This past weekend I began the first in a series of herbal intensives through the Boston School of Herbal Studies apprenticeship program. Since our plant walk on Sunday (the first day it hit the 70's here in Boston!), I can't stop looking at the ground. What was once a weedy lot is now populated by all kinds of healing plants. Here there's plantain, which, when chewed and applied as a poultice, can soothe a bee sting or mosquito bite or pull out a splinter. There I see burdock, which I'm drinking a ton of these days as a spring liver-tonic. And of course, everywhere, there are dandelions. Dandelion is another excellent liver herb, and as a bitter, stimulates the production of saliva, digestive enzymes, and hydrochloric acid in the stomach, thereby strongly supporting digestive functions. It's also full of easily assimilatable vitamins and minerals, including potassium, vitamins A and C, and antioxidants. I happen to know that Harvard uses organic landscaping around campus, and so I asked the head of landscaping whether they weed the dandelions, and if so, whether they'd mind if I came along and took some for myself. I'm sure he must have thought I was crazy, as did the dozen or so people today who watched me stroll along with fistfuls of greens, the white, dirt-covered roots dangling.
Later today I'll take home my greens and sautee them with garlic and olive oil for dinner. I'm hoping to tincture the roots in apple cider vinegar, which is a great tincturing medium for mineral-rich herbs. That way, I can enjoy the health benefits of dandelions throughout the year.
Now is a great time to harvest. Pick leaves in areas where you know for sure they aren't being sprayed with pesticides, ideally on plants that have yet to send up flowers. The longer you wait, the more bitter the plant. For a salad, pick the tiny and tender leaves, but if you're going to cook them go for larger, tougher leaves.
Here are a couple of dandelion recipes from Mother Earth News.