The act of wildcrafting (gathering roots and herbs) is wonderfully good for the soul, especially for city dwellers. Not only does it take me out for a walk, but it also gives me a mission. It makes me feel like a kid when I’d run wild for hours and pretend to be a scientist or a witch, dig up “medicines” from the Earth. It turns out we really can dig up medicines from the Earth, even in the city.
Dandelion root is a great place to start if you’re not familiar with wildcraft. Dandelion is easy to identify and grows almost everywhere.
Below are a few tips and tricks to help you harvest and process dandelion roots.
Medicinal Benefits of Dandelion Root
-Boosts the immune system
-Fights off microbes and fungi
-Rich in vitamin K, C, A, calcium, fiber, potassium
-Also has iron, B6, and magnesium
-Full of antioxidants
-Cleans out the kidneys
-Improves liver function
-Helps to regulate blood sugar
-Lowers cholesterol in animal studies
-Increases bile production
When to Harvest
There is nothing more magical than going out into the world, big hat on my head, to gather dandelion roots with my own hands. I especially enjoy gathering roots this time of year, early spring, when the sun is just beginning to shine and a little bit of warmth is back in the air. Dandelion roots are best harvested from late fall through early spring, when the roots still hold stored energy from being dormant.
Some say that a fall harvest is more medicinally beneficial, as fiber content is higher. Springtime is perfectly okay too. Springtime roots have a higher concentration of fructose, which makes the roots sweeter and more chewy.
Where to Harvest
There is a small wooded area near my apartment that has much dandelion growth, so that is where I concentrate my efforts. If you don’t have a wooded area in your city, that is okay. Dandelions grow freely almost anywhere. The only thing to keep in mind is to harvest in areas that would not be sprayed with pesticides.
Open fields, private property, parks, woods, alleyways, and other places that are not tended to by the city are best. Avoid harvesting on the side of the road, as city workers tend to spray weed killer there.
How to Harvest
I bring with me my gardening gloves, hand trowel, and a little basket to hold my findings. Luckily, not much is needed to extract the roots. The larger the plant, the larger the roots. I prefer larger roots, however it is not always possible for me to find thick juicy roots near my apartment. Small roots work just fine!
To extract the root, gently plunge the trowel into the ground around the dandelion plant. Be sure to dig far enough away from the plant to avoid damage to the roots–the bulk of nutrients lie within a sap that can leak out of a damaged root.
I like to lob off the greens and just keep the roots (especially when I haven’t grown the greens myself). However, dandelion greens are very nutritious and great on salads. Keep them if you like! Who doesn’t love free food?
How to Process Dandelion Roots
Luckily for us, dandelion roots are not fussy. They can be eaten fresh or dried for later use.
First, rinse the roots in cold water to remove all dirt. Gently scrub them with your fingers if needed to make sure that no dirt remains.
If you are eating them fresh, there are many ways to prepare them. Personally, I like the simple method described on Garden Guides, which I summarized below. Once cooked, the roots can be eaten on salads, in stir fries, or anything else that strikes your fancy.
1. Peel off the bitter outer skin with your fingers or a paring knife
2. Put the roots in a pan, cover with water, and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
3. Once a fork can be poked into the roots, they are done. Strain out the water, and bon appetit!
Dried is my preferred way to consume dandelion roots, as they can be used to make dandelion coffee, tea, infusions, tinctures, and decoctions. Dried roots are also easier to store and have a shelf life of up to one year.
To prepare the roots for drying, cut lengthwise so that all of the roots are about the same thickness and length. It doesn’t have to be exact. Roots can be dried using a dehydrator if you have one, or air dried if you don’t.
If drying with a dehydrator, place roots evenly and dry at 95 degrees until brittle.
If air drying, place the roots on a screen, rack, or even a dish towel for a few days to two weeks, until brittle. Make sure you place the roots in a spot that is not too moist and has decent air flow.
Common Sense Home has some great ideas for making dandelion coffee, tinctures, infusions, and more.
Feature photo courtesy of Dan Backman