The humble dandelion is more than just a common backyard weed. It’s a nutritious food and medicinal herb! Learn how to find, harvest, and use all parts of dandelion for better health.
My arms were tired and my face was hot as I weeded in the garden, but I kept digging.
Armed with my trowel and a weeding fork, I dug up dandelions, crabgrass, spotted spurge, and more. The junk weeds went on a pile for the compost bin.
But the dandelions went on a pile for the apothecary. I had big plans for the roots and leaves.
Out of the corner of my eye, I happened to see a neighbor, armed with a garden sprayer filled with weed killer, taking care of the dandelions in his own way. My herbalist-heart almost failed me.
He looked a little crazy to me, and I probably looked a little crazy to him.
And while manually pulling dandelions is the least efficient way to weed the garden, it’s worth it. Dandelion is both edible and medicinal, offering multiple health benefits. It’s really a backyard wonder-weed and perhaps one of the most pervasive and underappreciated herbs around.
If you want to know all about dandelion, including how to harvest it, use it, and benefit from it, join me for this dandelion monograph. Grab your herb notebook or pick up a copy of The Herb Study Notebook and let’s dive in!
Basic Dandelion Information
Taraxacum officinale is the common dandelion’s scientific, or botanical, name. There are other dandelion species across the world. In North America, you might also find red-seeded dandelion (Taraxacum erythrospermum), a very close cousin to the common dandelion.
When herbalists talk about dandelion, we’re referring to Taraxacum officinale.
Dandelion Description: How to Identify It & Where It Grows
Even a child can identify a dandelion, making it one of the best plants to start foraging if you’re new to wild herbs.
- Dandelion’s deeply-toothed leaves grow in a rosette close to the ground, and each leaf has a thick, rounded middle rib.
- Flower buds form at the center of the leaf rosette, then quickly grow up on hollow stems that produce a white latex liquid.
- The bright yellow blooms are composite flowers, meaning that each “petal” we see is really a complete miniature flower.
- The flowers later become white spherical puffballs that will disperse many seeds on the wind and delight children for hours.
- Dandelion has a sturdy white taproot that can become quite thick in established plants, similar to a carrot. In tough soil, the taproot may branch out in multiple directions.
Young wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) is sometimes confused with dandelion because it also grows deeply toothed leaves in a rosette. However, wild lettuce will send up a solid center stem with alternate leaves growing up it and multiple flower heads on one stem. Wild lettuce also has a pointed (v-shaped) center midrib, while dandelion’s is more rounded (u-shaped).
If you’re not sure if a plant is wild lettuce or dandelion, give it some time to mature. If the leaves start growing vertically instead of staying close to the ground, you have wild lettuce and not dandelion.
Dandelion Parts You Can Use
People use all dandelion parts for a variety of reasons, including the stems and flower heads that have gone to seed (the puffballs). However, the leaves and roots are most often used in herbalism.
How to Harvest Dandelion Roots & Leaves
When you harvest dandelion, it’s important to choose uncontaminated and unsprayed areas. So even though you might find dandelion growing in the cracks of a parking lot, that wouldn’t be a safe place to harvest from.
You can harvest dandelion flowers anytime they’re in bloom. Typically, you’ll find the most dandelion flowers when the weather is mild, like in early to mid-spring and late summer to early fall. You’re likely to find chickweed and plantain growing around this time, too.
If you want to use dandelion leaves in recipes, especially as raw greens, they are less bitter before the plant goes to flower or seed. Mature leaves can be harvested for medicinal use anytime they are fresh and vibrant.
Most herbalists harvest the roots in the fall after the plants are done flowering and before any hard freezes. The reason behind this is twofold: the plant is sending its energy back down into the roots for the winter and the cold weather makes the roots a bit sweeter. However, other herbalists gather dandelion root in the spring.
For my home apothecary, I harvest dandelion leaves and roots anytime I’m weeding in the garden. I don’t worry about the calendar nearly as much as the quality of each individual plant I pull.
If you aren’t able to harvest enough dandelion leaf or root, you can find many dandelion leaf, root, and various preparations from Mountain Rose Herbs.
How to Use Dandelion for Health Benefits
Actions & Energetics
- Dandelion root is a well-established liver tonic that promotes bile flow for better digestive function.
- Both the leaf and the root contain bitter compounds that aid digestion, support a healthy appetite, and relieve constipation.
- Dandelion leaf is also a powerful diuretic that is also high in potassium. While many diuretics pull nutrients from the body when they increase urination, dandelion provides minerals.
- The roots are high in inulin, a compound that promotes mineral absorption and healthy gut flora.
- The leaf provides high amounts of many needed vitamins and minerals. It may even encourage healthy breastmilk production.
- Blossoms are high in carotenes and other nutrients.
- Some herbalists classify dandelion as a cooling and drying herb, while others as a cooling and moistening herb.
How to Prepare Dandelion Leaf, Flower, and Root
Dandelion flowers are most often used in food, but some herbalists use them in remedies, too.
- The petals can be added to baked goods, salads, and tuna salad. Because they are so small, they can hide in almost any recipe.
- You can batter the entire flower head and fry in oil to make traditional dandelion flower fritters.
- Some folk herbalists infuse the flowers in oil to use in skincare creations. The flowers may provide some anti-inflammatory benefits when used this way. For best results and to avoid mold, gently dry the flowers before infusing them in oil.
Dandelion leaf can be used in food and medicine.
- The young leaves can add a bitter element to salads. Mature leaves are best served cooked. If you simmer them for around 10 minutes, you’ll find all of the bitterness gone.
- Leaves can be brewed into an herbal infusion by steeping 1-2 teaspoons dried herb (1-2 tablespoons fresh) per 1 cup of freshly boiled water for 15-30 minutes.
- You can also infuse the dried leaves in vinegar to make a mineral-rich acetract (or vinegar extract). Simply fill a jar about halfway with dried dandelion leaf, pour raw apple cider vinegar over top, and allow it to steep for 2-4 weeks. Strain and use in salad dressings or anywhere else you use vinegar.
- Leaves can also be extracted in alcohol to make a tincture (dried leaf at 1:5 in 50% or fresh at 1:2 in 95%).
Dandelion root isn’t used in typical cooking recipes but it can be used both for enjoyment and medicine.
- Roasted dandelion roots make a delicious coffee substitute! They smell like chocolate while you roast them and are easier on the stomach than coffee sometimes is. Just chop up clean raw dandelion roots and lay them on a baking sheet. Roast them at 350*F until they’re browned and smell like chocolate.
Depending on how damp the raw roots are, this can take anywhere from 15-30 minutes. You can grind the roasted roots and use just like coffee or make a decoction as follows.
- Raw and roasted roots can be made into a decoction by placing 2-3 teaspoons dry root in 1-2 cups cold water. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 15-30 minutes, then strain and drink. Or, use the roasted roots in a delicious herbal chai recipe!
- You can make a dandelion root tincture with dried roots in 40-50% alcohol at a 1:5 ratio.
Dandelion leaf and root are common ingredients in some “bitters” formulas, meant to encourage healthy digestion and appetite. You can use either dandelion leaf tincture, dandelion root tincture, or a blend of the two for a very simple bitters formula to take before eating.
Important Safety Considerations
Dandelion is a generally safe herb, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women, young children, and the elderly.
If you have problems with bile ducts, gallbladder, or gallstones, check with a healthcare professional before using dandelion medicinally.
If you are highly sensitive to plants in the daisy family (Asteraceae), you may be allergic to dandelion flowers. The leaves and root and less likely to cause problems.
Anyone with a severe latex allergy should be cautious when handling dandelion stems.
With all of these incredible uses and benefits, it’s time to make peace with dandelions and embrace them as the wonder-weeds they are.
I mean, on top of everything we just covered, they’re also some of the first foods for pollinators and play a crucial role in childhood. What’s summer without dandelion bouquets and flower crowns?
I’ll keep pulling dandelions the old-fashioned way, even in the heat of summer, so I can keep my kitchen and apothecary stocked.
And maybe, just maybe, my neighbor will eventually decide to join me, too.
If you enjoyed learning about dandelion, be sure to check out The Herb Study Notebook for an easier way to know your herbs inside and out and keep all of your learning in one organized place.
Dandelion root with herb. American Botanical Council Commission E and Expanded Commission E, online.
Fritchey, Philip. Practical Herbalism. Whitman Publications, Warsaw, Indiana. 2004. (found here)