Dandelions used to be the exclusive food of hillbillies who like to smother 'em in bacon dressing and called it good eatin'. But now everyone's on about the magical health and cleansing properties of the shaggy yellow flowers. While lawn addicts still revile them, folks in Alt-health land maintain they're top of the list in nature's pharma: roots, leaves, petals and stems. Be careful where you harvest them, though. Citified plants near roadways can be drenched in heavy metals and other nasties.
Besides tincture, capsules and salads, they work in pizza, fritters, soup and wine. Such a versatile gem of a weed.
What the experts say "If you're going to eat plants out of the ground in the city, you want something young, not something that's been sitting around gathering pollution. You can tell how old a dandelion is by how many leaves it has. If it's got one, then that's a new dandelion - go ahead and eat it. But if it has several you might want to leave it. Dandelions are an amazing spring food. They act on all the organs of elimination - the liver, the kidneys. They have tons of nutrients and chlorophyll that detox your body. Before they flower they're less bitter, but bitter is amazing for detoxing. The flowers taste great in a stir-fry ."
MONIKA GHENT , herbalist, Toronto
"The root is especially good for supporting good liver function, and the leaf is good for the urinary tract , though they both do both. The stem is not usually used internally, because the internal latex is irritating to the gastrointestinal system, but it can be dabbed on warts and pimples to help them disappear. The flowers are used like the leaf or root but are a much gentler medicine that would be good for someone with a delicate constitution. Dandelion is used for arthritic and rheumatic conditions because it increases the removal of metabolic waste from the body. Dandelion root coffee makes a very nice bitter beverage. It's an incredible food, rich in vitamins A, B, C and D. It's mineral-rich, too, with potassium, calcium, iron and copper."
DANETTE STEELE , herbalist, Toronto
"Mix a cup of dandelion flowers, a half-cup of flour, a quarter-cup of chopped onions, half a teaspoon each of garlic powder and salt, a quarter-teaspoon each of basil, oregano, thyme or other Italian seasoning, something to wet it with - milk or water. Then deep-fry the mixture as balls or patties for the best vegetarian burger you've ever had. Gather flowers when they've closed up for the night. Get big ones. Pinch them at the base to loosen up the yellow florets. We like to dry dandelions and just throw them in soups , stews , casseroles . Because they're bitter, you want to put something on them that's sweet. If you're making a salad, don't dress them with Italian dressing, but with a raspberry vinaigrette. Dandelions are the most nutritious vegetable I can imagine.
PETER GAIL , ethnobotanist, president, Goosefoot Acres Center for Resourceful Living, author, The Dandelion Celebration, The Great Dandelion Cookbook, Cleveland Ohio "The root works wonderfully on the liver and gallbladder. It increases bile flow and eliminates toxins . People develop sluggish livers after the winter months and need to remove chemicals or pollutants. Cleansing the liver helps with constipation , a number of skin issues like acne or eczema and joint issues like gout . The leaf is a powerful diuretic and useful in reducing the volume of fluid, helpful with high blood pressure. Conventional blood pressure medication depletes potassium, but dandelion leaves are high in potassium. You can juice the leaves, eat them cooked or raw. They can be used in dried form or capsules. Roots can be used in capsule or tea form."
JODY PRENTICE , naturopath, Toronto
"Here is a soup recipe . Ingredients: 4 cups diced spuds with skin, 1 stalk celery, 1 medium carrot, 1 large onion, 1 small chopped green pepper, 2 cups chopped tender dandelion greens and stalks, 2 or more cloves garlic chopped, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 cup dry yellow split peas, salt, black pepper, oregano, thyme, mustard powder. In a large pot, barely cover the spuds with lightly salted water. Once the water boils, turn heat down, simmer for 10 minutes. Add veggies, cover and cook slowly till tender. Boil the split peas separately and then add. Add 1 teaspoon black pepper, a generous pinch of oregano, minimum pinches of thyme and mustard powder. With a hand blender, whirl till smooth. If serving immediately, add the chopped dandelions and squirts of lemon. If storing for later, add the dandelion after reheating.'
SUNNY RAJA , chef, Vegan Delights, Toronto