Forager’s Guide To Dandelions

“Dandelion” comes from the French phrase “dent de lion” meaning lion’s tooth. If you take a look at the serrated edges of a dandelion leaf, you’ll understand the name. While many of us think of this plant as nothing more than an impossible to get rid of weed, dandelions have been deliberately cultivated in Europe for hundreds of years. As settlers began populating the new world, they brought their dandelions with them.

Those early settlers knew how to get full value from the dandelion. As long as you are going to find them growing in your yard anyway, why not make good use of the plants rather than cursing them? The flowers, leaves and roots are all edible, and can be used in a variety of ways. Dandelions are full of vitamin C and potassium, as well as minerals needed for good health.

Some people can have a skin reaction from dandelions, so proceed with caution until you know how your skin will react.  Avoid using plants from lawns that have been treated with chemicals and fertilizers. Try to stay back from roads and driveways too, as car exhaust may get into the flowers. I have heard that dandelions grown in shady areas are less bitter than those that grow in full sunlight. Try to find shaded plants when possible.

Young flowers are sweet and taste a little like honey. The older flowers can taste bitter. Flowers open up every morning, and close again at night.

Try to pick your flowers just before using them, as they will try to close up very soon after being harvested. To remove the hard green base of the flower, pinch it and twist it off. This will leave you with the sweetest part of the flower, the yellow bloom.

Here’s a fun recipe to get you started with dandelion blossoms. These can be sprinkled over a pasta dish to give it something extra, or try adding them to your scrambled eggs at breakfast time! You can also just eat them as they are, as a nice side dish:

Sauteed Dandelion Blooms
1 cup of flour
Dash of salt
Dash of pepper
1/2 teaspoon each of thyme, marjoram, sage, paprika
2 dozen large, fresh dandelion blossoms, freshly rinsed and still damp
Cooking oil

Mix flour and all seasonings together in a shallow bowl. Coat the bottom of a fry pan with oil and heat to a medium temperature. It is ready when a bit of flour sizzles up when dropped in. Coat the damp dandelions in the flour mixture, and fry in the oil until golden brown. Turn them as necessary to brown all sides. Remove blossoms from pan and set to drain on paper towels, or use paper bags as I do to soak up the excess oil. Add more oil as needed to complete cooking all blossoms. These taste best when served fresh and hot.

It is said that dandelion wine stimulates digestion, and helps relieve tensions. It’s also fun to make! There are a lot of recipes for dandelion wine, but this is the one I like the best:

Dandelion Wine
4 quarts of dandelion flowers – remove all green portions
4 quarts of sugar
4 quarts of boiling water
Juice from 2 lemons
Juice from 1 orange
1 (.18 ounce) package wine or champagne yeast (I like Red Star’s Premier Classique)

Put the flowers in a large jar or crock. Add the sugar. Pour boiling water over all. Once the mixture has cooled down to warm, add lemon and orange juice. Crumble the yeast and add. Stir.

Place a loose cover over top, and leave alone for a full 24 hours. Strain the mixture (cheesecloth works well), and put the liquid back into the jar or crock. Again, cover loosely and leave it alone for about 3 days. Strain the mix one more time, return the liquid to the container, and leave it to ferment. When the fermenting action stops, pour into bottles. Let rest for at least 4 months before using. This recipe should make a little over a gallon of wine.

Fresh Leaves
Pick young, tender leaves to use fresh in salads or as a cooked green vegetable. They will be less bitter in the early spring before they flower, and in late fall when they have finished, but are safe to use at any time. Dandelions do tend towards a slightly bitter taste, which is natural for them. If this bothers you but you would still like to enjoy them, try combining them with vinagrette dressings, or serving with other foods such as meats, sauces, or cheese to help mellow the flavor. Or try buttering slices of bread and layering on dandelion greens for a quick, simple sandwich. The bread and butter does mellow the taste!

Wait until late in the fall to harvest dandelion roots, as this is when they will be the biggest. Scrub the dirt off the roots, but don’t peel them. Let them dry for a few days (in the sun if you can), then lightly roast them at about 250 degrees for 3-4 hours or until they are dry and brown, and start to smell like coffee. Grind them up with mortar and pestle (or a coffee bean grinder, which is my method) and you’ll have an interesting ‘instant coffee’ substitute.

A word about foraging for dandelion roots – they will absorb whatever chemicals and minerals are present in the soil they grow in. They will also suck up pesticides and pollutants if they are growing in contaminated areas. Stay well back from roadsides and other questionable areas. If you get some really, really big roots, they can be grated and added to salads or cooked dishes if you wish! Try experimenting to find out what you and your family enjoy.

Recommended Reading:

Dandelion Medicine: Remedies and Recipes to Detoxify, Nourish, Stimulate
Learn how to cook delicious dishes with dandelions, and improve your health by adding them to your diet. You’ll also learn how to make teas, tinctures, moisturizers, and more from this easy to obtain flower.

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