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Edible Wild Plants 101 - Dandelions

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Late fall through early spring is usually not a season on the gardener’s calendar; however this is hard to tell to the plants that are in season then. Many roots store food underground in the fall and late winter, but this food becomes tough when the plant starts to send up leaves and flower stalks. During this in-between time, a gardener can harvest the roots with great success. In the Bluegrass Region, many wild greens will continue growing during this off-season, especially during mild winters.

This new column will help gardener’s identify edible wild plants that grow in our region. Many of these plants are considered “weeds,” but they still have nutritional value that is hard to overlook. The first plant we will discuss is the common “nuisance” plant Taraxacum officinalis or common dandelion.

Dandelions are perennial, herbaceous plants with long, lance-shaped leaves. The leaves are jagged which gives the plant the nickname Dent-de-lion, meaning “lion’s tooth.” Dandelions are well-known for their bright yellow flowers and puffy white seed pods. The thick, branching taproot can grow up to 10 inches long. All parts of this plant excrete a white milky sap when broken.

The taproot is edible all year, but is best from late fall to early spring. Although the root can have a somewhat bitter taste, it can be used with great success as a cooked vegetable in soups or casseroles. Parboiling and changing the water several times will mellow the root, or it can be cooked on a long, slow simmer. Sweet vegetable are the best companion for the dandelion root. To create a more robust flavor, you can sauté the roots in olive oil.

The dandelion root is one of the safest and most popular herbal remedies. A tonic made with the root is supposed to strengthen the entire body, especially the liver and gallbladder. It promotes the flow of bile, reduces inflammation of the bile duct, and helps get rid of gallstones. It is good for chronic hepatitis; it reduces liver swelling and helps indigestion caused by insufficient bile. The root tonic acts as a gentle diuretic on the kidneys. Unlike pharmaceutical diuretics, the tonic doesn’t leach potassium from the body. Dandelion roots produce inulin (spelling is correct) – which is a natural storage carbohydrate, or sugar, that doesn’t cause the rapid production of insulin; it helps type II diabetes.

Tired of fighting the spread of dandelions in your lawn? Try living with it instead and help improve your health. Dandelion root tea is recommended for anyone who is stressed-out, internally sluggish and inactive. It also helps to have a daily cup of tea if you are a victim of excessive fat, white flour and concentrated sweeteners.

As we moved into the spring growing season, we will revisit dandelions to discuss the health benefits of the leaves and flowers.

*The information about the medicinal use of plants is for educational purposes only. It is not the intention of the author for the readers to use these plants as a substitute for consultation with a licensed physician for treating illness. The author assumes no responsibility for problems arising from the reader’s misidentification or use of wild plants.

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