Roasted Roots: Dandelion Coffee
Well, I don't like to brag or anything... but I am really good at growing dandelions. I grow lots of other plants, but dandelions love my yard and garden beds. I let them proliferate because they are one of the most useful plants to have growing. Not only are all parts of the dandelion medicinal, but all parts are also edible. They also require zero maintenance and are easy to harvest and process. My general philosophy with gardening is to work with what you have instead of fighting against it; so my epic dandelion gardens fit right in around here.
I had to clear out a couple of my beds the other day in order to make space for some things I'm planting (greens, some dent and pop corn varieties, and some storing beans in case you were curious). A lot of what had to be removed was dandelions so I decided to keep the roots of these plants for processing. I wasn't feeling the need for any leaves at the moment so those will just be composted and turned in to beautiful soil.
Since it is springtime and most of the plants had just gone to seed, I decided to not use these particular roots for srictly medicinal preparations (dried for tea or fresh tinctured in alcohol). I will do that in the fall with a different batch of dandelions that I will dig. Instead I decided to make roasted dandelion root "coffee", which is still medicinal, but is something I will use for my personal comsumption.
There are many roasted root and grain "coffee" type drinks available in stores. Krakus is probably the most commonly available around here and there are other similar ones as well. Roasted chicory root is also very common and delicious. A European based tradition of mixing coffee and roasted chicory together is still alive and well in Louisiana. It got it's foothold as a way of stretching your coffee supply out and still having a nice strong cup of deliciousness. Other coffee additions were used as well, such as roasted acorns or roasted beets.
Obviously these things are not coffee; none of these plants contain caffeine. Personally, I don't think of things like roasted dandelion roots as coffee substitutes, but rather prefer to enjoy them as their own special and delicious drink.
Dandelion roots are considered a liver tonic in western herbal medicine. They have a strong action to stimulate digestive function and are cooling and detoxing in nature. Generally speaking, dandelion roots should be used for issues relating primarily to liver and gallbladder that are of a 'hot' and 'stagnant' nature according to Chinese medicine diagnostics. Some potential clincal manifestations of this may include certain digestive disorders, skin conditions, hormonal disorders, mastitis, cysts, lymphatic congestion and more. If you are unsure or are needing help deciding which herbs are best suited to your constitution and specific issues please consult with a qualified herbalist or Chinese medicine practitioner.
Once the roots are roasted, their energetics are changed slightly. In Chinese medicine this is referred to as pao zhi (processing) and there are many methods that are used with a variety of herbs. In the case of roasting dandelion roots, the action of roasting will decrease the cold nature of the root that is associated with its raw form. This allows the herb to be more gentle for individuals who may have a cold or depleted digestive system according to traditional Chinese medicine diagnostics.
How To Make It
First you will need to harvest some dandelion roots from a clean area. I like using either a shovel or digging fork in my garden beds, but if you are pulling them from an un-sprayed lawn, using a digging stick will be less messy.
To make this project worth your time; it is good to have a lot of roots, because the roots will shrink down considerably. I used a medium-large bowl full of roots and got about a 500ml jar of roasted dandelion roots in the end.
Once you have your roots set aside you will need to wash them thoroughly. You can soak them in cold water to loosen any dirt. You can let them sit in the water overnight if you want. This will start to leech out some of the latex, which can reduce the bitterness. I personally prefer the bitterness in taste so generally I don't worry about soaking for too long or in changes of water.
After soaking and rinsing a couple of times to get most of the dirt off; I start pulling a few roots out of the bowl at a time and running cool water over them while I rub away the remaining dirt. As you do this inspect the root for any bits that should be cut off - dead parts, mushy parts, dirt filled holes, etc.
When you're happy with the rinsing place them on the cutting board and clean the roots up so you can start chopping them. You can roughly chop them into 1/2" - 1" long chunks and throw them in a food processor with a cutting attachment (this will save you a lot of time) or you can cut them with a knife.
When the roots are all chopped up by hand or food processor you can start spreading them out on baking sheets for drying and roasting in the oven.
The temperature I used to dry the roots was 220F. Check them frequently. I like to leave the oven door slightly cracked to allow moisture to escape. You can also choose to dry the roots in a dehydrator and then roast them in the oven if you'd rather.
Once they are dried out you can increase the temperature. With this batch I roasted them mostly at 240-260F. Keep a very close eye on the roots as they roast so as to avoid burning them. They will need to be stirred every few minutes to get an even roast.
Now that your danelion roots are roasted to your satisfaction, let them cool and then transfer them to a glass jar or a tin for storage.
For beverage making I like to use about 1 Tablespoon of roasted roots per cup of water. I usually simmer it gently for 10 minutes. Some people like to add cream and sweetner, but I prefer to let the rich flavour speak for itself.