dandelion flower in bloom

Meet the Plants | Dandelion Benefits & Uses

I am born as the sun,
But then turn into the moon,
As my blonde hairs turn
Grayish-white and fall to
The ground,
Only to be buried again,
Then to be born again,
Into a thousand suns
And a thousand moons.

Hymn of the Divine Dandelion by Suzy Kassem
dandelion flower illustration with locust and seeds dispersing in the wind
Image via Flickr

Dandelions are probably one of the first flowers children come to recognize. They’re distinct and easy to spot and it’s hard to forget the magic in blowing your first poof of wishes out into the world.

I, however, remember dandelions a little differently, but you know how funny memory can be, especially as a child. Something so small and seemingly insignificant in the moment can somehow over time gather tiny embellishments and collect small bits of mental and emotional real estate, like a snowball that grows bigger and faster as it rolls down the hill. It’s possible that the way you remember something happening years ago might not be how it happened at all. In fact, that pretty much sums up how I feel about my entire childhood.

I can’t really say for certain whether or not any of it really happened the way I remember it. The stories I’ve been telling for years seem more and more curious the older I get, and the way I remember dandelions is that they were things that must be stopped.

These small and incessantly cheerful flowers were only embarrassing little eyesores that made your neighbors whisper and toss scrutinizing glances your way. Instead of perky little yard ornaments spreading cheer and simple magic, they were devil flowers hellbent on yard domination. Even wishes were frowned upon. That’s the way I remember it.

“Most of the dandelions had changed from suns into moons.” 

Vladimir Nabokov

How to Identify Dandelion

Dandelions are perennial flowers that you’ve undoubtedly heard referred to as weeds. Like most “weeds,” they are strong and steadfast and seem to thrive in the most unlikely places and in all sorts of conditions. They love lawns, and parks, roadsides, and open fields too. They’ve been known to grow up through the cracks in the sidewalk. They don’t mind it wet and they don’t mind it dry. I think we could all probably stand to take a lesson or two from dandelion in tolerance and perseverance.

The name dandelion is derived from the French name dent de lion, meaning “teeth of the lion” in reference to their jagged-edged, hairless leaves. The leaves grow in a basal rosette and when the conditions are just right, each plant will send up a hollow flower stem. And the true magic of the dandelion flower head is that each and every bright yellow petal, all 150-200 of them, is an entire flower in itself. And for a little more magic, each turns to a light-as-a-feather seed that can travel up to 5 miles.

Dandelion look alike plants

The Benefits & Uses of Dandelion

Dandelion has a long and deep history of use as a food and medicine. Some ethnobotanists believe that the Bible’s mention of “bitter herbs” might one of the first references to dandelion’s medicinal uses. It’s ethnobotanical history as a food and medicine plant goes back centuries! Today, some of the most well-known uses of dandelion aren’t much different.

  • Edible greens!
    • The leaves of the dandelion are a highly-prized, mineral-rich spring green. Their bitterness will increase as the season progresses and depending on your tolerance, early spring, when the greens are young and tender, is generally the best time to harvest. Chances are you can find them right in your backyard!
  • Tea and coffee!
    • The dried roots are often dried (raw or roasted) and then ground to be used as a coffee-like substitute. They are sweet and earthy and without caffeine.
    • The leaves can also be steeped into a tea.
  • Digestive aid!
    • The roots and leaves both contain bitter substances that stimulate the digestive process from the time it enters your mouth. Bitter receptors on your tongue signal to initiate gastric secretions from your stomach, liver, and pancreas that help to optimize digestion.
    • Dandelion roots contain inulin, a type of soluble fiber, that serves as a prebiotic that helps to feed beneficial gut bacteria (your probiotics), thus enhancing digestion. Inulin also serves to slow the digestion of carbohydrates, helping to regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Liver support!
    • The whole plant, but especially the root, is beneficial to the liver. Dandelion helps the liver assimilate fats, get rid of toxins, and some studies suggest that the water-soluble polysaccharides in the root may also help protect the liver tissue from damage.

Meet Dandelion: Benefits & Uses & More

SpeciesTaraxacum officinale
FamilyAsteraceae (also called the Aster, Sunflower, or
Daisy family)
Part(s) UsedWhole plant (flowers, leaves, roots)
Harvest TimeEarly spring through late fall ( & year round in
warmer climates)
Herbal ActionsFlower: antioxidant

Leaf: alterative, bitter tonic, diuretic, nutritive,

Root: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory,
bitter tonic, cholagogue, gentle diuretic, galactagogue,
nutritive, tonic
NutritionLeaf: high in vitamins C, E, and K and minerals
calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and potassium

Root: inulin (soluble fiber)
CautionsPhysical contact with the milky latex may
cause contact dermatitis.
Contraindicated in bile duct & gall bladder diseases
Other UsesNone
Look AlikesCat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata)
Carolina False Dandelion (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus)
…and many others

Somewhere along the way we forgot that dandelions are our friends. And if I could put in a last little plea for the dandelion: please stop kicking them, shaming and cursing them, and spraying them with poisons. Even if they aren’t something that you want to put on your plate or in your medicine cabinet, they’re food and medicine for the pollinators as well. And if you don’t already know, our lives depend on those pollinators. Bees mean life.

Happy dandelion picking!

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DISCLAIMER: The information given in this article is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before consuming certain herbs & medicinal foods, especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking any prescription medications.

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