By Susan Burek, Michigan – They’re the first spring greens and a bane to a nice lawn, but what about dandelion uses? They’re more than a yellow-flowered weed.
A 15th-century surgeon named the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), calling it “dent-de-lion” noting the distinctive “tooth-shaped” leaf we all recognize. In fact, “lion’s-tooth” is another common name. Although dandelion uses are many, its affinity for the digestive system combined with its strong diuretic action make it a natural for keeping parasite overloads in check. It can also be a helpful part of a more formal worming recipe. I use it with pumpkin, garlic, and carrots in the fall when my pumpkins come in (see Fall Season Herbal Wormer and Alterative, Backyard Poultry Magazine October/November 2009). The plant is one of those wonderful herbs that not only is universally found, but the whole plant can be used to effectively enjoy dandelion benefits.
Dandelion, a biennial, grows everywhere (except perhaps the North Pole), and prefers partial or full sun, although the leaves will grow bigger in partial shade areas.
It seems to like rich, loamy soil and prefers more moist soil than dry conditions. We all not only know the look of the distinctive leaves as I noted earlier but probably also the flower, a beautiful sunny bright yellow, growing up to 20-inches high on a hollow stem. The flowers turn into those famous “puffball” of seeds, to be dispersed in the wind or a strong breath. How many of us remember as kids blowing away at those puffballs, helping Mother Nature with that chore!
Herbal preparations include water infusions or decoctions (teas), and tinctures of the fresh or dried leaves and flowers (in alcohol). Dandelion root can be steamed, broiled, roasted, and toasted. Because dandelion grows everywhere, and should not be a problem to harvest, just make sure it is clean and free of any herbicide or road or foot traffic residue. The roots, leaves, stems, and flowers can all be used, and your flock will relish them all.
Dandelion is a wonderful source of minerals, vitamins, fiber, micronutrients, lecithin, and biologically active substances. This myriad of constituents make it a pretty complete herb. Dandelion uses on a healing herbs list include stimulating liver function by acting as a diuretic, and it also has ample potassium to replace what is lost through that diuretic action. Its bitterness is what stimulates digestion.
Dandelion is good for general energy building and nutritive tonics. The plant is unusual, in that its effects are dependent on the season it is harvested and the environmental factors under which it grows.
For example, the raw leaves are much less bitter and “sweeter” in the spring than they are in the fall, so it will aid digestion much more in one season than the other. It is so individual, that no two preparations or dandelion uses will be identical, truly drawing from what is in its immediate environment. With that in mind, I urge you to use those dandelions in local growing proximity (that should not be hard to do). That means it is drawing from what your poultry will find most beneficial.
The roots are generally used for a liver tonic, by stimulating bile production and circulation throughout the liver, but in a very gentle way. You can dry and grind the long tap roots and feed them to your poultry in the winter mixed in their feed. It will help to add body weight to help keep them warm.
Poultry feed is another dandelion use. They will also eat the raw root and you can give them that along with the whole plant to eat when fresh. Gather the roots as late as you can into the fall when the root will contain the highest concentration of nutrients. At the top of the root and the base of the stem, you will find milky sap that is known as “latex,” which will coagulate on exposure to air. It is a complex emulsion in which proteins, alkaloids, starches, sugars, oils, tannins, resins, and gums are found. My poultry seems to really love the latex and they will eat it readily if I break open the plant.
Dandelion leaves can be fed fresh or dried. It can be made into a tea and is a nice addition during winter, with good effects on the hepatic system for food digestion. This can give needed support during the cold winter months when your poultry is eating more grains.
If you are drying the leaves, do not rinse them off with water, and make sure they are completely dried out before storing to prevent molding.
Going to Seed
To keep this herb population going, it is best to harvest after the dandelion goes to seed.
To many urbanites, this is a bane to their lawns, but a bounty to herbalists and people who appreciate the many dandelion uses! I certainly do not mow any areas of it growing on my property until those seeds fly away!
Good for Poultry
What can chickens eat out of the garden? Pull those dandelions and throw them to your poultry. They love the hollow stalks and will suck them up just like a piece of spaghetti. Dandelions are juicy and tender, and a favorite part of the plant they love to eat.
Once you try dandelion uses for your flock, you will become more and more appreciative how prolific its offerings are, but especially as a digestive aid and maintenance to keeping a healthy balance of microbes in the gut of your flock.
What dandelion uses have you tried? Please tell us in the comments.
Originally published in Backyard Poultry August/September 2013 and regularly vetted for accuracy.