By Rebekah White from New Life on a Homestead – Dandelions are considered a weed by most gardeners but the list of dandelion uses runs long. We spend a lot of time and effort weeding, plucking, and otherwise controlling or modifying our gardens and trying to get “invading” species like dandelions out so that our “edible” plants can grow. However, did you know that dandelions are not only a beneficial part of your lawn but are also edible?
Not only are dandelions edible, they are nutritious and delicious. They are tasty both raw and cooked, and while they have a bad reputation as just an “everyday weed,” they should be considered an integral part of your diet. There are several ways to cook and prepare dandelions. Dandelion greens are somewhat bitter and nutty in taste, similar to an endive or radicchio. Greens taste especially delicious with savory foods such as bacon, goat cheese, or nuts. Every part of the dandelion can be eaten, and each piece has a distinctive culinary use.
Edible wild greens like dandelions not only taste good but are good for you. Dandelions have been used in medicine for thousands of years. They are high in antioxidants and have been used to treat skin infections and inflammation.
If that’s not enough, dandelions contain more calcium than a glass of milk and more iron than spinach. Their leaves contain more vitamin A than carrots! They also contain potassium, folic acid, and magnesium. They are low in calories and high in calcium as well as vitamins A and C. Unlike many vegetables that lose nutritional value when heated, dandelions remain nutritious whether cooked or eaten raw.
Dandelion leaves are powerful diuretics and can be used for the treatment of acne and eczema. They can help detoxify the liver, gallbladder, and kidneys. Other dandelion uses are to treat urinary infections, gout, diabetes, and even prostate enlargement. Dandelion allergies are highly uncommon, making them a great option for individuals who suffer from food allergies. Other dandelion uses are to treat water retention, digestive issues, and even hepatitis. There is some evidence to suggest that dandelions might even be useful in the treatment of cancer symptoms!
They contain only one potential side effect and one that is rare to boot. Dandelions are also extremely high in vitamin K. While this is a crucial vitamin for most, doctors recommend that you avoid dandelion greens if you are taking blood-thinning medications. Dandelions can make your blood clot faster if eaten in excess.
Leaves and Greens
Dandelion leaves can be harvested at any point throughout the season. They can be eaten at any size, and are delicious when added to a green salad. They tend to be more bitter and flavorful when eaten raw. Their crunch works wonders as a side or main dish, or when accompanying other ingredients in a medley of flavors.
They can be steamed or added to a stir-fry or soup, which reduces the bitterness and crunch. Greens can also be sautéed in oil, cooked in casseroles, or used as a sandwich ingredient. If you plan to eat them raw, make sure you taste them first to ensure that they are of maximum freshness and flavor.
Dandelion flowers have a surprisingly sweet taste and can be eaten raw or cooked. Breaded and fried, served as dandelion fritters, they make a delightfully sinful (yet still healthy) treat. Many people also use the flowers to make a homemade dandelion wine recipe.
Dandelion root can be dried and roasted for use as a coffee substitute or eaten alongside (or as a substitution for) any common root vegetable, such as carrots, beets, or potatoes.
How to Harvest Greens
Dandelions, compared to other wild greens, are easy to harvest even if you are an amateur gatherer. But you still need to be careful when foraging for edible weeds. Some wild greens or “weeds” have hazardous lookalikes, while dandelions have distinctive features that make them easy to find and harvest. Make sure you select an area that wouldn’t have been touched by any pesticides or herbicides to avoid exposure to any chemicals. Similarly, try not to harvest dandelions growing close to a road, as they can pick up pollution and road salt.
You can also buy dandelion greens at a grocery store or farmer’s market, but there’s no need if you have a natural, organic supply on your own property. Look for dandelion bunches that are stiff with dark-green leaves. They will have fine-toothed combs and springy flowers. On the other hand, avoid those that have yellowed leaves or wilted heads.
The best time to harvest dandelions is in the spring when they are freshest. The longer dandelions grow, the more bitter they get. When plucked young, they tend to taste sweeter. Nevertheless, you can harvest dandelions up until the first frost.
Pick the youngest leaves, which are located on the inside of the growth. These will be the freshest and crispiest. The best greens are from dandelions that have not yet produced a flower. The greens last for up to two days in the fridge.
Plants that have just produced crowns are the sweetest types of dandelions. Crowns are dense circles of leaves that appear just before a yellow flower emerges.
Flowers should be harvested as buds, which can be plucked directly from the green stem. Try not to eat the green base of the flower as this is more bitter.
Dandelion root can be harvested all year, but it is best to do this in the spring. Spring dandelion root will host a wide range of vitamins and minerals that were stored throughout the winter months. To harvest, pull the long roots, clean them with cool water, and cut them into pieces.
Did you know you can preserve garden greens and dandelions? They can be dehydrated or frozen if you would like to enjoy them throughout the winter months as well.
Similar Wild Greens
Dandelions aren’t the only weeds you can harvest and savor. Similar edible wild greens include nettles, purslane, sorrel, and lambsquarters. While their culinary uses and nutritional benefits vary, some, like lambsquarters, offer over 100 percent of your daily vitamin C requirement.
Dandelions have more nutrients than spinach and kale — the nutrient powerhouses of most gardens. Unlike most vegetables, every piece is edible, and because you can find them growing wild pretty much everywhere in the country, the price is almost always right.
What other dandelion uses do you suggest? We’d love to hear your ideas!
Rebekah lives on a 22-acre homestead in New York, raising bees, chickens, and lots of veggies. When she’s not practicing or writing about homesteading, Rebekah teaches high-school English.