The Teeth of a Lion

Story Lindsay Wilson

There is no springtime herb (well, almost year-round in Mississippi) more misunderstood or persecuted than dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). A member of the aster family, this yellow flowering delight was brought to the U.S. by settlers from Europe, where it has enjoyed a deep and long tradition of use.

As an herbalist, it baffles me to see commercials encouraging the poisoning of this potent medicine with RoundUp and its chemical ilk! (A pause to collect myself.) One workshop at a time, one garden club at a time, one blog post at a time, one magazine article at a time, I hope to end this botanic genocide.

Dandelion or “dent de lion” as named by the French or “lion’s tooth,” refers to the jagged shaped leaves of the plant. I like to think that the name also refers to the ferocity of its medicine. From well-tended garden to sidewalk crack, the dandelion’s ability to flourish in the most inhospitable places is testament this plant’s tenacity for life. By partaking of its nourishment and medicine, your own body takes on its spirited nature.

The entire plant, from flower to root, is both edible and medicinal and when ingested, has a cooling effect on the body. It is one of the best medicines for the liver and gallbladder and is even used for chronic conditions such as jaundice.

Packed with Vitamins A, K, C, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, dandelion greens are a superfood. Slip them into salads, braised greens, quiches and other dishes requiring greens.

The leaf of the dandelion is one of the safest diuretics in the herb world, providing the body with needed potassium lost with the increased elimination of fluid. The dried leaves make a delightful spring tonic tea and are commonly sipped on in countries across Europe and Asia for its health benefits. (Try adding dried orange peel, a touch of dried ginger and some honey.)

How’s that for a weed?

When talking about the merits of dandelion, which has a bitter taste, the late herbalist Frank Cook pointed out that the American diet is chock full of sweet and salty flavors, but it’s missing the bitter. Why is that important? Bitter flavors give the body a “healthy challenge,” and we now know that bitter receptors on the tongue activate bitter receptors throughout the body. What does that mean? Basically, the bitter flavor is important for balancing blood sugar and, especially, for proper digestion. It wakes up the digestive tract by secreting enzymes along the tract, stimulating bile production, encouraging peristalsis, and supporting the liver in all its myriad functions.

The roots are also known as an alterative herb or “blood builder” as well as host to a prebiotic called inulin, now known to feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut (your body has no use for inulin otherwise).

One good way to get the roots into your system is to sip on them. The roasted roots of dandelion are particularly tasty and were once commonly sipped on as a coffee substitute. Trying to kick your coffee habit? Try the delightful instant coffee substitute, Dandy Blend. It has a wonderful, roasted flavor.

One of the best things about harvesting dandelion is that you don’t have to be a skillful forager or brave the wilds of the backwoods to find this nutrient-dense and medicinal plant. All you have to do is take a peek at your (or your neighbor’s) yard and it is sure to be there, triumphantly parading its yellow flowers for all to see. I hope the next time you see that elegant tuft of seeds, you will make a wish and send those seeds sailing!   

For digestive support and deep nourishment: Pick the leaves and toss them with other greens in a salad.

For mineral content: Pack a Mason jar with coarsely chopped dandelion greens and/or roots. Fill the jar with apple cider vinegar. Line the mouth of the jar with parchment paper, screw on the lid and wait six weeks. Strain and take “shots” of the infused vinegar or combine it with olive oil to make salad dressing.

For spring tonic tea: Pick the leaves and put them in a paper bag. Shake occasionally to prevent molding. When dry, grind up the leaves in a food processor. Store in an airtight jar. For tea, pour boiling water over a hearty pinch of leaves in a mug.

For beauty and zing: Pick the yellow flowers and toss them whole into a salad or pluck the petals to use as a garnish on any dish.