Dandelions have long been a source of medicine and sustenance. I've blogged before about how much my family enjoys dandelion greens, and how some people use the infamous weed's yellow flowers to make wine or jelly. The roots may also be used in stews and such, and are sometimes noted as an alternative to caffeine free coffee. They also happen to be packed with beta-carotene, calcium, vitamins B1, B2, B5, B6, B12, C, E, P, and D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc.
But did you know health food stores sell dandelion roots for medicinal purposes, too? Little research has gone into backing up traditional medical claims, but dandelion root is still used as a diuretic and digestion improver. Some preliminary research indicates the old time use of dandelion root for treating liver woes, gallbladder problems, and inflammation may also hold merit, and one animal study suggests it may help improve blood sugar levels, reduce "bad" cholesterol, and increase "good" HDL cholesterol.
But what really caught my eye is that dandelion root is an herb well known to ease the symptoms of PMS - particularly irritability and bloating. So I had to try it.
Gathering the Roots
Dandelion roots are typically thought most palatable in the late fall through early spring, before the plants bloom, but you can gather the roots any time of year. Find a patch of dandelions (ID tips here) that you are certain haven't been sprayed with herbicides or chemicals. That could be your own yard, or it could be somewhere out in the wilderness. For the easiest harvesting of roots, pick a day after it rains.
Dandelion roots are notoriously difficult to get out of the ground, but the moist soil will help. It also helps to bring along a long, flat screwdriver, a dandelion puller, or a garden spade. Stick the screwdriver/puller/spade into the soil, up next to the center base of the plant. Then grab hold of the weed from its base and pull. When I gathered my roots, early in the spring, I didn't need any tools. Also, it doesn't really matter if you get all of the root - unless you hope to eradicate the weed from your garden. (In fact, if you wish to continue harvesting dandelions, you'll want to make sure a few of the weed's roots stay in tact - unless your neighbors have dandelions, too; in which case, you couldn't get rid of the weed if you tried!)
Cleaning and Preparing the Root
Next, wash off as much soil from the pulled weeds as possible. It's nice to do this outdoors; just be sure to have a clean bucket or colander to put the washed plants in. If you'd like to harvest the leaves (which are considered good for reducing PMS related bloating and which are packed with vitamins), go ahead and pull or cut them off and wash them thoroughly in the sink. (Click here for information on how to cook dandelion leaves. You may also dehydrate them in the oven or dehydrator to use later in cooking.) If you don't want to use them, and you have chickens, be sure to toss them to the birds; dandelion leaves are one of their favorite treats. The blooms can also be useful; click here to read about them.
Next, scrub the roots with a vegetable brush, just like you would root crops like carrots or parsnips.
Chop the roots up with a knife; keep the pieces about the same size so they will dry evenly. The smaller the pieces, the faster they will dry - but there's no need to get too precise about this. Also, you'll notice some of the roots may look like this:
You may cut or pull off all those hairy roots, if you like, but it's not necessary.
The process of washing and chopping the roots took me less than 10 minutes.
Drying the Roots
The final preparation step is to dry the roots. The easiest way to do this is with a food dehydrator, but you may also use the oven. To dry them in the oven, place the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in a 200 degree F. preheated oven. To use a food dehydrator, use the herb liner (or make your own from parchment paper) and set the dehydrator to about 95 degrees F.
To test for doneness, pinch a piece between your fingernails; no moisture should escape the root.
Place the dried roots in an air tight container and store in a dry, cool, dark location.
Making Dandelion Tea
1. When you're ready to make tea, measure out about 1 tablespoon of the chopped roots.
2. Place this amount in a coffee grinder - or dice into smaller pieces using a food processor or a knife. If using a coffee grinder, take care not to over-grind, or you'll end up with a powder.
3. Place the ground/minced root into a tea ball - a mesh container designed for holding herbs or tea leaves. Close the tea ball. (Alternatively, you could wrap the roots in two or three layers of cheesecloth, then tie off the cloth with a string or strip of cheesecloth.)
4. Bring 8 or 9 oz. of water to a boil and pour it into a regular-sized coffee cup. Add the tea ball and steep for 10 minutes.
The end result is a very mild tasting tea - although if you over-steep it, the tea will become bitter. Feel free to add lemon or spices - or even a favorite bag of tea - to make a stronger-tasting tea. I don't recommend adding honey or sugar, since these can increase the symptoms of PMS. Personally, I enjoyed it without additions.
And does it work? I do believe drinking dandelion tea helps my PMS symptoms - and it generally "picks me up." Plus, it's packed with great nutrition!
MORE on Dandelions:
Eating Dandelion Flowers
Eating Dandelion Greens
Making Dandelion Jelly
"Teaching Children to Forage" (with dandelion cookie recipe)
Want to learn more about eating and cooking with dandelions? Check out The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook!