What is it?
Most of us are familiar with this yellow-flowered, “puff-ball” plant; and most of us regard it as an intolerable weed. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century when the vision of the perfect, unmarred lawn crept into the American psyche that we decided to wage war on this nutritional powerhouse. The dandelion grows all over the world and can live in almost any environment. In the past, many people deliberately planted dandelions for their excellent medicinal benefits and familiar beauty. In Europe they were planted in gardens and in Japan they were a favorite among botanists who developed several new and different varieties to enjoy. Dandelions have been used for centuries to treat ailments from vitamin deficiencies to “toxic blood.”
The overuse of herbicides has contributed to the dandelion we have today that grows quickly, spreads even faster, and is stronger than ever. The ironic thing is that dandelions are actually good for your lawn! If you have ever pulled one up maybe you noticed the hole from the root left behind. It looks exactly like the hole that the lawn aerator makes, doesn’t it? The deep dandelion roots help to break up and aerate packed soil and bring up nutrients, making them available for plants that can’t reach them.
Being one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, dandelions are an important source of nectar for our honeybee friends. Bees have been mysteriously dying for several years now and more and more signs are pointing to the use of pesticides and herbicides as root factors in their disappearance. We should be doing all we can to protect the bees, including not pulling up one of their first sources of food after a long winter. Just keep a close eye on the flowers and pick off the heads before they go to seed if you are worried about them spreading too much.
Why should you eat it?
Dandelions are one of the most prolific and nutritious wild food sources we could ask for. The best part about dandelions is that you can eat the entire plant, from the roots to the flower heads. Dandelions are extremely high in Vitamins A, C, E, and K. In fact, dandelions are one of the best plant sources of Vitamin K, which protects against bone loss and Alzheimer’s disease. These super-plants were useful when treating scurvy and other diseases caused by vitamin deficiency. Other nutrients present in the dandelion are calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus.
Dandelions are an excellent herb to eat in the spring, as they promote liver health and all-around cleansing. Drinking dandelion root tea is a great way to benefit from the cleansing benefits of dandelion and eating raw dandelion green salads will help jump start your body for the warmer weather. Dandelion also acts as a mild laxative and appetite stimulant.
How do you prepare it?
First time dandelion tasters might be put off at how bitter the plant is. However, the more you eat over time, the bitterness will start to fade away (though not completely). If you are gathering the dandelion yourself, make sure that you gather from an area that has not been treated by herbicides. Abandoned lots are good places to search if they are not too close to a busy roadway. Or you could hike through a wilderness area if you are not going to be harvesting too much. For leaves, harvest young, tender plants. Look for larger, more established plants if you plan on harvesting the roots. Some health food markets and farmers markets sell dandelion greens, but they are usually some of the most expensive greens on the shelf.
There are so many ways to prepare dandelions, including making jam, syrup, or even a wine out of them! Boiling the greens for 3 to 5 minutes at a time helps release some of the bitterness. You can also sauté the roots in a flavorful oil, such as sesame oil.
Lightly roast the chopped up dandelion roots until just brown and slightly fragrant. Grind into a powder and use as you would normally use coffee grounds.
Let flowers steep in boiling water for 20 minutes –OR– let chopped leaves steep for 10-15 minutes (turns bitter if left too long) –OR– simmer chopped dandelion root for 1 minute, remove from heat and let steep for 40 minutes.
Bitter Spring Greens
Toss dandelion greens with arugula, spinach and any other spring greens. Dress lightly with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Fried Flower Heads
Whip up your favorite frying batter and coat the dandelion flowers. Drop into frying oil (best to use avocado oil!) and fry until golden. Serve with dandelion greens and vegan cheese.
How do you store it?
Store dandelion greens the way you would usually store tender spring greens. Keep them in a bag in the fridge or in a shallow dish of water on the counter. The roots can be dehydrated or roasted and ground to preserve.
Here is a great recipe for Quick Dandelion Bread!
Quick Dandelion Bread
2 cups flour
2 tsps baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup dandelion flower petals
¼ cup coconut or olive oil
4 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp golden flax seeds, ground
3 tbsp water
1 ½ cups rice or almond milk
Preheat oven to 400 F
Combine ground flax seed and water in a small bowl and set aside.
Mix together flour, baking powder, salt, and flower petals in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the maple syrup, oil, milk, and flax mixture. Pour liquid mixture into dry and stir to combine. The dough should be wet and lumpy.
Pour into greased loaf pan and bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Also by Bethany: Benefits of Rhubarb + Strawberry Rhubarb Compote Recipe
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Photo: Bethany Cox