If your goal is an unblemished green carpet of a lawn, you probably regard dandelions as a scourge. It’s a reputation unjustly deserved: dandelions have been called the good weed for good reason.
Dandelions are native to Eurasia and to North and South America. While many of us would shun the thought of eating a weed, dandelions have been used as a food and an herb since prehistorical times. A perennial plant, dandelion leaves will grow back if the taproot is left intact.
But eating dandelions is just one way to use them.
1. Dandelions can be a source of rubber
Yes, rubber can be extracted from dandelions to make, among other things, tires. Scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME, in cooperation with the automotive supplier, Contunental, have built a pilot facility in Münster in Germany that can make natural rubber by the ton. They are also cultivating several hectares of a dandelion variety which is particularly rich in rubber.
The scientists have already produced a high-grade natural rubber in the laboratory and are seeking to do so on an industrial scale within a few years. The goal is to, one day, no longer have to import rubber from subtropical countries; shipping rubber from far away adds to CO2 emissions.
2. Dandelion roots make a decent coffee substitute
Higher temperatures, prolonged droughts followed by intense rainfall and crop diseases — the effects of climate change — have all reduced coffee supplies in recent years. Modern growing practices, including the use of pesticides, could also be killing off coffee plants by spreading “coffee rust,” a fungus that has been affecting coffee plantations in Central America and Mexico.
The taste won’t be quite the same but dandelion roots can be roasted and made into an herbal tea that somewhat resembles coffee. Dandelion tea is said to have health benefits for your liver; it is being researched as a cancer treatment.
3. Dandelions contain compounds with curative properties
Dandelions contains chemicals that may reduce inflammation and (though there is insufficient research to prove any of these) has been used to treat a wide variety of ailments: upset stomach, stimulating the appetite, intestinal gas, gallstones, joint pain, muscle aches, eczema and bruises. In Canada, dandelion root is a registered drug and is sold mostly as a diuretic, to help the body get rid of excess fluid..
Dandelion is available as a supplement in tablet or capsule form or as a liquid extract. As with any supplement, make sure to consult your physician if you’re taking dandelion along with other medications such as antibiotics as dandelion can reduce their effectiveness.
4. Dandelions can be made into soup, salad and jam
Dandelion leaves are high in vitamin A, vitamin C and iron, with more iron and calcium than spinach. The leaves (called dandelion greens) are foraged or grown on a small scale and can be turned into soup or salad (though beware, the raw leaves have a slightly bitter taste).
In parts of Poland and Silesia, dandelion flowers are used to make a honey-substitute syrup that is thought to have medicinal value. The leave and buds are eaten in traditional Sephardic, Chinese and Korean cuisine; certain varieties (including one found only at high altitudes) are eaten on the island of Crete and Greece.
5. Why worry about a predicted wine shortage when you can drink dandelion wine?
Dandelion is a traditional ingredient of root beer. The flowers (just the petals or in their entirety) can be made into dandelion wine by steeping them with water, sugar or honey and citrus fruit; yeast is added and the mixture fermented for a few weeks. As Robin Shreeves writes on MNN, a friend who tried making dandelion wine ending up with something more like dandelion turpentine and used it as an “all-natural weed killer” — presumably not on dandelions!
Photos from Thinkstock