Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale

What You Didn’t Know About Dandelions

picture of tasty edible dandelions The dandelion is one of the healthiest and most versatile wild plants you’ll find in your backyard.  If you grew up in temperate North America you’ll likely have childhood memories of your father spraying them with herbicide.  Until recently I never knew how neglected this tasty green “weed” was.

It can be found growing in temperate regions of the world, in lawns, on roadsides, on disturbed banks and shores of waterways , and other areas with moist soils. Taraxacum officinale is considered a weed, especially in lawns and along roadsides, but it is sometimes used as a medical herb and in food preparation. The dandelion is well-known for its yellow flower heads and the famously gruesome children’s saying, “momma had a baby and it’s head popped off“.  They’re also known for their heads that turn into round balls of flying fluffy seeds that disperse in the wind.

They’re a hardy plant. Their long tap root that can produce new plants from even a 1-inch section of root.   So if you decide to propagate them, or let them go wild,  put them in an area that’s easy to control and pick them before they go to seed.

According to the University of Nebraska Extension:

Many gardeners don’t realize that dandelions are a perennial, and if not controlled each plant’s crown and root system will remain alive after the leaves have died in fall. Plants overwinter and begin growing again in early spring. Dandelions blooming in early spring do not result from newly germinated seedlings; instead they are the result of the previous year’s overwintered plants.

 

botanical drawing of dandelion Taraxacum officinale

The nutritious and multifaceted dandelion

Why Eat Dandelions?

 The leaves are vitamin rich, containing generous amounts of vitamins A, C and K.  Everything, from the flower all the way down to the root, is edible. And, dandelions also happen to be delicious.  Below you’ll see the nutritional profile of 100g of raw dandelion leaves.  The taste of dandelion resembles a mildly bitter green like arugula. You can eat them fresh in salads and they’re an amazing stir fry addition.

the nutritional mineral content of dandelions

Source: Nutrition Data on Self.com

the nutritional vitamin content of dandelions

Source: Nutrition Data on Self.com

How to Prepare Dandelions

dandelion grren salad with bacon and fried eggs

Dandelion Greens Salad with Bacon and Poached Egg

You can add them to soup in great abundance.  Or you can prepare them Italian style by sautéing with a little olive oil, salt, garlic and some hot red pepper.  If you prefer a southern fare, eat the bright, open flower heads in a lightly fried batter.  You can also make the famed “dandelion wine” with the flowers by fermenting them with raisins and yeast.  Many foraging guides also suggest roasting the dandelion root, grinding it, and brew it like coffee.  It’s an acquired taste. You might want to have some sugar on hand.

Recipes

  1. Dandelion Greens With Double Garlic
  2. Dandelion Herbal Root Tea
  3. Wild Spring Green Pizza
  4. Dandelion Quesadillas
  5. Gourmet Dandelion Green Salad
  6. Dandelion Pumpkin Seed Pesto
  7. Fried Dandelions (Appalachian Style)
  8. Dandelion Wine
  9. Wilted Dandelion Greens with Toasted Mustard Seed
  10. Dandelion Greens With a Kick

How to Identify Dandelions in the Wild

The leaves are most tender, and tastiest, when they are young. This happens in the spring but also all summer along as the plant tries to rebound after being cut or pulled.  They’re fairly easy to identify, however they have a common imposter.  

picture of dandelions and their imposters

Side by side comparison of catsear and dandelion

catsear or cat's ear picture picked from a pasture. Toxic for livestock

Catsear, flatweed or “False Dandelion”

One famous look-alike species (Hypochaeris radicata) is known as “catsear”, “flatweed” or “false dandelion”. They have fuzzier, less jagged leaves and thinner stems topped with bright yellow flower.  Unlike the dandelion, catsear is toxic for horses and livestock.  Don’t worry, it’s safe for human consumption.   I’ve never eaten catsear but I’ve heard it tastes more bitter than dandelion, and along with its fuzzier leaves, may be the reason it’s less popular.

If you plan to harvest dandelions, be very certain that they have NOT been sprayed with any sort of chemical or herbicide.   I wouldn’t suggest parks, roadways or unknown yards.

Can You Grow Your Own Dandelions?

While most Dandelions are foraged for in the wild, there are seeds available for purchase if you want to grow a leafy culinary variety.  Give them a try in your garden; they’re far more nutritious than plain old lettuce!   Below is a link to purchase seeds.

Sources:

International Environmental Weed Foundation – Catsear

The Plantlist – A Working List of All Plant Species

University of Illinois Weed Database – Dandelion

University of Nebraska Lancaster Extension

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