In fact, dandelions are considered one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. The leaves are packed with vitamins (A, B, C, and K, particularly), potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, carotene, and fiber. Dandelion roots have long been used for gastrointestinal upsets and are high in potassium and inulin - a good carbohydrate for diabetics. The flowers are edible, too.
I read enough antique cookbooks mentioning dandelions, I couldn't help but be intrigued. I wondered what dandelions tasted like. Could I be removing a truly tasty and healthy food from my garden beds? So I decided to give dandelions a try.
NOTE: You should never eat any plant you didn't cultivate unless you've made an absolutely positive identification and have solid information it is safe to eat. If you're unsure what a dandelion looks like when it's not blooming, ask for expert help.
Where to Find Dandelions
You can see dandelions growing almost everywhere expect the desert. However, you should never eat a dandelion unless you're certain it hasn't been sprayed with herbicides or other chemicals. Therefore, I suggest sticking to dandelions in your own yard. Or, purchase them at a farmer's market.
How to Use Dandelion Leaves
The leaves are the most nutritious and oft-used part of a dandelion. Pick them in the spring, when they are young and small and do not yet have buds or flowers. This ensures the least bitter flavor. You can also blanch the leaves in boiling water for 1 minute to help remove the bitterness, but you will loose some of the nutrients in the boiling water.
Use the greens in salads. If you're sensitive to bitter foods, cook the greens with sweet vegetables like red bell peppers or carrots. You can also add the greens to soups and stews. I
In What I Learned from God While Gardening, author Niki Anderson relates how one woman washed freshly harvested dandelion greens in salt wter, then patted them dry and placed them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Hours later, she fried three or four slices of bacon, then set the pork aside. In the resulting bacon fat, she'd add equal amounts of water, apple cider vinegar, and sugar. She stirred until the sugar dissolved. Then she put the dandelion greens in a large salad bowl, along with the crumbled bacon, then toss them with the apple cider vinegar dressing. To her children, Anderson writes, the dandelion salad was "equal to home made ice cream."
How to Use Dandelion Flowers
The flowers (all stems and sepals - the green stuff just beneath the petals - removed) should be fresh and can be tossed into salads or made into wine. In The Prudence Penny Regional Cookbook of 1958, the editor offers a traditional mid-Western dandelion wine recipe:
16 cups dandelion flowers
16 cups boiling water
2 ¼ teaspoons active yeast
6 cups granulated sugar
3 oranges (peels and all; chopped)
3 lemons (peels and all; chopped)Pour the flowers in a large pot, then pour the boiling water over them. Allow the flowers to soak in the water for 3 days. Strain. Add the yeast, sugar, oranges, and lemons to the flowers, stirring well. Let stand for 3 weeks. Makes 8 pints. You'll find another variation, with far more complete instruction, here.
How to Use Dandelion Roots
The roots are said to be tastiest once the cold weather sets in - from fall through very early spring. They are mostly used as any root vegetable would be used, in stews, soups, and roasts.
Sauteed Dandelion Greens Recipe
After looking at a lot of dandelion green recipes, I decided they could be cooked a lot like collard greens. So here's how I presented them to my husband:
First, I roamed our yard, scissors in hand, and cut off the greens of about 5 dandelions of medium size. (After cooking, this turned out to be about enough for one person.)
I dumped the greens into a colander and washed them in running water. I removed any dirt or debris, as well as any leaves that were slightly brown or yellow. I shook the greens in the colander, getting rid of most of the water remaining on them. I tossed them in a plastic bag and put them in the crisper drawer until it was time to cook the greens.
In a small bowl, I poured about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. To this, I added 4 sliced garlic cloves and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. I let this infuse while I cooked the rest of our meal.
When the rest of the meal was done cooking, I poured the oil mixture into my cast iron skillet and heated it. I sauteed the garlic until it was just golden, then I added the greens and a little pepper. I sauteed these just a minute or two. Then I added some crumbled bacon, sauteed for about 1 minute more, and served the greens.
We liked them! They tasted a lot like collard greens. Since dandelion greens are so nutritious and since they are free and require no tending, I'm sure I'll cook them again. (UPDATE 1/10/16: Dandelion leaves are a spring staple in our household. We love them!)
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