Every spring our yards are filled with the bright, sunny appearance of dandelions. Well, at least I think they’re bright and sunny. Many people view the common dandelion as a weed, and wage a small war to eradicate the plant from their lawns.
Personally, I welcome the appearance of spring dandelions for one reason: I love to eat them.
I know, it sounds strange. Why on earth would someone want to eat dandelions?
Well, this innocuous “weed” is actually one of the most nutrient-dense plants you can eat. It blows superfoods like spinach and kale out of the water. Everything, from the flower all the way down to the roots, is edible. And, dandelions also happen to be delicious. The taste of dandelion resembles a slightly bitter green like arugula. You can eat them fresh in salads, or cook them on the stove.
The best part about eating dandelions just might be the price. Since they grow wild pretty much everywhere in the country, you have a completely free food source right in your backyard.
Nutrients and Health Benefits
Dandelions have been used in herbal medicine for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The benefits of this common plant will probably surprise you.
For instance, one half cup of dandelions contain more calcium than a glass of milk, and more iron than spinach. One cup of dandelion greens contains 19 mg of Vitamin C, and the leaves contain more Vitamin A than carrots. And if you need some Vitamin K in your life, there’s no better source than dandelion leaves; 55 mg of leaves contain a whopping 535% of your daily value.
Dandelions are also chock full of other essential minerals such as potassium, folic acid, and magnesium.
And that’s not all. According to The New Age Herbalist by Richard Mabey, dandelion leaves are a great source of fiber (which helps relieve constipation). The high fiber content also makes you feel full, making it a great food to eat if you’re trying to cut calories and lose weight. They also help stabilize your blood sugar, making it a great food for diabetics.
Dandelions are also incredibly high in antioxidants, and because they are a diuretic, they help cleanse your body of toxins.
So, are you convinced yet? This sunny little weed is awesome, and I look forward to harvesting them every year. So how exactly do you do it?
How to Harvest Dandelions
Although dandelions grow through the fall, the best time to harvest dandelions is in the spring. Dandelions get bitter the older they get, so if you can pluck them young you’re going to experience a sweeter flavor. However, I ate dandelion leaves all last spring and summer, and enjoyed them all.
The cool thing about dandelions is their unique look. There’s really no other plant or herb that closely resembles the dandelion, which is why many herbalists consider it to be one of the safest plants to harvest wild. The distinct, jagged leaves and bright yellow flower is familiar to all of us.
Now, there are a few words of warning about harvesting dandelions.
- Never harvest any dandelions close to a road. They can pick up pollution.
- Never harvest dandelions from an industrial lot, or any space where past pollution might have been an issue.
- Never harvest dandelions from a yard where pesticides and fertilizers have been used.
Dandelions often grow where land has been disturbed. So, roadsides and medians are common places to find them. I always pick dandelions right out of my own yard (since I never use pesticides or fertilizers), but I also pick them from a huge field in my neighborhood. I know the field (which is owned by the local elementary school) is never sprayed by chemicals, so it’s another safe source.
Dandelion Leaves & Greens
Now when it comes to harvesting, you want to try to pick the youngest leaves, which will be located on the inside of the growth. The oldest (and bitterest) leaves will always be on the outside. You’ll get the best greens from dandelions that haven’t yet produced a yellow flower.
To harvest the leaves, simply pluck them out of the ground and collect them in a basket or bag you have with you. They’ll keep for a day or two in the fridge, but personally I like to take them right inside and cook them immediately. They’re so delicious!
If you happen upon a plant that just produced a crown (a densely packed circle of small leaves that are just about to produce the yellow flower) then by all means pick it. Crowns are the sweetest parts of the plant!
The flowers are also edible as well. To harvest the buds, simply pluck them off the green stem. Try to separate the flower from the green base, which is very bitter.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also harvest the root. Yes, dandelion root is edible and you might be amazed at what you can do with it. Dandelion root can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. And yes, I’ve drank dandelion coffee many times; I have a bag of roasted dandelion root in my kitchen right now. Heated and served with milk it is amazing (and far more nutritious than regular coffee)!
The best time to harvest dandelion root is in the spring, since this is where all the vitamins and minerals are stored during the cold months. Simply dig out the long tuber roots, clean them thoroughly in the sink, and chop them into pieces just as you would a carrot.
So, now that you have a basket full of dandelion flowers, leaves and roots, how do you cook them? In the next part of this series, I show you how to cook dandelions (including roasting the root for coffee), and I pass along some of my favorite dandelion greens recipes for you to try!
First, though, I’d love to hear back from you. Have you ever eaten dandelions? Would you ever give them a try?
(photo credit: Shutterstock)