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Dining on dandelions

This weed can be taken from your yard to your table

April 21, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Dandelions are classified as a weed. It is often used as a food.
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The dandelion is an example of how one man's weed is another man's salad.

Or tea.

Or medicine.

Known technically as taraxacum officinale, dandelions are classified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as weeds, the generic term for wild plants that grow in unwanted places. Dandelions are unwelcome because they are a little too good at spreading their seeds, ultimately pervading lawns and garden beds, said Annette Ipsan, horticulturist and educator with the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension's Washington County office.

But perhaps the dandelion gets a bad rap.

Before they were deemed weeds, dandelions were a prime source of spring bitter greens and sought for their medicinal properties, said Cynthia Kennedy, an herbalist at Boonsboro Wellness Center.

Just break down its scientific name, Kennedy said. In Greek, "taraxos" means disorder; "akos" means remedy.

"You think of about how resilient they are, how often it keeps popping up in suburban lawns," Kennedy said. "Native Americans would have considered that to be a good thing."

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Here are some other uses dandelions:

Flower



Attract hummingbirds

The dandelion flower attracts bees and hummingbirds, which like its nectar, Ipsan said. Hummingbirds arrived in Washington County on April 15.

Kennedy offers a word of warning to current allergy sufferers: If you've got ragweed allergies, you may experience similar symptoms from dandelion pollen.

Leaves



Bitter salad greens

Dandelion leaves are known for their bitter tastes, with cultivated dandelions tasting less bitter than the wild ones, said Kennedy, who likes to saut dandelion leaves with a bit of garlic and olive oil. She also enjoys marinating them in Italian dressing and honey over night.

You can also eat them raw.

The best time to pick dandelion greens are before they bloom.

"They aren't as bitter," Kennedy said.

If they happen to be a little bitter, steam or saut them slightly to tame the taste.

Ipsan warns that you should only consider eating dandelion leaves if your garden is herbicide free. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, synthetic herbicides often contain compounds that can be toxic to weeds and humans.

Tea

As tea, dandelion leaves have a diuretic affect, Kennedy said, used for those with high blood pressure. Still, Kennedy said that people considering this use should first consult a health care professional.

Roots



Tea

Dandelion roots can also be prepared as a tea. Kennedy warns that dandelion roots are exceptionally good at soaking up toxins in the soil, so take care where you harvest the roots.

Digestive aid

Herbalists look to dandelion root as a digestive aid and natural laxative, as it stimulates the creation of bile in the liver, Kennedy said.

Coffee alternative

Roasted dandelion roots can be used as a coffee substitute, Kennedy said.

Editor's note: Story edited at 11:50 a.m. April 21, 2010, to correct spelling of the word "saut" (The computer program that converted the story from the print version to online dropped the accented letter "e" in two instances).

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