How to harvest and use dandelion roots, leaves and flowers

Farm & Dairy
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(FARM AND DAIRY) – It won’t be long before my daughter’s favorite spring flower starts cropping up just about everywhere. I have to admit after months of mostly brown the sight of bright yellow flowers against green leaves is a pleasant sight. And I don’t think I will ever love a bouquet of flowers as much as a hand-picked fistful of dandelions from Vayda. Oddly, it’s one of those random markers of where exactly she is at in childhood. When she is too old to pick dandelions and bring them in to put them into water or even worse, call them weeds, my heart might just break.

Not everyone shares the same fondness for dandelions as Vayda and I. In fact, my father weed-treats his yard annually to keep his grass looking as close to golf-course quality as possible when you live in the middle of the woods. However, dandelions have a lot of medicinal uses and nutritional value and shouldn’t be overlooked by spring foragers.

Harvesting dandelions

You can harvest and use every part of a dandelion plant — leaves, flowers and roots. But as always when foraging, use caution when harvesting to ensure you’re taking plants from an area free of herbicide use.

Leaves. The best time to harvest dandelion leaves is during early spring when the rapidly growing leaves are most tender. You can harvest leaves with garden shears or by picking them by hand. Early morning is the best time to harvest. Dandelions growing in the shade will have more tender leaves than those growing in the sun and they will bloom later. Leaves become bitter, dry and rough after dandelions go to flower and the weather becomes warmer in the summer. The next time the leaves will be tender again is during fall when the weather is cool and moist. 

Flowers. After dandelion plants have bloomed flower heads can be plucked by hand. This period stretches from mid-spring to summer. Although flower heads can be easily plucked, they do not wash well. Try to choose flowers free of dust and debris.

Roots. Dandelion roots can be dug during any season. Ease of removal is dependent on the soil conditions where the plant is rooted. The root’s size and girth are also dependent on the soil quality and moisture. Roots are larger and easier to remove in well-drained composted soils. Roots are smaller and more difficult to remove in dry, rocky, nutrient-deficient soils. A hand digging tool may be necessary to prevent breaking the taproot during removal. Roots will need to be scrubbed in the kitchen before preparing for use.

Using dandelions in food and medicine

Dandelion flowers, leaves and roots are nutritionally valuable, support digestion and absorption of minerals and help the lymphatic system and urinary tract function.

Leaves. Dandelion leaves should be included in spring salads. The consumption of dandelion leaves improves digestion by increasing bile production. You can add dandelion leaves to meals a few times a day throughout the spring.

Roots. Dandelion root can be roasted and prepared in a tea or tincture to aid the digestive system in digestion and absorption of minerals. Dandelion root tea has also been used to support healthy urinary tract function when mixed with cranberry and echinacea.

Flowers. Dandelion flowers are considered a lymphatic herb and can be used to make a topical oil to massage over the cystic and fibrous tissues of the lymphatic system. Oil made from dandelion flowers works well with infused oils of calendula, plantain and violet flowers and leaves. In addition to being used as a massage oil for the lymphatic system, it can be used for Maya abdominal massage and used as a massage oil for postpartum mothers.

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