Digging for Dandelion Roots

Dandelion has been a great plant ally for me for some time, but yesterday was the first time I have ever attempted to gather my own dandelion roots. I found the experience exhilarating!

I’ve been using dandelion root tincture that I purchased this past year for some indigestion and heart-burn issues I’ve been having since I turned 40. It calms that condition for me quite well. And I’ve enjoyed fresh dandelion leaves in a salad here and there. A few months ago I had a terrible stomach virus — nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, couldn’t keep anything down, just awful. At that time I steeped some of the fresh leaves in white wine over night and then sipped on the wine and chewed on a few of the wine-drenched leaves the next day. That was a great comfort and helped my condition tremendously. I also gathered dandelion stems regularly this past summer when I was using the white sticky juice from them to get rid of a wart. Now that it’s fall, the time was right to move on to harvesting the roots.

Wildcrafting

I found that dandelion roots are much smaller than I thought they would be! I guess I was expecting to dig up one or two roots that would be about the size of a large carrot. Not so. They were each typically about the width of my pinky finger, some very long and some very short.

And it took a while to figure out how to dig them up without breaking them off near the top. The root goes straight down and I kept dissecting them with my digging tool when I would push it into the ground at an angle. Once I realized I needed to dig straight down in a circle all around the plant to loosen it, and then use my hands to finish getting it out of the ground I was able to get them out nearly whole. It took me about 20 minutes to dig 20 roots.

Washing roots

Since it had been raining for 3 or 4 days straight, the ground was still quite muddy even though the sun was shining and the skies were clear when I was digging. That means the roots and leaves were also quite muddy. I’ve been told that it is not good to wash your wild harvest if you can help it, especially if you are going to dry the plants or make an infused oil, because the extra moisture contributes to mold, which you definitely don’t want growing on anything you want to eat later or use for medicine. But my harvest was so muddy with the dense red clay we have around here that I had no choice but to wash them. I don’t want to ingest mud either, if I can help it!

When I got back in the house, I cut the dandelion leaves from the roots and put them in one sink full of water in our double kitchen sink, and put the roots in the other, to soak them all clean. Then I laid the them out on towels to dry, also patting them with paper towels to speed the process.

Tincture & Vinegar

Since I had washed everything, I decided to make an alcohol tincture of the roots, and a vinegar tincture of the leaves. As far as I understand, the extra water is not a problem with these because the 100 proof vodka I use is 50% water anyway (and the alcohol probably will not let mold grow) and vinegar is well known to kill most molds.

I chopped the roots into fairly small pieces, put them in a pint sized canning jar, poured 100 proof vodka over them to cover, and capped it tightly. I cut the leaves into small pieces, put them in a glass bottle and poured vinegar over to cover. I had to stir with a chop stick to remove the air from around the leaves and then poured more to cover again. I capped it with a plastic top (never use a metal top for vinegar!) and then labeled both the jars with the name and part of the plant, the menstrum for each (alcohol & vinegar), and the date.

Putting my tinctures up in the cupboard to let them brew for the next 6 weeks or so, I felt very satisfied and proud of my work. I’m very glad I’ll have my own root tincture this winter and won’t have to buy it, and I can’t wait to use my leaf vinegar in oil/vinegar salad dressings and splashed over my greens.

I’m going to harvest some more next weekend, because I want to make some dandelion root “coffee”. More on that next week!

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