Dandelion was not always regarded as a lawn weed. This common plant is one of the first blooms of the spring season in the Appalachian Mountains. Abundance and resilience mean there are many amazing uses for dandelion, including a variety of foods and folk remedies.
General Plant Information
Dandelion’s scientific name is Taraxacum officinale, but its common name is a corruption of the French words Dent de Lion, or in Latin, Dens leonis, both meaning “Lion’s tooth.”
All parts of this well-known plant are edible. In the Appalachian Mountains, flowers are often added to vinegar or used to craft wine. Flowers and young leaves are used in delicious salads. Roots can be added to savory stews or used as a replacement for coffee. The whole plant is used medicinally as a digestion tonic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, mild antibiotic, and utilized for the detoxification of the blood, gallbladder, and urinary tract.
This nourishing plant is rich in vitamins A, C, E, and calcium, making it a very nutritious food. Stems and leaves are picked before maturity because the bitter taste increases with age; they are often boiled or steamed and served like spinach.
Dandelion is considered a low-risk foraging plant because it is highly recognizable, making it easy for even children to safely gather.
Dandelion Works for Homesteaders
Before roads were paved, when going to town was sometimes a few day affair. Dandelion root was crafted into a coffee substitute. This could be quite useful, especially when snowed-in, as retrieving more goods was not an easy option. Dandelion root was collected in autumn after the plant was finished producing; the root was then dried, roasted and ground. Although it does not contain caffeine, like coffee, it stimulates the digestive tract, increases the flow of bile in the stomach, acts as a gentle laxative, and increases appetite. Its detoxification effects are another perk to choosing dandelion root tea over coffee, which is often why it is enjoyed on early spring mornings.
Some mountain-life homesteads appreciate dandelion so much that a contained corner of their family garden is dedicated to growing gathered dandelion seeds for easy cultivation. However, dandelions also have more uses for homesteaders than just food; they are very useful for attracting bees to pollinate nearby fruits and vegetables, and because these plants are so resistant to temperature change, they present a reliable food source for bees from early spring to late fall. This allows beekeepers to delay using artificial foods for honey-producing colonies.
Fun Dandelion Folklore
In the book A Modern Herbal, M. Grieve says that kids used to employ dandelions as a fun way to tell the time. Children would pick dandelions after the flower had finished blooming and transformed into a silky ball made of seeds and try to puff off as many seeds as possible with a big breath of air. It was said that however many puffs it took to release all the seeds into the wind was to be the approximate time of day.
Ready to start foraging your yard for dandelion? Try this amazing dandelion salad recipe!
Mrs. Grieve, Maud. A Modern Herbal Vol. I. Dover. 1971
Duke, James, and Steven Foster. Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs. 3rd ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014.