Everytime I serve someone dandelion coffee or something containing dandelion coffee I am met with the same questions: what is dandelion coffee exactly? And is this going to keep me up? So, that’s where I will start.
Dandelion coffee has very little to do with actual coffee. It could equally be referred to as dandelion tea, though the color and flavor lend it the coffee moniker. It really does taste quite a bit like coffee. Dandelion coffee is tea made with roasted dandelion roots. It is dark in color and slightly bitter, though less so than actual coffee. It contains no caffeine, so it won’t help you there, but it does taste quite nice.
Chicory and dandelion actually share a similar past. I am sure that you have all heard of chicory coffee, perhaps you’ve even tasted that famous Cafe du Monde blend from New Orleans alongside a fresh beignet. Both dandelion and chicory were used as additives to coffee beginning in the 19th century, added to a grind to enhance the flavor. But both were likely consumed on their own before that for their individual health benefits (and because they’re just fine on their own). They also share a history of serving as a cheap coffee alternative during hard times.
Dandelion coffee has received a lot of attention over the past few years. It had a brief spot in the sun as an “it” health tonic for a number of influencers out there. It is said to be good for the liver and digestive tract. Some even go so far as to say that it could be a cancer treatment–though I deeply doubt that.
There is no doubt that wild foods are nutritionally dense and have all sorts of health benefits, but I am certainly not a believer in any of these superfood silver bullets out there. Drink it because it’s fun, it tastes good, it’s free, it’s local, and it certainly isn’t bad for you, not because you expect it to cure your cancer.
Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale):
Despite the fact that you are already likely an expert in identifying dandelions, we may as well talk about identification anyway. Paying attention to the botanical details of an already known plant is a great way to improve your plant ID skills. So, read through, and see if you can identify a dandelion based on these details, not just the gestalt that you’ve built through a lifetime of seeing these plants.
Flower: The dandelion is in the Asteraceae family, so that bright yellow flower is actually made up of a whole bunch of little ray florets (~200) spreading outward from the middle of the flower. The base of the flowerhead has green inner and outer bracts.
Leaves: Dandelion leaves are hairless and deeply toothed, from 2-10” long, and form a rosette above the taproot.
Dandelions grow all over the place, so you can be a bit picky in terms of where you forage them. Try to avoid places where they may be sprayed with herbicides or exposed other unpleasant chemicals such as roadsides or highly manicured areas.
Pulling roots is obviously a more destructive form of foraging than simply picking leaves or flowers. It is, however, the very best way to ensure that a dandelion doesn’t pop back up. So, if you don’t like them in your lawn, start there. Then maybe ask your neighbors if they would mind you cleaning the dandelions out of their yard too. It won’t take long before you have plenty of roots (and some neighborly good will to boot).
-Wash the roots and chop them into smallish pieces (½” or shorter)
-Roast at 350 f for 40-60 minutes, or until nicely toasted and dark (the smell during this part of the process may cause you to crave brownies, so prepare accordingly).
-You can grind the root like coffee and/or add it to your coffee, but I have not found it necessary to grind the root finely in order to use it.
-For regular-strength dandelion coffee, add 1 tbsp roasted dandelion root per cup of water to a small pot and boil for 10-15 minutes. For a spicier brew, you can add cinnamon or cardamom during this process.
-Strain to remove the root pieces and enjoy with milk and/or any sweeteners that you add to coffee.