Guest Article for the Tallahassee Democrat
May 1, 2015 Release for Tallahassee Democrat
By: Kathy Kinsey
Dandelion. Photo by Kathy Kinsey
But what if you could eat them – how wonderful would that be? Well did you know there is one that you can actually eat and amazingly enough, it’s good for you! While surfing the TV channels the other day, I came across Daniel Boone …. an old timer had just been to a wedding where he had been drinking some dandelion wine…. do what? So, with my curiosity sparked, I started doing some research on this plant – a healthy weed indeed but what about this wine .… was that true or was it just something in the script? Well read on….because it really does exist!
The (Taraxacum officinale) is a tap rooted biennial or perennial herbaceous plant that has been used as a diuretic and liver tonic since ancient times. The name comes from the Frenchdent de lion which is literally “lion’s tooth” referring to their deeply indented leaves. It is native to Europe and Asia but they are now found throughout all the temperate regions, including Australia and New Zealand, your yard, my yard, neighboring fields, the list goes on and on.
Taraxacum is comprised of more than 60 species and belongs to the Asteraceae family of which the asters, daisies and sunflowers belong. Other well-known plants that belong to this family include lettuce, chicory, globe artichoke, safflower, chrysanthemums and ragwort. The family name is derived from the genus Aster and refers to the star shaped flower heads of its members and is epitomized by a flower favored by many florists, the daisy. The most common characteristic of these plants is an inflorescence or flower head – a densely packed cluster of numerous, small, individual flowers which are usually called florets.
The dandelion’s flower is open only during the day, closing at night. Rising above the leaves is a flower supported on a single hollow stem. When the stem is broken, it will exude a milky sap, which has been used as a mosquito repellent After pollination, the flower dries out for approximately 10 days and then the seed bearing pockets will expand and lift out of the dried flower head. And with anywhere from 54 to 172 seeds produced per head, a single plant can produce more than 2,000 seeds in just one year. Estimation is that more than 97,000,000 seeds could be produced every year by a thick stand of dandelions! Well, that explains a lot doesn’t it!
So, what can you do with this little weed? Well – it appears you can do all kinds of things for the entire plant can be eaten. The roots can be pickled or eaten raw as you would a radish. The younger leaves and the flowers can be steamed as you would broccoli or eaten in a salad in their raw form. In the raw stage, the leaves have a slightly bitter taste to them, but in a salad with some dressing, you probably would not even notice them. The flowers can also be used to make jelly or jam…or you can use the flowers to make some dandelion wine. Now it may take a few flowers to make some wine, but I certainly think it’s worth a try. The dandelion has long been considered a weed by most gardeners and as it is one of the more difficult ones to eliminate – the taproot alone can be a foot long – why don’t we just enjoy it instead? It has been prized over the centuries, not just for its culinary uses, but for its medicinal uses as well.
Did you know, ounce for ounce, dandelions contain more Vitamin A than broccoli, chard, collards, spinach or carrots? The leaves are a source of Vitamin C, calcium and iron. Dandelions also contain an antioxidant, Luteolin, which is also found in celery, carrots, green peppers, rosemary, oregano, parsley and olive oil to name a few. Dandelion is a mild diuretic and has long been used for medicinal purposes, especially as a tonic for digestive disorders.
There is another plant that favors the dandelion but if you take a moment to compare them, you can tell them apart. It is the hawkweed (Hieracium), it is much smaller, has more than one flower head, spreads by the seed heads but it is not edible. One or more states within the United States consider the genus (Hieracium) to be a noxious weed. Considered to be an invasive in New Zealand, it has been banned from being sold.
So, save that roundup…pickle some dandelion roots…drink some dandelion wine and as your mom would say “eat your greens” – you just might be a little healthier in doing so. And as this weed supplies us with so many good vitamins, you can thank Mother Nature for providing you with such a healthy and wonderful weed!
The dandelion – Though it is considered to be a weed by most of us, it is one that adds beauty to the landscape – be it in the wild, the medians of the roads or in our very own yards. I now have a new appreciation for this weed, a healthy one, but a weed nonetheless, but at least we can eat it!
Kathy Kinsey is a Master Gardener volunteer with the UF/Leon County Cooperative Extension Office. You may also email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov with any gardening questions you may have.