Oh, folks, fall is finally here; isn’t it lovely? No more back and forth, with one day in the high 70s and the next rainy and cold. Fall has settled in to stay.
And that means everyone is hurrying to bring in the last few tomatoes and get their winter squash picked and stored. It means you’re nearly done canning, and the holidays are just around the corner.
It also means it’s time to pull up some dandelion roots.
I don’t mean weeding, of course, I mean you’re going to want to gather dandelion roots to make toasty dandelion coffee, a bottle or two of dandelion root bitters and some dandelion tincture.
Who knew you could enjoy this weedy root in so many ways?
Dandelions are seriously misunderstood plants. Weed-killing homeowners have hunted them down for ages in the quest for a pristine lawn. We’ve been (wrongly) warned off of picking them in the spring, so the bees have food. And in the end, it all amounts to our missing out on a delicious and incredibly healthy plant.
And yet, nearly every part of the dandelion is edible and good for you. You’d be amazed at all the things you can make with dandelion flowers, including easy and delicious dandelion mead. And don’t forget dandelion-infused oil.
But let’s get back to the part that grows underground.
Even the most devoted dandelion fan may be missing out on one of the best parts of the plant – the long taproot that grows deep in the ground.
If you’ve ever tried to pull a dandelion up while weeding, then you know the strength of these large roots. It’s these taproots, growing deep in the soil, that allows dandelions to thrive where many other plants can’t.
It’s also these large roots that store a whole host of healthy vitamins and minerals, especially now, in the fall. You see, as the summer turns into fall and the temperatures start to drop, the plants begin to store nutrients in their roots for the long winter ahead.
Digging up dandelion roots in the fall assures you’re picking roots packed with nutrients like vitamins A, B, C and D, and important minerals our bodies need – potassium, iron, even zinc. It’s like pulling a multivitamin straight from the ground.
Harvesting Dandelion Roots
For the recipes below, it’s best to use roots picked in the fall once you get a good cold snap. Usually, after your first frost, the cold weather signals to the plant to store nutrients in the roots.
You’ll want to pick large dandelions as opposed to smaller plants, as they will have bigger tap roots. You can usually spy their circular rosettes in the lawn or your garden.
It’s easiest to dig them up from loose ground like in a mulched flower bed or if you’re lucky enough to have a no-dig garden. (Why yes, I do let my dandelions stay in the garden.) Grasp the dandelions by the base, and pull upward, gently, until the root comes out of the ground.
If the ground is more compacted, you may want to use a garden spade or a weed puller to help you get them up out of the ground. Otherwise, you’re going to snap off the leaves and end up with the root still firmly in the ground.
Brush off as much dirt (and the occasional worm) from the roots as you can. Trim off the leaves leaving behind just the root. You can save the leaves to eat if you like, but I find they are too bitter to eat when they’re large. Dandelion leaves for eating are best picked in the spring.
Put your roots in a sink full of cold water to soak, then scrub the dirt off of them and rinse them clean. Trim off any leftover tops, so you only have the roots. Now you’re ready to use them. I like to peel the larger roots I’m going to use for coffee and save the peelings and smaller roots for tincture or bitters.
Now that you’ve got a bunch of dandelion roots, what can you make with them?
Roasted Dandelion Root Coffee
Well, for starters, how about a cup of coffee that’s actually good for you.
Yup, roasted dandelion root makes a mean, 100% caffeine-free cup of coffee loaded with nutrients. And it’s much easier on the stomach than high-acid coffee. I know, I know, you’ve probably got one eyebrow raised, and you’re giving me “that look.”
Uh-huh, sure, Tracey. Dandelion roots taste like coffee, just like low-fat ice cream tastes as good as full-fat ice cream. Right.
But you’re going to have to taste it to believe it. Roasted dandelion root tastes like coffee; it really does! (Unlike the low-fat ice cream, I’m with you on that one.)
When I was pregnant with my first son, I was not happy about giving up my daily cups of coffee. My midwife suggested I check out dandelion root coffee instead. I gave her the same look you were just giving me, but she insisted I give it a try. And I have to say I was surprised at how good it was!
This whole making coffee out of dandelion roots isn’t anything new; it also happens to be a civil war era recipe. Confederate troops often had to make do without real coffee, so they made coffee with foraged plants, including dandelion and chicory root.
And it’s so easy to make at home. No fancy roasting equipment is needed. You just toss it in your oven.
- Set your oven to 350 F. Slice your roots into coins or roughly chop them, so they’re all about the same size. Now spread them out on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
- Put the sheet pan in the oven and set a timer for 30 minutes. After a while, every coffee-drinking person in the house will come flocking to your kitchen trying to find the freshly brewed pot of coffee.
- Check your roots every few minutes after the first 30 minutes and pull the pan out once all of the roots are nice and toasty. You’ll have a range of deep brown to light tan pieces.
Much like coffee beans, the darker you roast your dandelion root, the darker your brew will be. I find that even if I get a few smaller pieces that come out much darker than the rest, it just adds to the flavor.
To make your coffee:
- Grind the roots as you would coffee beans.
- Add two tablespoons of ground dandelion root and two cups of water into a small saucepan.
- Bring to a boil and cover, simmer gently for 5 minutes.
- Strain and serve as you would coffee.
- Add cream or sugar as you like.
As you’ll soon find out, if you get a taste for dandelion root coffee, you may wish to purchase dried dandelion root online so you can roast it yourself. And as many herbalists will tell you, there’s no better place to purchase your herbs online than Mountain Rose Herbs. It’s a great place to get organic dried dandelion root.
If you roast dried dandelion root, it won’t take as long to roast as it does fresh, so you’ll want to check your dandelion starting at fifteen minutes rather than thirty.
Another simple way to enjoy the benefits of dandelion roots is to make homemade dandelion bitters. Whether you enjoy a cocktail in the evenings or want to prevent indigestion before a big meal, having a bottle of dandelion bitters on hand is always a wise idea.
They are easy to make and are the perfect addition to your home bar and a great gift for the craft cocktail lover in your life. Aperitif enthusiasts are unlikely ever to find bitters like these in a store, and they take your old-fashioned to a whole other level.
Bitter herbs are also wonderful for improving digestion. That bitter flavor stimulates gastric acids, which help you to digest your food more easily. Take a few drops of dandelion bitters before a large meal (Hi, Thanksgiving dinner!) or one that is notorious for giving you heartburn.
For an easy dandelion root bitters recipe, check out this one at Grow Forage Cook Ferment.
And finally, if you just want to enjoy the nutritional and gastric benefits of dandelion root, you can make a simple tincture with your dandelion roots.
Ashley over at Practical Self Reliance has an easy recipe to make a dandelion root tincture. I’ve used it myself with excellent results.
You can check out her recipe here – How to Make Dandelion Tincture
I hope by now you can see that we at Rural Sprout are 100% team dandelion. And we hope you’ll join us too after you’ve tasted your first cup of dandelion root coffee. Maybe in the future, when you’re yanking weeds in the garden, you’ll skip the dandelions and let them be until the fall. Cheers!