Eating what we think of as weeds isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us. Yet just as we increasingly reap the goodness to be had from green smoothies and other dishes rich in leafy vegetables, so too are there health benefits to be gained from the humble dandelion. Here’s how to add it to your diet, and the benefits you’ll see.
Dandelions belong to the same family of bitter greens as kale, cabbage and broccoli. They take their French name ‘dent de lion’, meaning ‘the lion’s tooth’, from the jagged edges on their deep green leaves – and they pack as many nutrients as you might imagine a lion needs to consume to maintain its ferocious roar. Dandelions are known to be rich in vitamins including A, B, C, E and K, bringing with them antioxidants including beta-carotene and lutein, both vital for strong eyesight.
In addition, this so-called weed – also a member of the sunflower family – is loaded with calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous and fiber, and is known to support the healthy function of the liver. It even contains more protein than spinach! But the health benefits don’t stop there – dandelions really push the definition of superfood, and are also believed to purify the bladder, kidneys and blood, in the process reducing the risk of urinary tract infections, regulating blood sugar levels and improving circulation. They are also reported to help ease bloating, aching joints and skin conditions.
The dandelion is popular in both France and Italy, countries whose cuisines we often look to as beacon-like examples of how to eat our way to wellness. While the whole plant is edible, including everything from the roots to the flower, the stems are particularly favored and certainly pack in the nutrients. It’s simple to introduce dandelion into your diet by adding the leaves to salads – mixing them in with other fresh greens if you find dandelion alone is too bitter – or throwing chopped leaves into soups and stews (the cooking process also reduces the bitterness).
The stems work well sautéed with garlic and onion, too, perhaps with a sprinkling of sesame seeds, or over a bowl of quinoa or brown rice along with a few nuts. If you’re feeling creative in the kitchen, you can whip up a simple pesto using dandelion greens instead of the usual basil leaves, along with some pumpkin seeds or cashew nuts for extra bite. It’s perfect twirled through pasta, spread in a sandwich or used as a dip for fresh vegetables.
Elsewhere, you can use dandelion stems in any recipe that calls for the usual sturdy green vegetables like chard or kale – just as renowned for their health-giving properties. The flowers make for beautiful salad garnishes, and are just as easily added to muffins or used as a syrup flavoring, while roots roast well alongside the likes of beet.
The roots, of course, are at the heart of the traditional British carbonated drink dandelion and burdock, consumed in the middle ages for its restorative properties. That said, the health benefits of mass-produced brands are questionable since they often contain high levels of sweetener and plenty of artificial flavorings and preservatives, and often lack any natural plant extract – so make the effort to hunt out the genuine article if you can. At home, you can steep dandelion leaves or roots in hot water and enjoy as tea, or throw them into your green juice or smoothie in the morning for an added vitality hit. Roasted and ground, the roots even make a great coffee substitute, perhaps spiced up with some cinnamon for an extra twist.
Dandelions are increasingly available fresh or freeze-dried at health food stores, but you can just as easily grow your own or pick them either from your garden or the wild. If you forage your own, take care to ensure you avoid those that may have been sprayed with pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals. Of course, as with anything, enjoy them in moderation; those allergic to chrysanthemum or chamomile are generally advised to avoid dandelion, and if you’re pregnant or on medication you may wish to consult your physician before consuming.
Trying new and less common plants like dandelion is a great way to keep your meals exciting while balancing a healthy diet. Give us a call to discuss other ways to eat well.