Meet & Dance with Taraxicum officinalis – Dandelion

The Lion's Tooth          

Do you see what I see? The land of my dominion!
Just one gentle, passing breeze,
Or even just a random sneeze
Can lift me up and carry me as on an eagle’s pinion.
And scattered into many parts, I go where’er I’m cast
And put down deep and lasting roots, wherever land is grassed.

Do you know what I know? My life is never-ending!
My own seeds number millions -
Each one produces billions!
Pity all poor gardeners’ vain efforts at lawn tending!
Bitter poisons, mowers’ blades, all you have used to fight me -
Could never yank this lion’s tooth, so go ahead and bite me!
– Paula T. Calhoun

Meet Taraxicum officinalis  Dandelion

Family: Asteraceae

The Taraxicum genus is one of our North American natives, also home throughout temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. This ubiquitous beauty is so well known that it needs little botanical description. The genus is described as a herbaceous, tap-rooted perennial plant of many species that adapt to the unique qualities of their environment.

We know this plant most readily by its golden-yellow composite flower head, which is made up of many tiny flowers (florets). These happy flower heads open in day and close at night, a pattern I relate to breath.

The flower heads are born singly on the leafless scape (the hollow-tube-like-stem), that exudes a milky white latex that we all recognize.

And who hasn’t dug a dandelion root? The typical tap root, sometimes splitting, from which a basal rosette of simple, lobed leaves, growing 2 to more than 10 inches in length, gives birth to one or more scapes which, in turn, give birth to the flower heads that mature into spherical seed heads called blowballs.

You may already know that the common name, dandelion, is born of the French common name, dent de lion, which means tooth of the lion. Why? Observe the leaves… the flowers… the root… of what might they remind you?
Harvest: Roots, leaves, flowers, buds.

Taste: Bitter

Humors: Cool, dry

Actions: Anti-rheumatic, bitter, cholagogue, diuretic, hepatic, laxative, nutritive, tonic, among others.

Constituents: Fructose (richer in spring); sesquiterpene lactones; diterpenes, taraxacin; triperpens; sterols; carotenoids; xanthoxophylls; flavinoids; polysaccharides (inulin – among others – richer in autumn); potassium (up to 4.5% in aerial parts).

Contraindications: Rare allergies. While considered safe during pregnancy, nursing and for children and the aged, it might best be avoided in Medicine form by those with low blood pressure.


The leaves are, to my way of thinking, first and foremost a Food. The leaf has a longtime tradition as a powerful diuretic, especially dried and brewed as tea. Unlike pharmaceutical diuretics, it’s rich in the potassium that is often lost as a result of its diuretic action, making it a synergistically harmonized Medicine, even when water retention or cardiac congestion is present. David Hoffman says, “overall, this herb is a most valuable general tonic and perhaps the best widely applicable diuretic and liver tonic.”

Mark McDermott used tincture leaf tincture in formulas dealing with kidney and bladder stones.

Susun Weed suggests its use for minimizing bloating ad cerebral edema (in Ginkgo) that leads to irritability and mood swings, as well as for menstrual challenged of cramps, water retention, pelvic congestions and to balance feelings.

The root, with its hepatic and cholagogue actions, has a history for being a premier choice for inflammation of the liver and gallbladder. In general, it aids digestion by maximizing the flow of bile into the intestines. It is supportive to a congested liver that is burdened by hormones (HRT) or other drugs.

Ellingwood mentions the root in the treatments of chronic jaundice, rheumatism, chronic skin eruptions and chronic gastritis, among other conditions.

This plant holds a special place in my heart and around my little backyard farm.

In spring, I simply dig up the early dandies (usually from paths and garden beds where I prefer they not grow) and use the leaves fresh in salads and sautées and roast the roots for a delicious decoction to enjoy throughout the year. In general, the leaves are sweetest in spring, and the roots in autumn.

Despite all the years that I’ve been leveraging this botanical for Food and for Medicine, I’m still inspired by her and learn new things every year. I’ve recently seen some herbalists using the flowers to make an infused oil for topical use. This is new to me, so I’m making a small batch of oil so I may experience it before setting out on research and conversations with my Green peers.

resources:  Rosalee de la Foret, various sources
                      David Hoffman, Medical Herbalism
                      Henriette Kress, Practical Herbs
                      Susun Weed, various sources
                      Wikipedia for the botany bits
                      Personal notes from multiple sources
                      Personal experience.

Dance with Taraxicum officinalis  Dandelion

As the gifts of Taraxicum sprout, blossom and bloom, the gift of Food and Medicine continue. Here’s a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing…

Dandy Bud Capers

2 cups water
1 cup herbal infused apple cider vinegar
1 T kosher salt
7-8 cups dandelion buds
3 garlic cloves, chopped (or other Allium addition)
Zest of one lemon (or other citrus)

Simmer the water, vinegar and salt together until the salt is fully dissolved. Let cool. Pack your jar/s with the dandy buds add the garlic and lemon zest (dividing evenly between jars, if you’re using multiples). Pour in the warm liquid over the plant matter leaving about ½-inch headspace, using a chopstick to remove air bubbles (and adding more liquid if need be). Cover, label, and put in cold storage for several weeks before using (alchemy happens!). Then… enjoy as you would any caper!

Sweet, Tart & Bitter Dandy Syrup

50-r-so dandelion flower heads, petals removed
2-3 sour apple (like the most-known Granny Smith), chopped
1-2 stalks of rhubarb, chopped
Juice of one lemon (or lime or other citrus)
about 1 cup of cane sugar (to match the measures by volume)

Simmer the dandy petals, apple, rhubarb and lemon juice for 20-30 minutes. Strain out the solids, measure the liquid and add an equal amount of cane sugar, by volume, to the liquid, return to the simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Bottle, label, refrigerate to increase shelf-life and enJOY as you would any other syrup!

Herbal Power
Powder your dried leaves to add to your culinary green powers. I often mix this and similar powders with onion, garlic, dried tomato “waste” from puree-making to keep in a shaker jar for adding to foods and as a garnish.

Temporary Tattoos
Henriette Kress suggests using the white “milk” of the plant to create your own body art. The art isn’t visible right away, but keep it dry, get a good night’s rest, and your brown tattoo will be waiting for you when you wake, and will last a few days (unless you wash it off).
Walk in the Woods, LLC
Whiting Mills
Winsted, Connecticut