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Dandelions (Root, Leaves, and All) Deserve the Superfood Spotlight

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After years of living in the shadows of other lauded superfoods (kale, anyone?), dandelions are finally getting some much-deserved attention. The little green is popping up on menus across the country and in all kinds of dishes—smoothies, salads, broth-based soups, and even as garnishes for savory dishes like pasta and risotto. While people are crazy about the flavor (slightly bitter), they're even crazier about the nutritional benefits packed into every part of this plant. A low-cal flavor boost chock full of minerals, vitamins, and more—what's not to love? (Other powerhouses: 8 "Ugly" Nutrient-Packed Fruits and Vegetables.)

The Facts
We're unprepared to label dandelion as a miracle weight loss trick or a one-step solution to better health, as some people claim it is (although we will take a stand on The Best Farmers' Market Foods for Weight Loss). That said, it's worth giving what's normally seen as nothing more than a pesky garden intruder a second look.

Dandelions are, in fact, tiny nutritional powerhouses. The flowers are loaded with vitamins A, B, C, and D; minerals including potassium, iron, and zinc; and phytonutrients like beta-carotene."Iron helps transport oxygen throughout the body while zinc is a powerful antixoidant that assists with maintaining regular hormone levels," says Dana Kofsky, a licensed nutritionist and corporate wellness consultant based in Los Angeles. "Potassium helps reduce blood pressure and minimize the risk of strokes," she adds.

What’s more, you can eat every single part of the dandelion—roots and all. The petals themselves boast an impressive assortment of antioxidants helpful in preventing diseases, while the minerals in the leaves and roots help the body flush out toxins and impurities, research shows. Meanwhile, dandelion leaves have more calcium than most varieties of leafy greens, says Kofsky. The roots—often used in teas and, more recently, herbal coffees—act as an appetite stimulant and help to alleviate minor digestive problems such as constipation, says Steven Ehrlich, founder and medical director of Solutions Acupuncture and Naturopathic Medicine in Phoenix, AZ. 

And it’s not just the laundry list of nutrients that gives dandelions their powerful punch. The ability to detoxify stems from the fiber-packed leaves. Long-term, fiber fights against diabetes and can help lower cholesterol, while short-term, it slows down digestion, helping you stay full longer, explains Kofsky. In fact, dandelion roots have been used to detoxify the liver, gallbladder, and kidneys for centuries, says Ehrlich. (Should You Detox With Dandelion Root Tea?)

While there’s still a need for more scientific exploration into some of the more extreme claims about this flower, the once under-the-radar ingredient is now enjoying the superfood spotlight in a big way.

The Buzz

One of the greatest things about dandelion as an ingredient is its versatility. Chefs are getting creative with how they utilize every part of the flower. We've seen the leaves raw in a salad or blended into a spread; the roots roasted as part of an herbal coffee or tea; and the petals placed as a beautiful, edible garnish for any dish. In many ways, the dandelion is a supercharged sprout—it has a slightly more bitter and earthier taste than your average alfalfa sprout, but it still gives you a vibrant pop of green in just about any dish, says Candice Kumai, professional chef and author of Clean Green Eats

If you're looking to drink your dandelion rather than eat it, turn towards dandelion coffees and teas. A new favorite in trendy coffee shops, including Amara in Los Angeles and Life Alive in Cambridge, MA, dandelion herbal coffees are, in many ways, very similar to matcha, thanks to the sustained energy levels and supposedly more gradual “buzz” that results from drinking it. (Here, 4 Healthy Caffeine Fixes—No Coffee or Soda Required.)

To incorporate dandelion root beverages into your diet, you can try powdered coffee blends or tea bags, which you can pick up at local health food stores or Whole Foods. The coffee blends, such as Dandy Blend, look and taste strikingly similar to coffee, except that they contain no caffeine and, instead of coffee grounds, are comprised of ingredients such as roasted barley rye, sugar beet, and chicory root in addition to the dandelion. Give this a shot if you're looking for a nutrient-packed coffee alternative. Tea brands, including Yogi Tea's DeTox and Traditional Medicinal's Roasted Dandelion Root Tea, have started to incorporate dandelion into their beverage blends as well. 

The Bottom Line
If you’re looking to add a new good-for-you green to your dishes, dandelions offer a nutritional one-two punch coupled with a major flavor boost. "Dandelion greens are seriously in a league of their own," says Kumai. Pair the greens and flowers—which have an almost broccoli rabe-like bitterness to them—with something sweet. Blend them with a fruit in a smoothie or as a sweet dressing in a dandelion greens salad, recommends Kumai. If you want to add a flavor to an ordinary sauté of greens, throw some dandelions in with extra virgin olive oil and garlic; pair all of that with quinoa for a seriously nutritious entree. 

Next time you're wandering through the produce aisle looking for inspiration, don't hesitate at the dandelion. After all, remember when you thought pea sprouts were weird?

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