Family: Asteraceae, the Aster Family
Description: Non-native weedy, perennial herb. Most people recognize the flower of this plant. Stems hollow with milky sap. Leaves basal only and toothed.
Habitat: Lawns, fields, disturbed sites
Plant Parts Used: All parts
Food: Salads, cooked vegetable, coffee, tea
Medicine: Nourishing, bitter, supports urinary tract, blood cleansing, diuretic
Even though dandelions are not native to North America, Native American uses of dandelion are almost endless. They have used the flowers as a spice, in wine, eaten them cooked and raw, and used them for a diversity of medical ailments. The most common way of consuming dandelion today is as a local caffeine-free coffee substitute. Simply harvest the roots, roast them, and grind them to use just like coffee. Grinding is not necessary, but helps the roasted product behave more like coffee. Sue enjoys drinking this coffee in the winter. Non-roasted roots are considered good support for the urinary tract and beneficial in cleansing waste in the body accumulated over the winter.
Ray eats the greens (also sold in many supermarkets, but grow for free everywhere!) daily in early spring to encourage the body to transition from winter to summer. As a medicine, he prefers the roots, but only gathers them in the fall or early spring. He slices, dries, and powders the roots and uses them as blood builders. Ray suggests taking the powder in yogurt or fruit juice. He told me that dandelion “takes to the weakness in us,” which is the production of bile, important for our digestion. Deb says that bile is also what helps us digest fats.
Ray told me a story about dandelion root powder curing a man with throat cancer. Along with some diet changes, this man took a half teaspoon of the powder each morning and night; in less than a year, his cancer was gone. A different person Ray had heard of through friends, a 90 year old man suffering from advanced prostate cancer, had been sent home from the hospital to die due to the severity of his illness. According to that man, he had woken up in the middle of the night and god had spoken to him, telling him to take the powdered root daily, which ended up keeping him alive for over two years.
Both Terry-Anya and Patti spoke of their reliance on dandelion as a food. In fact, Terry-Anya has a garden plot that is intentionally overgrown with dandelions! Patti used to pick and eat lots of dandelions when she was a kid, avoiding the fried food her mother often prepared. She knows it as very good for detoxifying. She primarily uses the leaves like spinach or dried as a tea. Dandelions are more or less bitter depending on when they are harvested—generally, the younger the leaf, the less bitter it is. Patti told me that other animals enjoy dandelions as well, including deer and bears which come out of the woods near her house to eat them.
Deb also enjoys the leaves in salads or added to the end of cooking a soup. She said dandelion leaves are high in potassium, iron, calcium, and magnesium. Pharmaceutical diuretics leach potassium from the body, so she said that dandelions are helpful diuretics that will instead add potassium to the body. She also said dandelion leaves are helpful for women who retain water, especially premenstrually, and for edema. The root is stronger than the leaves as a liver medicine that will increase bile secretion and help people with a tendency for constipation. She makes a root tincture and a tea of the dried root for these effects. Dandelion root increases liver and bowel function as well as increases the amounts of hydrochloric acid that are in our bodies, something that decreases as we age. She also adds the root to a formula for viral hepatitis, which is inflammation of the liver. For women, dandelion root helps with hormone movement through the liver, especially due to problems related to drugs and alcohol. Deb told me that dandelion helps improve liver function, helps decongest the liver, and keeps the liver from becoming overburdened by excess amounts of hormones. When the liver is functioning smoothly, women often have less difficulty with menstrual difficulties like cramping, water retention, pelvic congestion and feelings of frustration and anger.
Note: This post is part of my Plants and People series. See my Plants and People page for more information about the project and the people referenced in this post.
- Chilton, Patti. Telephone interview. 31 Oct. 2010.
- Hayes, Terry-Anya. Personal interview. 27 Oct. 2010.
- Michener, Martin C. Botany Everywhere: Woods, Field, Home, and Garden Plants of NE USA, Third Edition. Hollis, NH: MIST Software Associates, Inc., 2009. PDF.
- Mittelhauser, Glen H., Linda L. Gregory, Sally C. Rooney, and Jill E. Weber. The Plants of Acadia National Park. Orono, Me.: University of Maine, 2010. Print.
- Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Medicinal Plants: an Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2009. Print.
- Reitze, Raymond and Nancy. Personal interview. 8, 15 Oct. 2010.
- Soule, Deb. Personal interview. 4 Feb. 2011.
- Szwed, Sue. Personal interview. 12 Nov. 2010.