Homemade dandelion coffee is delicious and healthy. Freshly roasted dandelion root tastes sweet and aromatic. And it’s a weed, growing everywhere for the picking!
Dandelion root coffee/tea and dandelion leaves are diuretic and a liver tonic. It helps to alkalise the blood, unlike regular coffee. It can reduce fluid retention and bloating, help with weight loss, and boost energy. Isabell Shiphard suggests dandelion for diabetes and cancer, along with other herbs. It’s good stuff!
First, identify your dandelion and make sure it hasn’t been sprayed. If it’s not growing in your backyard, ask a friend, community garden or find it in the wild. Your friends will be happy for you to dig it from their gardens! Dandelion grows all over the place, but is likely to be sprayed or contaminated on roadside verges and public areas.
Dandelions (taraxacum officinale) have a basal rosette of indented smooth leaves – that means all the leaves sprout from a central point at the root, like a star shape. ‘Dandelion’ is from ‘dent de lion’ in French – tooth of the lion – which describes the jagged edge shape to the leaves. This can vary widely, even in plants growing next to each other, depending on individual variation, available nutrition and water and the type of soil. Sometimes the leaf edge is wavy, sometimes deeply lobed. The key is that the leaves are smooth, not hairy like some dandelion look-alikes.
The flowers must have a hollow stem, and only one flowerhead per stem. Some dandelion-like plants have similar yellow flowers, but on branched stems. When cut, the whole plant leaks a milky sap. Dandelions mature into puffy seedballs that children like to blow and spread the seeds – after you learn how to use dandelions, you’ll want to spread them in your garden too!
Autumn or winter is the best time for digging dandelion roots – when all the plant’s energy has been directed downwards into the root for storage. Two year old plants have thicker roots and make a better coffee. Ask the plant for permission to harvest (good herbal medicine practice).
Dig as deeply as you can, with a fork so you don’t cut the root by mistake, and carefully lever the whole plant out of the ground as intact as possible.
Tease the roots apart to make sure you only have dandelion roots left, shake off excess soil and pull away any other plants. Leave the leaves on at this stage, for ease of identification.
Collect your plants in a tub. Depending on how thick the roots are and how many plants are available, gather about a bucket full. See how the roots are exuding a white milky sap where they’ve been cut?
Now wash the soil from the roots. Save the water to tip onto the garden. Change it frequently, because you want every bit of soil rinsed off.
Lay your plants out. Cut the leaves and flowerheads off. If you like, you can eat the washed leaves in a salad (dandelion leaves are a wonderful slightly bitter salad green. I use them instead of lettuce – much easier to grow!). Season with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. Otherwise, throw them onto the compost heap where they will contribute nutrients mined from the subsoil by the long taproots. The leaves won’t resprout; only the root pieces will grow again. Dandelion seeds will definitely make new plants, so be careful where you throw these!
Cut the roots just below the leaf junction. This will leave you with small sections of root and leaf, a few centimetres long, that can be replanted for future harvesting. Set these aside for planting later. Then you’ll have bountiful salads and coffee for next year. The roots in the photo are the pieces to keep and roast.
Give these roots a really good clean. A scrubbing brush, nailbrush or old toothbrush helps to remove soil from between knobbly bits of root. You can use the hairlike feeder roots as well, so keep them if you like.
Snip the cleaned roots into small pieces for oven drying. Fast drying will prevent mould problems and halt deterioration of the root. It’s much easier to cut them into small pieces now, while they’re fresh and crunchy, rather than when they dry into rock-hard lengths of root. If you don’t have a coffee grinder, cut the roots good and small now. Spread onto trays and dry in a low oven until crisp, about ten minutes. Or use a solar dryer. Dry the fine feeder roots separately, so they don’t burn.
The dandelion root pieces can now be stored in a jar or container. These containers show a selection of roasted and unroasted different sizes of dandelion root, including the hairlike feeder roots.
When ready to roast fresh dandelion coffee, spread onto trays again and bake slowly in a warm oven until the pieces of root begin to turn dark and caramelise. You can store them at this stage too, but the flavour will fade over time. The root pieces at the top of the photo are dark and ready; the lower pieces need a little more cooking.
You can grind the roots at this stage if you have a grinder. Otherwise, use as is. Make coffee from the caramelised roots with a plunger or in a saucepan. Serve black or with milk, as desired. Try adding honey, or a pinch of salt to heighten the flavour. Mmm.