My oldest coffee mug is decorated with a big picture of a dandelion and emblazoned with: “If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em.”
Many people consider the humble dandelion to be a pesky weed, and attempt to eradicate it from their lawns and gardens with toxic herbicides. But no matter how many poisonous chemicals are dumped onto dandelions, the bright yellow flowering plants not only survive, they thrive.
The scientific name for dandelion is Taraxacum officinale, which translates as “the official remedy for disorders,” acknowledging the esteemed position that dandelion has held as a medicinal herb. For centuries, dandelion (both the leaf and root) has been used in traditional healing in cultures around the world.
Dandelion greens are extremely nutritious, with an abundance of vitamins A, B complex, C and D; and minerals including iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium and zinc. Dandelion leaves are an extraordinarily rich source of beta-carotene—in fact, the fresh leaves contain more beta-carotene than carrots. In herbal medicine, dandelion has been used as an effective and safe diuretic. Because the plant is rich in potassium and other trace minerals, it doesn’t cause dangerous electrolyte imbalances, as can synthetic diuretics.
The common name dandelion comes from the French dents de lion, meaning lion’s teeth—a reference to the toothed margins of the leaves. A number of plants are easily mistaken for dandelion, but there are two distinctive characteristics that set dandelion apart from look-alikes: the leaves of dandelion are smooth, without fuzz or spines; and each flower grows as a single stalk directly from the base of the plant (unlike many imposters, which sport one central or multi-flowered branching stalk).
As an herbalist I use both the root and the leaf as medicine. Dandelion is a choleretic, diuretic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory; with potent redox-anti-oxidant activity, dandelion defends the liver against a wide variety of toxins. A recent research study proved that dandelion leaf extract effectively protects the liver against acetaminophen toxicity, which can cause acute liver failure and even death. [i]
The mildly bitter flavor of dandelion stimulates liver and gallbladder function, making it a popular herbal remedy for improving digestion. I recommend dandelion as a digestive tonic, particularly to remedy liver stagnation and to enhance the digestion of fats. In addition, dandelion greens and root are both excellent for the kidneys. Because of their natural diuretic properties, they are useful for alleviating water retention and as a kidney-cleansing tonic. In general, I regard dandelion as a great tonic for overall health. I recently came across an interesting study that found dandelion improved energy levels and immune health in mice. [ii]
As far as I’m concerned, the many health benefits of dandelion are icing on the cake. I enjoy the flavor of dandelion greens; in my Italian culinary heritage, we use fresh young dandelion greens in salads, and we cook mature dandelion leaves in the same way that you would cook spinach. I’d like to share one of my favorite dandelion greens recipe with you. This is a perfect fall dish.
Italian-Style Sautéed Dandelion Leaves:
- Wash and clean one bunch of dandelion leaves.
- Slice into one-inch wide ribbons.
- Heat in 1-2 Tbls. of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, but not smoking, add 1 tsp. of freshly crushed garlic, dandelion greens, and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté for 2-5 minutes, until greens are tender.
- Add a splash of good quality balsamic vinegar and powdered seaweed to taste.
- To vary the recipe, add 1-2 ozs. organic crushed tomatoes or 1 tsp. tomato paste while greens are sautéing.
- Serve, and enjoy!
[i] Colle D, Arantes LP, Gubert P, da Luz SC, Athayde ML, Teixeira Rocha JB, Soares FA. Antioxidant properties of Taraxacum officinale leaf extract are involved in the protective effect against hepatoxicity induced by acetaminophen in mice, J Med Food. 2012 Jun;15(6):549-56. Epub 2012 Mar 16.