I would venture to guess that everyone in the United States knows what the dandelion looks like. How many of these people know that it is edible? And not just the greens, but the entire plant. In fact, Europeans brought over the dandelion to America as a vegetable, and it is only since the dandelion spread so uncontrollably that we view them as a weed.
Dandelion is a perennial that grows as a rosette with only basal leaves. These leaves have pointy margins with many lobes. A peduncle forms from the rosette and produces a composite yellow flower, each yellow spike being a single ray floret. There is a prominent green bract underneath the flower. The yellow flower later transforms into the fluffy sphere, with a seed at the end of each floret, that so many people enjoy blowing free.
Nutrition and Medicinal Qualities
Dandelions are rich in calcium, iron, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. They also contain lots of vitamins A, C, K, E, and B. The greens are 15% protein, which is quite high for greens.
Dandelions have a wide variety of medicinal uses. The bitter properties in dandelions signal to the brain “get everything out!” and so the liver increases the production of bile. Dandelions are also a diuretic, and these two qualities complement each other to detoxify the body. Dandelion is used to treat liver, spleen, and gallbladder problems because of this. Skin problems can arise because of a sluggish liver, and so people often use dandelion to help these. The increased bile production also encourages flow of nutrients and digestion, and eating a little before a meal can help process the food. Breaking the peduncle of a dandelion produces white sap, which is beneficial for any skin aberrations, such as cuts, warts, bee stings, and acne.
Harvesting and Preparation
All parts of the flower are edible, including the leaves, flowers, roots, crowns, and buds. The leaves can be eaten raw, but are quite bitter and should be mixed with other greens in salad. Their flavor and texture is best when they are young before the plant flowers. You can cook them as you would any other green. Boiling is best for taking away the bitterness.
Other parts are less bitter than the greens, including the flowers and flower buds. The bracts are especially bitter and can be removed quite easily. Flowers and buds can be sautéed in any stir fry and don’t need much time to cook. They are still bitter and should be balanced with sweeter vegetables and sauces.
Dandelions have very large tap roots that are also edible. They should be harvested using a digging tool, inserting it into the ground beside the plant and prying carefully as to not break the root.
The best time to harvest them is late fall to early spring, when the above ground portion of the plant is not using energy and it is instead stored in the root.
Dandelion Greens with Sesame Seeds (from The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook)
3/4 cup sesame seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
7 1/2 cups packed dandelion
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1. In a medium-size dry skillet, toast the sesame seeds over medium heat, stirring on shaking them constantly, until they are lightly browned and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Immediately remove the sesame seeds from the pan and set them aside.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the dandelion leaves and garlic for 15 minutes, stirring the vegetables often and being careful not to let the garlic burn. Stir in the soy sauce and toasted sesame seeds and serve heat.
Dandelion Root Coffee (from http://www.learningherbs.com)
1. Prior to decocting the dandelion root, roast the dried chopped root in a cast iron pan until it is fragrant and has changed color from being off-white to light and dark brown.
2. For each 8 oz of water you are making, use 1-2 teaspoons of the roasted root.
3. Add the root to simmering water and continue to simmer while covered for 7-15 minutes.