Image courtesy Viridi Green on Unsplash.com
Toni Reale | File Photo

Dandelions are sprouting in every nook and cranny this time of year. Their soft, tufted yellow flowers smell like sweet butter reminiscent of innocent childhood memories Their puffball seed heads are made of a million wishes yet to be cast. Every part of the plant is edible, nutritious and useful for animals, the environment and humans — even if most Americans try to eradicate them from their lawns. 

Dandelions grow on every continent except for Antarctica, and there are volumes of resources that show various cultural meanings and medicinal uses for this plant. Nearly all point to the same impressive list of health benefits. This could be why in the 17th century, early European settlers purposefully brought dandelions to America for medicinal and food purposes.

A 2021 article published by the Cleveland Clinic says dandelion greens could be the most nutritious green you can incorporate in your diet, even more nutritious than spinach or kale. The leaves are packed with vitamins A, C, K, magnesium, zinc, folate and calcium. The article boasts the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of dandelions. It states controlling inflammation is important in preventing serious health issues. The high potassium within the plant also makes it an excellent diuretic which is great for urinary health and controlling high blood pressure. Research shows dandelions are helpful in controlling type 2 diabetes by reducing blood sugar levels. Lastly, it says that root and leaf extracts naturally lower cholesterol helping prevent heart disease. 

Now that I’ve convinced you that dandelions are more useful than not, you may be wondering how to incorporate this magical plant into your diet. Dandelion greens are sold at most health food stores and are delicious raw. They do have a bitter taste so start with including some with your usual mix of greens and add a little honey to your dressing to help balance out the bitterness. Break up the petals of dandelion flowers and sprinkle on the salad for garnish or over roasted vegetables for a bit of color. Be sure that if you are harvesting yourself, that you are taking from an area that is not sprayed with pesticides. 

Courtesy Getty Images.

In addition to dandelion wine, tea and extracts, there are coffee substitutes such as Dandy Blend made with roasted dandelion and chicory root that tastes just like coffee! Full disclosure: Dandy Blend is my sister-in-law’s and brother’s company that started in 1990 when the late Dr. Peter Gail (my brother’s father-in-law, a renowned biologist, and my childhood role-model) invented it. He was lovingly known as the “King of Dandelions” for all of the backyard edible classes he taught and books he wrote. When the love of dandelions appears across all cultures and people dedicate their lives to their research, give them a try. 

So on your next walk when you see a dandelion patch, I encourage you to pick up a yellow flower and take the aroma in, find a seed head and blow your wishes into the air. Tap into that inner childhood notion that they will all come true, why not? You never know what power those seeds may carry.

Toni Reale is the owner of Roadside Blooms, a unique flower, crystal and plant shop in Park Circle in North Charleston.

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