Tap-rooted perennial herb, sometimes classed as a weed, but it’s all about perspective – this is a plant which has been utilised for centuries for its many nutritional and medicinal benefits. They were well known to ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and are recorded to have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over a thousand years. The plant was used as food and medicine by Native Americans after having most probably arrived in North America on the Mayflower, brought along for their medicinal benefits.
The leaves, which can be eaten cooked or raw, contain substantial amounts of vitamins A, C and K, and the minerals iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium, along with smaller amounts of vitamin E, folate and other B vitamins. Furthermore dandelions contain polyphenols and other antioxidants such as beta-carotene, which are known to provide strong protection against cellular damage and oxidative stress. Some studies have shown other possible health benefits such as reducing inflammation, reducing cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.
The root of the dandelion is rich in the carbohydrate inulin, a type of soluble fibre also found in jerusalem artichokes and yacon, which supports the growth and maintenance of a healthy bacterial flora in the intestinal tract. It can be eaten raw or cooked and is bitter with a turnip-like flavour. Both the leaves and the roots can be used to make a tea or to flavour herbal beers and soft drinks such as the British ‘Dandelion and Burdock‘. The roots of two year old dandelion plants can also be harvested in the autumn, dried and roasted to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute which is (in my opinion!) far superior in taste to most other so-called coffee substitutes! The flowers can also be used raw or cooked, with the unopened flower buds typically used in fritters, or preserved in vinegar and used like capers. Tea can also be made from the flowers, and they can be used to make wine (but ensure all green parts are removed to prevent bitterness).
The dandelion is a commonly used herbal remedy. It is especially effective and valuable as a diuretic because it contains high levels of potassium salts and therefore can replace the potassium that is lost from the body when diuretics are used. All parts of the plant, but especially the root, are slightly aperient, cholagogue, depurative, strongly diuretic, hepatic, laxative, stomachic and tonic. The plant is used internally in the treatment of gall bladder and urinary disorders, gallstones, jaundice, cirrhosis, dyspepsia with constipation, oedema associated with high blood pressure and heart weakness, chronic joint and skin complaints, gout, eczema and acne. The plant also has an antibacterial action, inhibiting the growth of many strains of bacteria.
Rosettes of leaves produce several flower stalks bearing the well known sunny yellow flowers. The flowers are a good source of food for bees and some butterflies, and the later seed heads provide bird food. The leaves provide very nutritious forage for chickens. The tap roots bring up nutrients from the sub soil and may cycle them into the top soil, or the leaves may be harvested and added to compost heaps or made into liquid fertiliser.
The yellow flowers can be dried and ground into a yellow-pigmented powder which is used as a dye, and a magenta-brown dye is obtained from the root.
Plants require full sun (or part shade in hotter areas), and prefer moist, rich soil. 9cm pot. Certified organic plant.