In Defense of the Almighty Weed (No, Not That One)

Pack Nutrients into Your Daily Serving of Veggies with This Unexpected Plant

Dandelion flower on pink background.
Credit: Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

Dandelions weren’t always the bane of snobby suburbanites competing for the glossiest green grass. Actually, for most of history, the yellow-flowered lawn interloper was considered a mini medicine cabinet across folk traditions the world over. Colonialists brought dandelions from Europe to North America for their wide array of medicinal uses. Much like mom jeans and platform sandals, dandelions used to be cool. And they’re about to be cool again.

The tough-AF plant can take up residence pretty much anywhere, which is bad news for golf courses but great news for environmentally conscious humans looking to get their hands on more nutritious, whole foods.

Cannabis isn’t the only weed with full-body benefits that science (and society) is finally acknowledging. Dandelions are packed with vitamins A, C, and K and contain more iron and calcium than spinach. Basically, contrary to popular opinion, dandelions are just as good for you as trendier greens like kale and wheatgrass or spirulina. They’re widely available and very cost-effective (especially if you forage them). Bonus points: adding this organically grown weed to your plate or morning brew is really great for the planet.

Every part of this unsung herbal hero is edible and, on top of their nutritional value, they have those coveted extra health benefits we’re all after these days. Dandelions reduce inflammation and help with digestion. Packed with antioxidants, they can also ease the aging process and generally keep the body, y’know, spry and youthful. The plant has historically been used to treat liver issues and is widely known even today to support the body’s natural detoxification processes.

What makes this plant a weed is also what makes it such an earth-friendly veggie option. It’s an extremely hardy perennial, not easily endangered. When you pick the plant without removing the roots from the ground, another plant just grows back in its place. Letting your own lawn fill up with a few dandelions isn’t a bad idea, either. Your local ecosystem will thank you for it. The blossoms are great for bees and diversifying the plants that grow on your lawn is optimal for healthy soil, boosting water and nutrient retention (saving you on your water bill, too).

If you want to harvest dandelions yourself, get a little hunter-gatherer with it (loincloth not required). Don’t pick from places like local parks or roadsides that have likely been treated with pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. Within city limits, your own––or friends’ and neighbors’––chemical-free lawn is a good choice. If you’re out hiking, carry a bag with you to grab a few plants along the trail––you can even snack on the leaves as you go.

Processing hand-picked dandelions yourself can be a pain in the ass. It does take time to clean and dry out the root, so you might want to skip that and focus on the leaves, stems, and flowers. You can get the benefits of dandelion root by drinking teas that contain it. If you’re watching your caffeine intake, tea made from the root is a great coffee alternative.

Many farmer’s markets sell dandelion greens, so you don’t have to pick them yourself to take advantage of a fresh bunch. It’s easy to throw dandelion greens in your salads and sandwiches (they taste like a spicier version of arugula). You can also make yourself a batch of super-nutritious dandelion leaf pesto which earns you an A+ for culinary aptitude and gold stars for sustainability.

Finally, we can’t talk about dandelions without talking about one of the worst things to happen to North American food systems: the weed killer chemical RoundUp. This extremely toxic herbicide was produced by everyone’s favorite corporation, Monsanto (which was acquired by Bayer in 2018, who still sells the product). It might work wonders to clear a yard of unwanted weeds, but when it leaches into the watershed, it causes harm to aquatic life, poisons people, plants, and ultimately ends up on our plates. The more we see dandelions as a food source, the less RoundUp we’ll use to get rid of them.

It’s high time we stop treating dandelions like a nuisance and start appreciating them for their sunny disposition and vitamin-filled personalities. Diversifying our idea of what plants we can consume is great for our bodies and even better for the precious ecosystems we rely on.