Smoky Mountain Dandelions

Smoky mountain dandelions are nutritious and delicious!

Smoky mountain dandelions are nutritious and delicious!

Smoky Mountain dandelions (whose Botanical name is Taraxacum officinale) considered by many to be an obnoxious, stubborn, persistent weed are anything but. In fact, the plant is just dandy when it comes to nutrition. Beloved and harvested by naturalist since the 10th century, Dandelions are considered useful in treating a number of medical conditions.

Great Smoky Mountain dandelions bloom each spring. Photo credit - C. Brannen

Great Smoky Mountain dandelions bloom each spring. Photo credit – C. Brannen

Historical documents indicate that the plant was used by the early Chinese to treat stomach problems and promote bone health, and today the humble herb is the subject of ongoing studies which suggest that it might be helpful for a myriad of ailments. An added bonus is the fact that the plant contains more protein than spinach.

Some researchers opine that dandelion tea may help detoxify livers due to a powerful diuretic effect that assists the body in eliminating toxins which improves kidney functions and increases the concentration of certain enzymes in the liver. Dandelions contain antioxidants such as beta-carotene that may help prevent cell damage; Vitamins A,D,E, and C which boosts the immune system, and high levels of potassium, calcium and phosphorous which aid in the promotion of bones and teeth health,

Some research reports that dandelion root tea assists in cleansing the liver due to the presence of the fiber inulin which enhances bile acid excretion thus providing a mild diuretic and laxative with analgesic properties that aids in removing toxins from the body.

Many believe that drinking dandelion root tea can improve the appetite due to its bitter flavor which promotes production of bile and gastric juices. Due to the soluble fiber inulin and Vitamin C, dandelion consumptions may also improve the function of the digestive system and lessen the cases of constipation.

According to Drugs.com, Dandelion roots provide a significant source of beta-carotene, potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron, and has been used to treat heartburn, chronic rheumatism, eczema, gout, diabetes and other conditions. It is said to also aid liver and gallbladder functions by removing waste materials, and some studies suggest that the herb might help in the elimination of gallstones. Warning: those persons diagnosed with emphysema or gall bladder obstruction should not use the herb.

Long considered a diuretic, some research suggests that dandelion root tea can help prevent urinary tract infections by enhancing the production of urine from the kidneys. A 2013 study suggests that the herb also offers antibacterial effects against Escherichia coli (E.coli) bacteria known to be one of the most common causes of urinary tract infections. Due to its diuretic properties, which include potassium contained in the root, it is it is also suggested that the herb may help in reducing water retention.

In recent animal testing, the plant aided in the regulations of blood sugar and cholesterol. Studies are currently underway to determine if the herb might be useful in treating both prostate and breast cancer.

Although generally considered safe, this herb may cause allergic reactions or contact dermatitis in some people who are allergic to ragweed, daisies, marigolds and chrysanthemums and iodine.  Stop drinking if you experience symptoms that may include hives, difficulty breathing or swelling of face or throat. Dandelion tea may interact with some prescription drugs including diuretics and antibiotics. If you are on medication, nursing or pregnant, ALWAYS consult with your doctor before taking any natural or herbal supplement.

Although any number of teas liquid extracts, root supplements and capsules are available at health food stores and online, why not go straight to Mother Nature’s source and harvest from areas not sprayed with pesticides or used by pets for a bathroom area. Where better to find those untainted greens than in the forests of the Great Smoky Mountains. Medicinal teas can be brewed from all portions of the plant. Teas made with the bright yellow blooms are sweeter and more delicate than those made with leaves or roots.

Harvesting the plant is easy.

Use a shovel or a dandelion fork to retrieve the long wiry taproots which spiral deep in the ground. Separate roots from leaves and stems and rinse thoroughly in cold water. Save leaves for use in salads and retain the flowers to make a lighter dandelion tea.

Dandelion Root Tea

Preheat oven to 200 degrees and line a flat baking pan with parchment. Cut the rinsed roots in small pieces; place on pan and roast for 2-3 hours, rotating often to avoid browning. Roots are done when they can be easily snapped in half. If still flexible, continuing roasting until this can be accomplished,

We suggest roasting the roots in a large cast iron skillet on medium high heat in order to impart a delicious smoky rich flavor. Stir often and avoid burning. Roots are ready to brew when they reach a dark brown color.

Add roasted dandelion roots to boiling water and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the root from the tea and drink as is or add milk and sweetener.

Dandelion leaf tea.

Harvest only young and tender leaves. Rinse well, pat dry with paper towel. Cut leaves into small pieces or grind gently with a mortar and pestle (for our Kentucky Derby friends you can use a Julep cup and muddler.)

Add leaves to teacup, add boiling water; place saucer over top of cup and steep 5-10 minutes.

Dandelion Flower Tea

You will need about a quart of fresh dandelions. (Blossoms may be frozen until you find enough to fill a quart container). Remove stems and leaves and rinse flowers in cool water. Add two cups of boiling water to a large bowl and submerge the flowers and allow them to steep for 5-8 minutes. Pour into a large glass container and refrigerate until cool. Tea may be served with blossoms in the glass, which makes a pretty presentation, or if you like strain the blossoms out before serving. This tea will last up to 36 hours in the refrigeration.

 Other uses for dandelions

Dandelions have been used by some as a wart, corn and callus remover: apply the antimicrobial sap from the flower stalk directly on calluses corns, rough skin and warts.

Cosmetic uses:

Boil up a strong brew of dandelion flowers, let cool and apply to skin to lighten freckles and age spots, tighten pores and relieve the pain of sunburn.

Caution- the sap can cause a rash to those with sensitive skin.

 Tasty Recipes

Dandelion green salad

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

¼ teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon coarse sea salt

¼ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

4 cups of young, tender dandelion greens (can be mixed with arugula)

2 green spring onions (white portions only)

½ cup orange or tangerine slices

Mix lemon juice, olive oil, salt and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk briskly, then drizzle over salad and garnish with dandelion blossoms.

Dandelion green salad with tomatoes, onion and basil

½ pounds young dandelion greens

½ small red onion, thinly sliced

2 tomatoes chopped, or 12 cherry tomatoes halved

½ tsp dried basil or 1 Tablespoon fresh basil

Toss with favorite dressing

For more information on wild edibles, we suggest checking out wildcrafting.com. the website of Illa Hatter, know as The Lady of The Forest. Illa, an interpretive naturalist, artist, wildcrafter and gourmet cook with more than 25 years of experience teaching the cultural heritage of native plants, is also the editor/publisher of “Roadside Rambles” a collection of wild food recipes. She is a staff instructor for the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont and the John C.Campbell Folk School in Brasstown NC, as well as with many other institutions. It has become her mission to introduce others to Mother Nature’s pantry and medicine cabinet.

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