For many people, the annual war on dandelions has begun. We spray them, dig them up, toss them, burn them and everything else we can think of to get rid of them.
What we should be doing is eating them. The leaves and crowns are loaded with vitamin A, vitamin K, and healthy doses of potassium, calcium, vitamin C, iron, vitamin B6 and magnesium.
The roots, when dried, make a medicinal tea. The entire plant has medicinal value, including:
- Tof-CFr — a glucose polymer found to act against cancer cells in laboratory mice.
- Pectin — anti-diarrheal and blood and gastrointestinal detoxifying herb. Can also lower cholesterol.
- Apigeninand luteolin flavonoids – these have diuretic, anti-spasmodic, anti-oxidant and liver-protecting properties; plus, they strengthen the heart and blood vessels. They also have anti-bacterial and anti-hypoglycemic properties.
- Linoleicand linolenic acid fatty acids — to regulate blood pressure, lower chronic inflammation and prevent blood-platelet aggregation.
- Choline — to improve memory.
- Taraxasterol — for liver and gall bladder health.
What and When to Harvest
If you’re planning on eating the leaves or the crowns, you’ll want to pick them before the plant buds or flowers. Once it begins to flower, the leaves and crowns become bitter. You can compensate for this by soaking them in a couple of changes of cold water, or sauté them with garlic or other aromatics. The crowns are that area between the root top to about a half inch of the leaf stems at the base.
The flowers are usually harvested as the plant matures, but you’ll only want the petals. These are usually pulled from the flower and dried and then used as a garnish for soups or salads. The stems and flower base have a milky sap and are not eaten. The flower petals are sometimes used to flavor dandelion wine.
The roots are usually harvested during the second year of maturity due to the fact that they’re larger. Wash and peel them with a potato peeler and then chop them into chunks to dry. You can use a dehydrator or dry them or place them in the sun from a sunny window. Some people have finely chopped and dried the roots, and they use it as a chicory or coffee substitute, although it has no caffeine.
Here are some of the basic dandelion recipes that have proven to be popular over the years starting with my favorite, dandelion crowns.
1. Dandelion crowns
Using a trowel, cut the root and pull the whole plant. Trim off the leaves about half an inch above the root, and trim the root from the base. Rinse the crowns well to remove dirt and grit and then boil for five minutes. When done boiling, shock them in a bowl of ice-water and then put them on a paper towel to drain. You can serve them topped with melted butter and some salt and pepper, or sauté them in butter or oil with one, diced garlic clove and eat them as a side dish. I’ve also tossed the chilled crowns into a mixed salad.
2. Dandelion salad
Dandelion greens and crowns are usually tossed with other salad ingredients to take the edge off any slightly bitter leaves. I’ll usually use a base of dandelion leaves and crowns and add some sliced onions, tomatoes, other leafy greens like spinach, kale and lettuces, and then top with a basic vinaigrette of a half cup of oil, a quarter cup of vinegar and two tablespoons of water plus salt and pepper to taste. As a finishing touch you can garnish the top of the salad with dandelion petals.
3. Dandelion greens, with bacon
As summer progresses, dandelions reach maturity and many of the leaves will have a bitter edge. When that happens I bring on the bacon. This is a classic southern approach to greens. I start by frying a half pound of bacon until crisp. I drain the bacon and reserve the rendered bacon fat in the pan. I then add one diced onion and three chopped garlic cloves and sauté them all for about two minutes. I then add six cups of dandelion greens and toss them for about three or four minutes until wilted. I plate the greens and garnish with the bacon chopped into bits and sprinkle with dried dandelion petals and serve. It’s great with chicken or pork.
Keep Eating Those Dandelions
In most parts of North America, dandelions are plentiful for five or more months. Wild dandelions are best, or a yard-grown dandelion if the yard hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. They can easily become a part of everyday meals and best of all, they’re free.
What advice would you add for eating dandelions? Share your recipes and advice in the section below: