Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) traditionally has been considered a weed, even though this herb has so many benefits. They are great food for pollinators and birds love eating the seeds. Dandelions can also be eaten by humans, although it is best not to forage from other’s yards or by the roadside since they may be sprayed with pesticides since a lot of people hate this weed. Frequently mowed greens can be too bitter to eat. Rabbits love eating these greens.
All parts of this plant are edible, including the roots, leaves, stems and flowers. They can be used in salads, jelly, cooked greens, pesto, bread and even wine. Dandelion has medicinal benefits since it is a diuretic, laxative and blood cleanser. These weeds are very nutritious since they have plenty of vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin B9, as well as calcium, potassium and iron.
This plant was imported to America from Central Asia as a food crop. It is a member of the Asteraceae family, just like thistles, yarrow and artemisia. There are different types of dandelion, some taste better than others.
How to Reproduce Dandelion
In the wild, each plant produces an average of 5000 wind-borne seeds. Make sure that to harvest the flowers before they produce seed if you don’t want them all over your garden. This plant is very tolerant, so it can survive in the lowlands to over 8000 feet in elevation.
Start seeds outside after the danger of frost has passed in the spring. It is also possible to sow seeds in the fall, six weeks before the expected frost. Broad sowing seeds is an alternative since they are so small. Ideally, you want to replicate the conditions which would occur if the seeds get blown away. They need to be deep enough so they stay in place, but not so deep that they can’t get sunlight.
Cold stratification for a week may help improve germination rates. It takes between one to three weeks for seeds to germinate, depending on the weather. This herb is a tough perennial, but seedlings can be delicate and need to be monitored. Thin seedlings when they are 3 inches tall so they have a distance apart of 8 to 10 inches. Eat the seedlings.
Some people prefer to start their seeds indoors. Plant dandelion seeds about one fourth to half an inch deep in pots. This can be done a few weeks before the last frost. Plants can be kept in pots that are at least 6 inches deep. Transplant them outdoors when they reach a height of 4 to 5 inches and have true leaves. Outdoor soil temperature should be at least 50 F (10 C).
Don’t transplant if you are growing dandelions to use the roots since it will stunt their growth. For root use it is best to start outside or leave your plants in pots. Remove flower heads so the plant produces more energy to create larger roots.
These plants need a space to grow where they can stay for years without being disturbed. Dandelions are not picky about sunlight. They can grow in full sunlight, part sun or part shade. Although leaves tend to be less bitter if the plant has shade. It is possible to grow dandelions in USDA zones 3 through 10.
Dandelions are not picky about soil either. Ideal soil pH is slightly acidic, between 6.2 and 6.8, but they can survive in a pH range between 6.0 and 8.5. Those that grow these herbs for their roots should have rich, deep and moist soil. Having moist soil will encourage quality leaves and protect the plants from diseases. Dandelions don’t need much fertilizer. Give them aged compost annually.
Flowers attract many beneficial insects such as hoverflies, lacewings, ladybugs, butterflies and bees which enjoy the sweet nectar of dandelions. Plant them near flowering plants including tomatoes, clovers, beans and apples. They produce ethylene gas which causes fruits to ripen, making it quite useful next to tomatoes. Do not plant dandelions next to potatoes or corn.
Dandelion taproots are beneficial to other plants since they grow about 10 inches long and bring up valuable nutrients like copper which can be found deep in the soil. These long taproots break up heavy soils making it easier for your vegetables to follow suit. It is also proven that they can prevent fusarium wilt which attacks other plant’s root systems. Fusarium needs a lot of iron to survive, but they can’t get it since dandelion roots produce dichroic acid which does not allow the disease to get the iron.
Problems and Pests
Slugs and snails like eating dandelions. Simply pick them or find some form of control such as ducks.
Ruby tiger moths are caterpillars that love eating this herb. Pick them off and drown them in soapy water.
Powdery mildew is a fungus causes plants to wither and die. It can be identified by white spots on the leaves. Avoid top watering and make sure your plants have enough air circulation so humidity doesn’t get too high.
Harvesting and Storing Dandelions
Dandelions grow slowly until they are established. Leaves can be harvested about 95 days after planting. Pick young and tender leaves, before the plant creates buds or flowers, for the best tasting leaves. Harvest in the morning or in the evening for longer lasting and crisper greens. Fresh greens can be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in a thin cotton towel for about three days.
Blanch your plants for better leaf flavor. All you need to do is cover the plant and shade it from direct sunlight which will make it produce tender leaves. Mound soil or straw around and above the plant. Cardboard boxes or containers can also be placed over the leaves.
Microgreens can be harvested early spring when leaves are small. Dandelion microgreens have a mildly bitter flavor which can be used in recipes. Flowers should be harvested early spring when the flower heads open. Use them fresh within a day or two. Or leave them to dry in a warm spot. Pick the flowers and discard the stalks in the compost pile. Dehydrate flowers and leaves in a dehydrator at 86-104 F (30 to 40 C) until they are crispy. Store dried parts in a bag or jar in a cool, dark place.
Do not harvest roots until the plant is over a year old. The best time to harvest roots for culinary purposes is early spring of the second year when the plant is dormant. For medicinal purposes, it is best to dig the roots in the fall when they have more nutrients. Use a garden fork to loosen the soil around the roots, slowly moving the plant out of the ground. Shake the soil off and use the roots fresh or dehydrate them for storage.
This plant will grow for multiple seasons if left in place, even if you cut back all the leaves and flowers. It will grow back even if you hand pull the plant since its roots are between 2 to 3 feet deep. The best way to kill dandelions naturally is to use white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. This will kill the whole plant.