Spring is dandelion time! While I use dried root and tincture in my clinical practise all year long, there is just nothing like the fresh, whole plant – flowers like bursts of sunshine, young leaves not yet too bitter – to inspire creativity and get us all out into the fields, gathering, and back into the kitchens- creating.
In this post, a mini- monograph on dandelion, and some fun, tasty and healthful recipes you can make for your own enjoyment, along with a version for your canine companions.
Danny in a field of dandies
First, let’s start with what makes dandelion such an important herbal medicine…why it’s one herb no home apothecary should be without, and what kind of benefits adding it to your dog’s diet can provide.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Actions – Leaf is diuretic, bitter, nutritive – Root is tonic, hepatic, mildly diuretic,laxative, cholagogue
Energetics Cold, moist, bitter, sweet(root) cool, neutral, slightly salty (leaf) warm/neutral (flower)
Constituents – sesquiterpene lactones, flavonoids( luteolin, apigenin) carotenoids( lutein, zeaxanthin)
Indications – with such an extensive list of actions, it might seem that dandelion has a place in every dog’s diet… I tend to agree, but with qualifiers. The leaf is highly diuretic as well as nutritive, so while the amount you feed in a pesto or stew recipe won’t pose a problem, using more concentrated forms could have unwanted results(excessive urination). The root is a superb liver tonic, often overlooked in favour of milk thistle; I like to include some root in meals throughout the year (you can slice it up and cook like a carrot). I use leaf in formulation with other herbs for edema associated with congestive heart failure, for some bladder conditions, as a general tonic and with pancreatitis. Root I use clinically more as a tonic given over a long period of time, and the whole plant, including flowers, with many cancers and preventively, for dogs at higher risk. I make dandelion vinegar every year and use it in my own food and as a nice addition to the dog’s water once in a while, or a splash in a cooked meal here and there. I’ll talk more about using dandelion at high concentrations (tincture, powder) in the full monograph. For now, we can think of dandelion as medicinal food. And enjoy.
Now, for the Recipes!
Recently I went through my files and pulled out all my favorite human recipes for dandelions, and adapted them for use with dogs. It’s certainly true that, as with humans, just adding a few leaves a day throughout the season can be a tremendous health benefit – think about 1 small leaf finely chopped for a small dog, 1-2 full leaves for a medium dog, 3 for a large – dandelion is very safe, but it IS diuretic so it’s smart to be conservative, especially at first. Dandelion leaves are bitter – part of what makes them such good medicine – but that’s not everybody’s favorite flavour, for one thing. With humans the general idea is 3 good sized fresh raw leaves daily…so scale your dog-dose to that. A 3 pound dog could have maybe 1 teaspoon of minced leaf over a day, or even half that, to start. I hasten to add, that to maximize the benefit for dogs, you need to chop chop chop until the leaves are very well minced. As with any veggie, for the canine system to fully absorb the constituents we want to get into them, the foods need to be thoroughly pulped or steamed. For the raw leaf, mincing is great. But there are other ways to get the benefits of dandelion into your dog.
My own favorite recipes for dandelions include a classic maple-sweetened cookie; pesto with pumpkin seeds; steamed leaves with new potatoes and chickpeas: I also love a simple cup of fresh dandelion tea, surprisingly refreshing and beautifully uncomplicated. I make dandelion root/cacao bitters (from Mountainrose Herbs) all the time and give them to friends, I’m playing around with Gather Victoria’s Dandelion and Calendula’s Egg Cup idea ( adapting for dogs of course) seen here /https://gathervictoria.com/2016/06/02/dandelion-calendula-breakfast-egg-cups-the-perfect-marriage-of-health-flavour/ looking to add dandie greens into a meatloaf I make for my crew every few weeks – -there are endless possibilities.
Today, I want to share the first recipe and some variations – dandelion and pumpkin seed pesto. I make a celebratory pesto every spring with dandelions, pumpkin seeds, garlic, Parmesan and so on, for my self and friends – the dog version (s) below is developed from this. And as I got experimenting with a simple recipe I found so many inspirational ideas I thought, well let’s blog this and see what YOU may come up with, too.
First: the core recipe. All you do is gather your dandelions (you can of course purchase them! but it’s much more fun to go outside, find a suitable patch, and harvest). You need about a cup ( 55 grams, I used) of chopped leaves. And 1/4 cup organic hulled pumpkin seeds, and about 1/4 cup good quality (real) olive oil. That’s all, for the dog recipe.Whirl all that in the blender/food processor, and you have the following:
18 grams of protein
70 grams of fat (NOTE: that’s a lot)
204 mgs of magnesium
not as much zinc as you’d think- just under 3 mgs
BUT – 7500 mgs of lutein – that’s one of the chief benefits of feeding dandelions! So the next question will be, what is lutein? and the quick answer is, lutein is a flavonoid with powerful antioxidant action, and studies have shown that humans who consumed high levels of lutein and a related carotenoid called zeaxanthin (yes, I know these terms get confusing, but I am planning a surprise offering soon to help clear it all up) had significantly lower incidence of macular degeneration – including foods that are high in these two non-essential, but highly beneficial nutrients can help protect your dog from developing cataracts or other eye conditions associated with age. Kale, spinach, collard greens and romaine lettuce all contain goodly amounts of lutein, as do egg yolks, but they need tobe fed raw for optimal bioavailability. Since kale and collards are so bitter, using dandelion greens pulverized into pesto, with the offsetting nutty taste of pumpkin seeds, is one ideal way to supply lutein and zeaxanthin.
There are other benefits; pumpkinseeds are a time honoured remedy for various intestinal parasites; olive oil has cardio-protective properties, and may help reduce inflammation/protect against cancer as well. All in all, this pesto is a powerful addition to the diet, in moderation of course! Note that dogs with sensitive digestion, or pancreatitis/hyperlipidemia, should not have this treat.
So, this is a high fat treat, but we don’t add a lot of it anyway – Amara and Zeke got 2 tsps on their chicken and sweet potato dinner tonight (it’s just too much fat for Danny, who is so sensitive) You can add a little dollop to a bowl of raw food, cooked food or kibble, for the antioxidant boost; you can freeze it in ice cube trays and use as needed (if you make a whole lot during dandelion season) bake it into cookies/biscuits, add to stews(I love making stew for my dogs on cold winter or autumn days) and let’s not forget the variations. Here are a few of my favorite additions
1) shiitake or maitake mushrooms – I buy them dried, reconstitute in hot water for a half hour, then add a few to the blender
2) sundried tomatoes – just a couple mixed in with the original pesto boost lycopene dramatically
3) turmeric – the batch I made here has a half teaspoon (for the recipe above) and a little twist of freshly ground black pepper
4) You can add a Brazil nut or two for a huge boost of selenium, which supports the heart and can be low in home made diets. One 5 gram kernel has 95 mcgs, or almost the RA for an 18 kg dog.
5) Everyone’s going to ask about garlic – yes, you can add a clove or two, but if your dog runs hot in general, or has heat in the digestive tract, or any kind of upper GI distress, skip this part. If you use raw garlic already and your dogs do well with it, the cooling energetics of dandelion leaf will balance the heat anyway, to some degree.
6) Coconut oil – yes, you can substitute some of the olive oil with coconut or hempseed oil.These oils all have beneficial aspects but they are also different, with unique fatty acid profiles, and dogs may react differently to them. I like olive oil here because coconut is already so widely used as a fatty acid supplement and olive oil not so much. But feel free to experiment – hemp and coconut are my own choices here. Oils like sunflower and safflower are very high in linoleic acid, which your dog most likely already has plenty of in his diet, if you feed a commercial food or use chicken regularly.
The human version of this recipe, is from The Kitchn, a wonderful resource for cooking for humans: http://www.thekitchn.com/fresh-summer-recipe-dandelion-pumpkin-seed-pesto-173211
and I will add, this is the first dandelion pesto I’ve made in 10 years that my partner actually enjoyed. 🙂
Lets’ call this dandelion month, and I’ll add more recipes and medicinal stuff very soon. 🙂