Alert, alert! There is free food in your yard. (Right now!) Go to the window and look outside. Do you see dandelions? Yes? (Yes.) The humble dandelion, oft reviled as a “weed,” is a nutritional powerhouse and excellent detoxifier. Its uses are as diverse as the day is long, and all parts of the plant are edible.
Before we get too far, I must say that you should only eat dandelions that come from yards or fields that have not been treated with pesticides or lawn-treatment chemicals (horrid). As long as your dandelions pass this test, you are all clear to start enjoying this delicious (freeeeee!) spring offering.
Let’s start with the dandelion flowers themselves. These yellow flowers make an excellent addition to salads, although the taste may be acquired. We happen to love them, and sometimes just nibble them as we work around the yard. You can also utilize the flowers by making dandelion jelly, which tastes remarkably like honey. I made two big batches last year, and it has been one of the most popular jellies in our house this past year.
Another option, which is slightly more labor intensive, is dandelion wine. For this, you must collect a fairly large quantity of dandelions, and separate the delicate yellow petals from the rest of the flower. Scissors make quick work of the separating task. After some brewing time in a fermenting crock with a bit of yeast and citrus, you will have an amazing homemade wine. Totally worth it, and completely doable. I made a batch last year with the intent of cracking it open at the Winter Solstice for our first taste. When we got to sample, it was a little stronger than anticipated, but very tasty, nonetheless. We have some left, so I am not sure if I will whip up a batch this year, but I still may, if only for the amazing yeasty smell during the whole process!
Moving onto dandelion leaves, the easiest part of the dandelion to enjoy: For starters, you can pick tender young leaves and eat them as a salad, just as you would any other bitter green. Dried cranberries and walnuts are excellent additions. To give the flavor of the greens a little more nuance, you could try my personal favorite method, and give the greens a quick sauté with olive oil and a bit of garlic, just until wilted. Enjoy this as you would broccoli rabe or spinach. Dandelion greens can also be tossed into soups or stews like any other bitter green, or folded into omelettes along with some goat cheese. If you juice, try dandelions!
The dandelion root provides a substitute for coffee that some people swear by. I tried drying dandelion roots last year for this purpose, but Mr. Thistle did not know about my little experiment, and thus, my dandelion roots ended up flying out into the back field in ignominy. Admittedly, they looked like a haphazard mess, but it took some effort to dig them! If you try this, I recommend a narrow digging tool. Roots can be dug in spring or fall.
So, there you have a few culinary uses of the ever-present, yet misunderstood, dandelion. There are a plethora of medicinal and cosmetic uses for this plant as well, which I have not covered here. (But, perhaps that can be another post).
And now, go forth and eat dandelions!
Have you ever tried dandelions? What is your favorite way to use them?