You may already have a prospering garden and not even know it. Dandelions, generally considered to be unwanted weeds, are growing wild all over the countryside of many continents. Food prices are rising and I planted a big garden this year to compensate, but it will be months before anything good comes from that. Meanwhile, I have dandelions, some as tall as two feet, growing in the alley and smaller ones popping up in the yard. I wonder if they are remotely edible? After a little research, here is what I found.
"You cannot forget if you would those golden kisses all over the cheeks of the meadow, queerly called dandelions." - Henry Ward Beecher
The official name for this plant is Taraxacum and it grows in North America, Asia and Europe. It’s identifying characteristic is its bright yellow flower head. The English nicknamed it “lion’s tooth” which in French is “dent de lion“ which turned into the word dandelion in modern English. The French call it ”pissenlit“ which means bedpissers, because of the diuretic nature of the plant. The plant is revered in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and by native Americans as a valuable herb to treat assorted diseases, notably of the liver.
The number one issue with this plant is the bitterness in the leaves and stem. There is a bitter water soluble chemical called sesquiterpene that is found everywhere in the plant but is most highly concentrated in the milky juice in the stems. Scratch off your list the use of the stems for anything except children’s bracelets. The faster the leaves grow, the less concentrated the chemical is that causes this bitterness. Therefore, dandelions growing in shady moist areas of rich soil are considered the least bitter and the best candidates for eating.
There are three main culinary uses for dandelions:
Recipes That Use the Leaves -
When I was a kid, my parents loved this dish called ”wilted lettuce.“ It consisted of freshly picked leaf lettuce that you poured this special sauce over. The first step in making the sauce was to fry some bacon. Then mix the drippings left in the pan with some vinegar and a little sugar. Pour that over the lettuce and crumble up the bacon over the top. Stir and serve. The first bite had everyone coughing from the hot vinegar. After that, it was actually pretty good. It turns out that this recipe goes back to the 1800s and is how pioneers ate dandelion salad made from the leaves. I suspect a lot of greens that were not very tasty were fixed this way (kale, collard greens, etc.) The strong vinegar and bacon grease overwhelm the bitterness of the leaves and makes the salad palatable. If you’re not into bacon, for health reasons, there is another way.
The common practice is to boil the leaves for five minutes, test a leaf for bitterness, then drain and repeat in a second boiling with new water, if necessary. This process is called leaching and the bitterness is thrown away with the water. What you end up with is more akin to cooked spinach and yes, you probably cooked away some of the nutrients. At the same time, you also increased the antioxidant content of your dandelion greens.
Herbal Coffee-like Drink From the Roots -
You can make a roasted powder out of dandelion roots using the smaller roots that are less than a half inch in diameter. Wash them and chop the roots up into small pieces between a quarter and a half inch long. Then roast in a baking pan at 150-250F until the roots dry out completely and are crumbly. This may take 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Leave the oven door cracked open to let the moisture out. Once the moisture is all gone from the roots, the real roasting begins. Your roots should go from tan to a dark brown color, resembling the hue of coffee grounds. Let the roots cool off, then grind into a powder with either a food processor or by using the mortar and pestle method. You can brew it like tea, straining the grounds out after steeping. This dandelion root coffee has a strong diuretic effect, just like real coffee, and is also an appetite stimulant. The dandelion does not contains any caffeine. Rather, it just tastes something like coffee, more so if you add creamer and sugar.
Dandelion Blossom Syrup -
So far we have uses for the leaves and roots. What about the petals? The popular thing to make from them is dandelion blossom syrup, which then is stored and used in all sorts of baked items, as a pancake syrup or dissolved in water as a refreshing drink. Some people make the blossoms into dandelion wine, instead.
Dandelion blossoms are made into an infusion by boiling them in water for 15-30 minutes and then leaving the mixture to steep overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, the petals are filtered out of the liquid using a fine strainer and an equal weight of sugar is added to the nectar. Some chefs add a little lemon juice. The big issue is collecting 250 dandelion flowers. This requires a large meadow of plants and someone laboring for an hour just to pick all those flowers. The second problem is the tedium of picking the petals off, whether by hand or chopping them off with a knife. The leaves are bitter, so you want just the petals of the blossom. The sugar in the syrup does mask most of the bitterness of the leaves, so if you were lazy and left them on the blossom, the syrup may still taste fine. From start to finish, this is about four hours of labor to make a batch of syrup.
- The roots are claimed to be high in potassium and help detoxify the liver by stimulating the creation of bile.
- The leaves and flowers both contain antioxidants, always good for warding off cancer.
- The flowers are high in lecithin, a substance that helps improve brain functions.
The data below is from the nutritiondata website and lists just the top vitamins and minerals that are over 10% of their recommended daily requirements.
Dandelion greens, chopped and cooked - serving size of 105 grams (one cup):
Calories - 35
Vitamin K - 724%
Vitamin C - 32%
Vitamin A - 144%
Calcium - 15%
Iron - 10%
- If you are allergic to ragweed or chamomile, which are in the same family as dandelions, you may have allergy issues when ingesting this plant.
- Those who have kidney disease or who are pregnant should consult with a doctor before ingesting any part of the dandelion.