wash them thoroughly. Chop them up in a food processor, and then roast them until they’re dried and almost crisp. To prepare, add a heaping teaspoon or so to 8 ounces of water in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes or so. Strain off the herbs and enjoy! Remember, though, adding milk/cream minimizes the bitter action that Dandelion (and coffee) was meant to perform on the body. And by all means, please be sure to avoid plants that may have been sprayed with chemicals by those who have yet to discover that this lion is really a lamb, and that it is truly one of Mother Nature’s special gifts.

Kim Falcone, BSc., herbalist and owner/founder of Lily’s Garden Herbals, LLC is an herbal consultant, product formulator and In-house Herbalist at the Alternative Food Cooperative, 357 Main St. Wakefield, RI.  You can reach Kim at the Co-op by calling 401-789-2240. You can reach Kim at Lily’s Garden Herbals via e-mail [email protected], or phone 401-218-0418.

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