Dandelion. Probably one of those invasive “weeds” that gives you grief to see in your yard. But did you know that dandelions are actually an amazing source of nutrition and even medicine?
It’s true! All parts of the dandelion are edible, and are jam packed with vitamins and minerals including Vitamin C, iron, calcium and potassium. Dandelion is useful in supporting the entire digestion system, and particularly liver health! It’s also fabulous for your immune system and kidneys.
Foraging for native plants, or wildcrafting, is a topic that I’m surprised I don’t see written more about on frugal living blogs. Gardening is great – I write tons about it here – but if you want to get super local, super frugal, super sustainable – you should be talking about foraging more. The truth is, we have an abundance of FREE food and medicine living all around us, if we can take the time to learn how to properly identify and use it.
I decided to take a dandelion intensive workshop over the weekend at Cedar Mountain Herb School in Mount Vernon. While some of this information can readily be learned through books and websites, I think it’s important to learn directly from an expert. Suzanne (the owner of Cedar Mountain) is one such expert! She has over 20 years teaching herbal medicine a member of the American Herbalists Guild, the American Herb Association, and practicum supervisor for herbal science students at Bastyr University. She has taught workshops and courses to countless groups including herbal fairs, food co-ops, Girl Scouts, and more.
Our goal for the workshop was to harvest both dandelion roots and greens. You can definitely use the buds (for salves or wine!), but the dandelions we harvested were not in bloom. Suzanne pointed out that if you’re harvesting for the roots, it may be best to do so before you see the blooms. The reason is simple: all the energy of the plant is in the root at that point – it hasn’t yet transferred into the flower. This is why spring is an ideal time for digging up those roots!
You want to use a shovel, or ideally a garden fork to break up the soil and retrieve the deep taproot. It’s trickier than it may seem to pull the entire thing out (truth be told, I snapped a few roots!).
We separated the greens and roots in two buckets, because they will be used for different purposes. Dandelion greens are gaining popularity in farmer’s markets and even some grocery stores (I’ve seen them at Marlene’s). I’ve even seen them offered as seeds in garden catalogs! But so long as you know the area you’re harvesting from has not been treated with chemicals, you can spare yourself the expense!
Once back at Suzanne’s homestead, we cleaned off our roots and leaves! The easiest way was to simply add water and agitate with a stick, drain, repeat 2 or 3 times. We did a similar process for the greens, using our hands instead of a stick to extract the dirt from the leaves.
We then sorted out the greens. The best quality leaves we reserved for our dinner (dandelion green pesto) and sauteed dandelion greens in nitrite-free locally grown bacon (yum!).
The other, less attractive leaves?
Got fed to Suzanne’s chickens and rabbit! Voila!
Here are our beautiful dandelion roots, ready for processing!
Processing the roots was very, very simple. We chopped them in rough, small pieces…
Suzanne then ran them through her food processor to break them down into even smaller pieces. Since there were five of us working, it took less than 10 minutes to process a bucket’s worth of dandelion root!
So now, what exactly does one DO with dandelion root? We made two preparations:
1) A Tincture. A tincture is made with alcohol (I used 80 proof vodka) for the purpose of extracting the medicinal qualities of the herb. I filled my half-pint jar two-thirds of the way full and then covered with alcohol. This will steep, and then strain in a couple weeks. Taking this in very small amounts will work to improve several systems in your body, including digestive and immune. It’s also amazing for your liver!
2) Vinegar Infusion. The pint-sized jar was also filled two-thirds of the way full, and then covered with apple cider vinegar. Unlike the tincture, the vinegar also preserves the nutrition of the root as well as the medicinal qualities. After steeping and straining, you can use it the way you’d use any vinegar… toss it with olive oil and seasonings for a delicious salad dressing, or use it when cooking bone broth for added nutritional value.
Suzanne also demonstrated how to make a honey infusion, which could be a useful way for getting the nutrition to your kids or others who are pickier about taking the tincture or vinegar!
Here’s a lovely picture of everything I walked away with (not pictured: the knowledge of how to do this myself again in the future!)….Dandelion infused vinegar, Dandelion Tincture, Dandelion Green Pesto and Dandelion Root Tea. (I’ll do another post just about the tea… it truly deserves its own post!)
I left this course wanting to know more about the amazing plants that live all around us and the safe ways I can prepare and use them to support my family’s health! I think wildcrafting is a great skill to have in your toolkit if you are truly passionate about eating local and living off the land, and doing so in a smart, frugal way.
I want to end this post by reminding you that I’m no wildcrafting expert or nutritionist, so please do educate yourself before going out into the wild and eating plants! Please take care to properly ID any plant you wish to eat and know which parts are edible. (Some plants only have certain edible parts.) I highly, highly recommend taking a class by a skilled herbalist such as Suzanne from Cedar Mountain Herb School – you can ask your questions, learn about safe dosages, and get the confidence you need. She actually has many one-day workshops coming up, OR you can spring for a 12-week intensive apprenticeship if you’re really serious to learn more.
I’d love to hear from you – does this topic interest you? Want me to write more about it? Do you currently eat dandelion in any form?
And if you liked this post, you might check out these related posts on free food sources: