Not just a pesky weed, the benefits of Dandelion plants extend to your kitchen table.
Lovers of green lawns might see red when dandelions rear their yellow heads. But more and more cooks are taking a shine to these bright harbingers of spring that are delicious, healthy—and free for the picking.
The use of dandelions for food and medicine has roots deep in the past. There’s evidence that the seeds, native to Europe and Asia, came to North America on the Mayflower! Colonists planted the perennial herb around their homesteads to use for food and as dyes for fiber (yellow from the flower, magenta from the roots).
Frontier healers also recommended using dandelion plants to make a spring tonic or tea. For centuries, dandelions have been used as a cure-all for everything from fever and lethargy to toothaches and warts. It’s no surprise their Latin name, Taraxacum officinale, means “the official remedy for disorders.” (The common name comes from the French dent-de-lion, or lion’s tooth, because of their serrated leaves.)
Modern studies confirm that dandelions are a nutritional powerhouse, a source of vitamins A and C, thiamin, riboflavin and folate, plus minerals like iron, potassium and zinc. It’s also believed dandelions have antioxidant properties and could improve the immune system.
Benefits of Dandelion Plants: A Gourmet Green
Every part of this versatile plant is edible. You can eat the roots raw, cook them like a vegetable or roast and grind them into a coffee substitute. Turn the flowers into dandelion wine or jellies, add them to salads or dip them in batter and fry as fritters. You can serve the leaves raw, steamed, boiled, sauteed or stir-fried; add them to omelets, salads, soups, sandwiches and even smoothies.
The best time to harvest wild dandelion greens is in early spring, before flowers appear, when they’re most tender and least bitter. When well-prepared, the flavor is refreshing and tangy, with a bit of a bite. More pungent mature greens can be blanched to remove bitterness.
Foraging for wild dandelions? Look in rich, deep soil where the ground is porous and well watered, and where grass grows tall and free. Avoid areas sprayed with herbicides or other chemicals, near roadsides or railroad tracks.
Always rinse flowers, stems and leaves well before using. Thoroughly clean roots to remove dirt and debris.
Domesticated (and generally milder) dandelion greens are sold seasonally in supermarkets, ethnic groceries, health food stores and farmers markets. To grow your own culinary varieties, check specialty seed companies.
Then try some of these recipes. You’ll be glad you made peace with this sunshine-bright flower!
Photography by Angie Jack, New Glasgow, NS