UNION — Dandelions deserve more respect. While they’re commonly known as pesky weeds, they have an impressive history as key ingredients in culinary dishes as well as being used medicinally.
Dandelions are in the Asteraceae family, along with daisies, chrysanthemums and even lettuce. There are hundreds of species of dandelions, most commonly found in temperate regions of Europe, Asia and North America. When alive, dandelions have a yellow flower and toothy leaves that funnel rain into the roots. They become white “puffballs” when the flower has matured.
The first documentation of the flowering plant was during Roman times. The name comes from the French phrase “dent de lion,” meaning “tooth of the lion.” European settlers brought seeds to North America to use as food. Colonists cultivated the plant because it came from home and was comforting to use in a foreign land.
Today, dandelions are still used for culinary purposes, mainly in Europe and Asia. The leaves of young plants — old ones are too bitter — can be substituted for salad greens. When using the leaves, they must be torn apart, not cut, to preserve their flavor. The flowers are used in salads, cooked as fritters and used to make tea. The roots can be made into a caffeine-free alternative to coffee and tea.
The first recorded medicinal use of dandelions comes from the 10th and 11th century work of Arabian physicians. Native Americans boiled the plants to treat several ailments, from heartburn to kidney disease. Traditional Chinese medicine used dandelions to treat breast problems and appendicitis.
Though research is limited, dried dandelion herb is used to stimulate appetite, aid with digestion and to treat stomach issues. Preliminary studies in animals have shown that dandelions normalize blood sugar and lower LDL cholesterol, though these effects have not been confirmed in humans. Always consult a medical professional before using non-traditional medicine as treatment.
Dandelions may provide a wealth of benefits and uses not fully explored, ranging from making a deliciously potent wine to possibly treating kidney disease.
The recipe below, taken from Smart Living Network, is a great alternative for the adventurous gourmet, using the dandelion as a key ingredient.
Dandelion Fritter Recipe
Dandelion Flowers (as many as you’d like!)
1 cup Milk (any kind)
1 cup Flour
Olive Oil (to coat pan)
Honey or Maple Syrup
Mix egg and milk in a bowl. Stir in flour and add maple syrup or honey for added sweetness if desired.
Heat skillet with olive oil over medium heat.
Take a flower by the green base and dip the petals into the batter until covered.
Drop in the skillet flower side down, and continue adding batter coated flowers.
Check every so often to see if they are lightly browned yet. Flip them over when they are, and lightly brown the other side.
Remove browned fritters and place of paper towel to absorb excess oil.
Serve them sweet with a drizzle of honey, maple syrup, jam, or powdered sugar. Or serve them savory with dipping mustard.
Carley Raybon is a recent graduate of The University of Alabama with a B.A. in Public Relations. She is one of two summer interns working through the end of July at Piedmont Physic Garden.