As there seems to be such a lot to learn about dandelions I decided to break them down into parts, this month I looked at roots; the properties and what you can do with them. Susan Weed says that the dandelion is a plant of opposites; this seems quite obvious now it is pointed out to me. The top has flowers which are yellow, cheerful, warm and sun-like or clocks that are light, dry and airy and below are the long roots which live deep in the dark, damp earth.
From what I have read dandelion seems to be a cure-all and general tonic but different parts of the plant have different properties. The roots are best harvested in autumn or winter. In autumn they are the sweetest as they contain the most inulin, a sugar stored to give energy through the winter. For bitter roots, harvest in the spring before the buds start to form. Inulins are a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides produced by many types of plants. They belong to a class of fibres known as fructans. Inulin is used by some plants as a means of storing energy and is typically found in roots or rhizomes. Inulin increases calcium absorption and possibly magnesium absorption, while promoting the growth of intestinal bacteria. In terms of nutrition, it is considered a form of soluble fibre and is sometimes categorized as a prebiotic. Due to the body's limited ability to process polysaccharides, inulin has minimal increasing impact on blood sugar, and—unlike fructose—is not insulemic and does not raise triglycerides, making it considered suitable for diabetics and potentially helpful in managing blood sugar-related illnesses (Wikipedia).
Inulin is soluble in alcohol and water from fresh roots, but only in hot water if from dried roots. A tincture can be made from fresh root and 10-100 drops taken each day in water, a tea or decoction from fresh or dried roots, ½ - 2 cups each day. Alternatively put your chopped roots into a juicer and drink 3-6 tablespoons a day. Inulin from the root provides food for friendly bacteria in the bowel.
The roots are also rich in taraxacin, a bitter substance found in the milky juice of the dandelion that is used as a tonic and diuretic.
Susan Weed writes a lot about dandelion in a very inspiring way so forgive me for referring to her a lot, she gives lots of uses for the roots.
Roots can be used for a distressed liver; stress from pregnancy; after rich food; chemotherapy; alcohol and drug abuse; jaundice and hepatitis. They aid bile duct swelling and blockage, cholesterol-based gall stones, indigestion, chronic constipation, poisoning and the beginnings of liver cirrhosis.
This all round tonic nourishes, soothes and heals. It stabilises blood sugar, lowers cholesterol, and assists chronic pain, bronchitis, pneumonia and TB. A warm infusion with milk will help you get to sleep, a day or two of tincture helps deal with skin eruptions, and regular use loosens arthritic joints.
For ladies, regular use helps menstrual cramps and pre-menstrual breast swelling. As well as being ingested grated root can be used on breast sores, cysts and impacted milk glands. As the liver is the site of breakdown of natural steroid hormones, a sluggish liver may result in hormone imbalance. Improving liver function can help to correct hormone imbalances, for example in pre-menstrual syndrome, by breaking them down.
The root is a good diuretic, hence the common name Wet-the-bed or Piss-the bed. The sodium in the plant is needed for kidney function and the potassium content ensures that potassium levels are maintained, many prescribed diuretics lead to loss of potassium. Potassium helps with nerve conduction including the functioning of the heart, impulses keep the heart beating.
Dandelion roots are a good source of iron, manganese, phosphorus, protein, aluminium, and vitamin A and also contain calcium, chromium, cobalt, magnesium, niacin, potassium, riboflavin, silicon, sodium, tin, zinc and vitamin C.
Dandelion coffee is made from the roasted roots of dandelion. I have seen a variety of methods of preparing the root.
· Drying the root for 2 weeks before roasting and then grinding.
· Roasting fresh roots either whole or in chunks and then grinding.
· Grinding fresh roots and then roasting.
The roots are roasted until brown. All authors are of the opinion that this tastes like real coffee but is healthier as it is caffeine free. Dandelion coffee is steeped in hot water for 10-15 minutes, 1tsp – 1dsp per cup according to taste.
Although I had read books about its virtues and had verbal encouragement from a herbalist I could never quite bring myself to uproot a dandelion and eat a weed. On my first visit to Sarah Head’s Herb Sanctuary in the Cotswolds we made dandelion vinegar. We dug up, scrubbed and chopped roots and before I knew it there was a piece in front of me and Sarah said “try that”. It was bitter and I was not used to it and did not enjoy the flavour, the next month when we strained the vinegar I was again asked to “try that” and it tasted much better than the plain root we had tried the month before. We made a foragers salad to go with our packed lunches, including pickled roots and we all enjoyed it. They could be put with any salad.
Stir-Fry Dandelion Roots (Susun Weed) - An idea for cooking roots (seasonal too!)
1lb/475g young dandelion roots
1 cup/250ml sliced onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
3tbsp/45ml olive oil
1tbsp/15ml dark sesame oil
Wash and chop young dandelion roots from early spring garden. Drain. Sauté oil and sliced mushrooms in oil until soft and a little brown. Add garlic and drained dandelion; cover and cook 5-10 minutes, until tender, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat; add tamari and dark sesame oil. Let sit a minute or 2 before serving.
Warm Winter Spice Tea: (Prodigal Garden)
• One cup roasted Dandelion root
• Half cup dry orange peel.
• Half cup of Cinnamon bark
• Dry Ginger root – three-fourth cup
Add one tablespoon of the mixture of above per cup of water. Simmer it for ten to fifteen minutes. Add some honey to sweeten it (optional).