Don’t Kill That Weed! Dandelions — More Useful Than You’d Think
by Stacy Thomas | July 13, 2020, updated 3 months ago
I have been a coffee addict since I was nine years old. Yes, an addict. I have had a chemical dependence on caffeine since my grandmother fed me what was probably the equivalent of an entire pot of coffee over the span of a garage sale she was holding back in 1987.
Ever since that first taste, my relationship with coffee has been a rocky, intense, and extremely codependent love affair. It’s like a 90s sitcom with a “will they won’t they?” storyline, complete with breakups and steamy reconciliations. I’ve quit drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, but caffeine remained. It’s the one drug that keeps pulling me back in. It’s too enticing; too delicious; too romantic to give up. I’ve tried everything, from cutting down, to cold turkey, to tea, and meditation. Nothing has worked—until now.
One day, I was at a local natural health store, when I started talking to an herbalist. I mentioned that I wanted to cut down on coffee, and the herbalist suggested I try a tea made of dandelion. She selected a box off of one of the shelves and handed it to me. I was skeptical. I was in the habit of drinking an entire Italian stovetop’s worth of coffee every morning, and then more throughout the day. I was drinking upwards of six cups every day of the week, for a very long time. It was making me crazy, and I felt like hell. My afternoons were hours-long slogs that I dragged myself through, exhausted, and accomplishing little. Something had to change. I gave it a shot.
I decided to reduce my coffee intake to two cups in the morning and to try replacing every cup of joe thereafter with the dandelion tea. I wasn’t expecting a miracle, but three months later I still haven’t broken my two-cups-a-day rule, and it’s all thanks to the humble ‘weed’ called dandelion.
The Mighty Lion, the Humble Weed
For a plant with such noble beginnings and so many uses, it’s ironic that today it’s mainly viewed as an invasive weed. The sight of dandelion growing on a lawn results in immediate removal with tools, and sometimes chemicals. It’s rare to see dandelions growing in a planned garden.
It’s a shame, because you would be hard-pressed to find a more easily grown, simply harvested, delicious, and medicinally useful plant.
Dandelion (Taraxacum spp.) was an important garden vegetable in ancient times. We have historical evidence that Romans ate dandelions, as did the Gauls and the Celts when the Romans invaded their northern regions. According to myth, Theseus ate a salad made from dandelions after he killed the Minotaur, or he ate it for thirty days beforehand to strengthen himself for the battle—it depends on who you talk to. French Normans and Anglo-Saxon tribes in Britain used dandelion as food, and as a method for treating scurvy. They also used it as a diuretic.
The Trusted Companion
People have been carrying dandelion seeds from place to place since before recorded history. It is believed that the seeds were brought to the American continent when it was colonized by Europeans, nestled in with the garden supplies that women brought with them to start their new lives—this “weed” was considered precious enough to be given real estate in what must have been very limited packing space.
For the better part of history dandelion was considered a primary source of medicine and nutrition. It is only recently, with increasing value placed on manicured lawns, as opposed to rich gardens brimming with life and vitality, that this yellow-headed treasure has been viewed as a lowly weed.
As a result of COVID-19, people are searching for new ways to feed and nourish themselves and their families, without reliance on public food stores. Dandelion is enjoying a resurgence in popularity as people learn more about this easy to grow, and widely available plant.
Not Just A Pretty Face
In the Northern and subarctic temperate regions, there are around 2800 documented species of dandelion. In traditional China, India and Russia, dandelion has been used for its positive effects on the liver, and to counteract hypoglycemia. The plant has been used around the world, in places like Mexico and Turkey, for many similar purposes, and also as a traditional medicine for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
Dandelions offer those who eat them a plethora of minerals including iron, copper, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. It has fifty percent more phosphorous than spinach, and twice as much as cabbage. It’s high in vitamins A and C. Throughout history, common folk and physicians alike have known about dandelion’s myriad benefits, and recently science has been proving them right.
In my opinion, the best thing about dandelion is that the entire plant can be safely consumed, from its roots to its flowers. Its leaves and stems can be baked, sautéed, fried or eaten raw in a salad high in antioxidants and micronutrients. Teas and tinctures can be created to encourage its diuretic and hypoglycemic effects, and it can be made into oils and salves for its mild pain-relieving qualities.
Its roots, when roasted and brewed (you can do it yourself!), can act as a replacement for coffee.
Whatever you use it for, dandelion deserves to be viewed as more than a weed. The “Lion’s Tooth”, as it was first called in 1066 by the Gallic Normans, is a worthy addition to any vegetable garden.
As the world slowly emerges from a pandemic, food security is in question. It makes sense to get ever more local when we are looking for ways to feed ourselves and our families.
For those who want to garden, this plant is ideal. Dandelion is hyperlocal—it’s in our backyard and sidewalk cracks, and it’s vigorous—if cut below the ground’s surface, its hardy root will regenerate and sprout new plants. Dandelion roots can take hold where no others can, and wherever it grows it injects tapped out soil with its nutrients, and encourages new life, which makes it an ideal crop for novice gardeners.
It's time for this humble weed to take its place once again on our plates, and in our medicine cabinets.
If you would like to introduce plants like dandelions into your diet or health plan, but aren’t sure where to start, Which Doctor has a whole roster of herbalists who can help you out.
Larry W. Mitich. “Common Dandelion: The Lion's Tooth.” Weed Technology, vol. 3, no. 3, 1989, pp. 537–539. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3987596. Accessed 2 July 2020.
Stacy Thomas was born and raised among the orchards of the Okanagan Valley. She studied journalism in Vancouver, B.C., and has worked as a reporter in places such as Germany, Ukraine, Northern B.C. and rural Alberta. Passionate about nature, she now lives in Squamish with her partner Nicki and her rescue dog Harley. She is currently a student of creative writing at the University of British Columbia, where she draws comics and writes poetry.