It’s glorious spring time again!
One of the ways we welcome the spring season in my family is making a big batch of dandelion cakes. Inspired by Susan Weed’s recipe, we harvest the cheery dandelion blooms from our garden and make a delicious breakfast (see recipe below). Those blossoms are sweet with spring sunshine, and a great way to help shift one’s perspective from dandelion as a pest to dandelion as an abundant, local resource.
As much as dandelion has been cursed in modern times as pest and a nuisance, this plant really has a lot to offer us. When we see it popping up in lawns, it’s working to aerate the soil with its long taproot, digging deep for nutrients and bringing them up through its root and leaves to increase soil fertility. Dandelions offer pollinators – like bees – a source of food early in the spring and late in the fall when flowers are few and far between. In addition, they have provided humans with a great source of nutrition and medicine for centuries.
Dandelion as Medicine
All parts of the dandelion are edible – the roots, leaves, and flowers – and they all carry some of of the plant’s medicinal properties.
The roots are well known to support the liver in detoxification, and many herbalists use the roots to treat jaundice, joint inflammation, or to help remove other toxins from the body. The root is also a good choice for many people who want to improve skin conditions – often we get rashes, excema, or acne when our liver is overworked, so taking something like dandelion root to support our liver can help clear some of these skin conditions. The roots are ideal to harvest in the early spring or late fall, and they can be shredded or chopped and added to soup stocks or stir fries (but the roots are bitter – so small pieces are best to use).
Dandelion leaves have some of the same properties as the root, but in addition they are a very effective diuretic, similar in action to the drug furosemide. However, dandelion leaf comes with the additional advantage of being very high in potassium, so it replenishes the potassium that is lost with the use of a pharmaceutical diuretic.
In addition, dandelion leaves have been used as a great wild edible – they are full of nutrition – high in Vitamin A and C and calcium (as well as potassium)– and they are tastiest when picked before the plant goes into flower. Beware – the leaves you buy at the market have been bred for flavor, so they are less bitter, and have less medicinal value. But local, sustainable food doesn’t get any easier than picking dandelion leaves from your garden! I like to put them in salads, where I enjoy the bitter flavor, or lightly cook them with other greens in butter or olive oil. The bitter flavor is known to stimulate digestion, so it’s a great thing to fold into the beginning of your meal, especially if you have digestive issues.
How to Identify Dandelion
Also, be aware that dandelion has lots of look alike relatives! Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale – is in the Aster family and has a large sub-family of similar looking plants. The dandelion you are after has jagged “lion’s tooth” leaves (not rounded), and the leaves and flowers grow directly out of the basal rosette (the base) of the plant – they do not branch off from a stem. You’ll find a single flower on top of each hollow stem, and there are no fuzzy hairs on the leaves. Double check you have the right plant! While all members of the Dandelion/Chicory sub-family are edible, some unrelated plants with the same white milky juice as dandelions are poisonous. Here’s a great resource for plant identification.
Where You Collect Dandelions
I collect dandelions from my own garden, where I know they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. Local organic farms are another great place to collect – farmers are typically happy to have someone help take out their weeds! Beware collecting them for the roadside or fields with unknown history, to avoid toxic exposure. Read more about safe and ethical wild harvesting here.
What about the flowers?
Dandelion flowers are known to be an energetic healer – bringing ease and happiness. Lay on your belly and spend some time observing a dandelion blossom on a warm spring day to test this one out yourself!
While some folks collect those blossoms for dandelion wine, I prefer the dandelion cakes! I often mix the dandelion flower with other edible spring flowers, like violets, manzanita and red bud. Here is the recipe:
Spring Flower Cakes
These are easy to make, sugar free and gluten free! It’s a slightly modified version of Susan Weed’s classic recipe:
1 cup oat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 cup fresh dandelion blossoms (take off all the green parts to ensure its sweetness!) – also consider adding a mix of violets, manzanita, and/or red bud.
Its best to collect dandelion blooms right before you make the recipe. If you can’t do that, you’ll save yourself some time by taking off the green sepal at the base of the flower while the flowers are still open (they will often begin to close after you pick them). Measure out one cup of fluffy petals.
Combine all the ingredients, and pour into cakes (about 1/2 thick) on a hot griddle or pan coated in coconut oil or butter. Cook as you would pancakes, but be sure to let them sit long enough on the heat to cook all the way through.
Serve with butter, coconut oil, jam or syrup, and sprinkle some fresh flowers on top for garnish, and enjoy!
Chech, Richo (2009). Making Plant Medicine. Horizon Herbs: Williams OR.
Elpel, Thomas (2013). Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification. Hops Press: Pony, MT.
Hoffman, David (2003). Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press: Rochester, VT.
Weed, Susan (1989). Healing Wise. Ash Tree Publishing: Woodstock NY.