Identifying and Foraging Dandelions: The Perfect Survival Food and Medicine (Benefits and Uses)
Oh, the simple dandelion is oft-maligned as a noxious weed in many folks’ pristine lawns and gardens. But WAIT! Before you go getting rid of this bright and cheerful yellow-flowered plant, let’s take a look at its culinary and medicinal abilities, as well as how to identify, forage, and use dandelion parts. You may just change your mind about dandelions and start cultivating and foraging them yourself!
I love foraging for wild edible and medicinal plants. When you can make gourmet condiments and meals or actual medicines from the plants you forage in the wild, you will feel so empowered and frankly, amazed!
Survival plants like dandelion can be absolutely delicious, so easy to make, and the nutritional value of many wild greens is incredible. Dandelion should be part of your daily food, don’t you think?
FTC Disclosure: There are affiliate links scattered throughout this article. If you click through and make any kind of purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Identifying, Harvesting, and Benefits & Uses of Dandelion
So, why on earth should you consider cultivating your own dandelions? Or, if you don’t want to grow your own, why consider foraging for this seemingly lowly herb? There are many reasons to know how to properly identify dandelion, cultivated or wild-harvested, so you can then harvest and use it well for its many benefits to your body.
How to Identify Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Let’s quickly discuss how to identify dandelions. There are a lot of look-a-like plants out there, but once you know the main indicators, you’ll know dandelion when you see it.
Some look-a-likes include sow’s thistle (Sonchus arvensis), false dandelion (Agoseris glaucu), and cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata). But if you know what you’re looking for, a real dandelion is easy to spot. Here’s what to look for in the dandelion’s plant parts:
One of the indicators of dandelion are the leaves. They have no “hairs” or fuzz and are deeply toothed, or serrated. Many look-a-like plants will have similar leaves, but may have hairs on the spine or the leaves or are not as deeply “toothed” as the dandelion. In fact, its name comes from the French word, “dent de lion,” or tooth of the lion.
Both the leaves and the stems of the flowers grow out from the rootstock. Sometimes plants will bunch together, making this growth habit difficult to see at first. But if you look closely or pull up the entire plant, you’ll see the plant parts grow in a basal rosette from a deep taproot.
The flowers are easy to spot in the spring and fall. They tend to die off a bit during the hot summer months, leaving only the greens. You’ll notice only one flower for each stem. Some look-a-like plants will have more than one flower per stem, like sow thistle, and this is a sign you are not looking at dandelion.
The flower stems are also hollow, and when picked you’ll notice a white sap. The flowers tend to close up during the late afternoon and early evening, only to open wide the next morning.
The flowers turn into literal balls of fluffy seed that float away on the wind or with a good wish. They are sometimes called wish balls, and children love to see if they can blow off all the seeds. I’ve heard that the seeds can be blown miles away from the original plant!
The flowers are bright yellow, with many florets (mini flowers) forming a beautiful round composite flower. This simply means that lots of little flowers (around 150-250) make up what we know as a bright and delightful dandelion flower. These are wonderful garnishes on spring salads, as they are edible just like the rest of the plant!
The root is a long tap root, which helps aerate soil and provides a path for water flow. In this manner, dandelion actually improves the soil!
Benefits and Uses for Dandelion:
Oh, the benefits and uses are many! All the parts are useful in both culinary endeavors as well as medicinals in your home apothecary.
Benefits & Uses of Dandelion Flowers:
The bright yellow flowers contain high levels of beta-carotene, indicated by the color. They also contain lutein, and both of these compounds are excellent for your eye health.
The flowers also contain skin loving constituents that provide relief for minor pains, skin-softening benefits, and may even help skin further by being anti-aging and sun-protective.
You can make a dandelion flower infused oil from the flowers by letting them dry for three or so days, then infusing them in your favorite skin care oil. Once you have your lovely dandelion infused oil, you can easily create your own dandelion salve for sore muscles and rough, dry skin. You can find out more about making your own salves here.
Benefits & Uses of Dandelion Leaves:
Dandelion leaves are fabulous for your digestive system! They help digest heavy foods, including fats, and are excellent for supporting your gall bladder. They also help produce bile, which in turn helps with digestion. Eating some dandelion leaves before your dinner can help stop flatulence and indigestion later.
The leaves have strong diuretic actions. This means they are kidney supportive and help the body filter toxins through the urinary system, especially the kidneys and bladder. Drink some dandelion leaf tea if you are experiencing water retention!
The leaves are excellent in salads, especially when harvested in the spring and early summer. Later in the hot summer, they turn very bitter.
A great reason to eat your dandelion greens is they are highly nutritious. They contain high levels of vitamin A, and C and B6. They also contain important minerals including calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium.
So, eat your dandelion greens and drink your dandelion tea! These two methods of preparation are really the best ways to obtain the nutrients from this powerful herb.
Benefits & Uses of Dandelion Roots:
Just because the root is hidden away below the surface of the soil is no reason to disregard this important plant part of the dandelion! The root contains compounds that are incredibly healthy for your liver and its detoxifying actions.
Dandelion roots actually work to improve liver function and protect it from damage due to toxins from alcohol, acetaminophen, and other sources. When you consistently consume dandelion root, you are helping your body with the natural detoxification and filtration process.
Your skin benefits tremendously from the consumption of dandelion root, too! This is because so many skin complaints present themselves because of liver toxicity. When you treat your liver right, your skin will glow!
Harvesting dandelion takes very little skill, but there are some things you need to know.
Leaves & Flowers:
For harvesting the aerial parts of the plant, the leaves and flowers, you’ll want to do this in the spring and early summer. This is because as the heat of the summer comes on, the plant often produces far fewer flowers, and the leaves turn extremely and unpleasantly bitter.
If you are planning to use your dandelion flowers for making salve or infusing in oils, be sure to pick them on a dry morning after any dew or rain has evaporated. Moisture introduced into the oil can cause mold and this is not something you want on your skin.
For the roots, the fall is the best time to harvest. The roots will have had all summer long to gather and store the nutrition brought to it through the leaves. All you have to do to use your dandelion roots is scrub and clean the root well, then chop it up into pieces. You can dry these or use them as is.
I just love this coffee substitute made partially from dandelion roots.
Safety Factors and Contraindications for Dandelion
Dandelion is generally a very safe plant with some amazing health benefits. However, if you are pregnant or nursing or are on medications, please be sure to ask a medical professional about using dandelion. Also, if you are allergic to plants in the daisy (Aseraceae) family, you may have an allergic reaction to dandelion too. Avoid the white milky sap if you are allergic to latex products.
Final Thoughts on Identifying, Harvesting, and Using Dandelion
You can see that dandelion is one of our best and most important herbal allies. They support so many systems in our body: liver, digestion, kidney function, eye and skin health, and more! If you don’t have many dandelions growing near you in safe places to forage, you may want to consider growing your own!
This plant is an all-around winner!
Do you grow dandelion? It’s definitely not your typical plant!
You may also enjoy these related articles:
How to Make Dandelion Pesto: A Gourmet Treat
And there are a LOT more over on the blog, so head over and search around!
Are you interested in learning how to use herbalism skills in practical ways in your daily life….and with confidence and ease? Take a look at The Confident Herbalist: A Guide to Home Herbalism course. You’ll walk away knowing how to use home remedies quickly and easily.
Hugs, Health, and Self Reliance,
P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter! You’ll never miss a thing, and you’ll get immediate access to the Resource Library! You’ll love the Resource Library, as it is a growing collection of eBooks, guides, checklists and more just for you!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. In no manner, stated or implied, is any content I share meant to treat, cure, diagnose, or prevent any disease or illness. Please be sure to seed advice from your medical professional before using herbs or essential oils. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
Young, D., The Backyard Herbal Apothecary. Page Street Publishing. 2019.