When many people consider celebrating dandelions, they do so in much the same spirit as one celebrates over-stayed house guests: the party begins once they’re gone! But the dandelion, routinely thought of as “lawn enemy number one,” is welcomed and celebrated around the world as both food and medicine.
Dandelions are one of the best wild-vegetable resources in the world. They are free, abundant, nutritious, and very palatable when collected at the right time, in the right way, and properly prepared.
Collect dandelion leaves in the spring before the flower buds appear. The best way to harvest them is to cut the greens with the top of the root still attached so the leaves stay together. This makes them easier to clean.
Make sure you collect greens that grow significantly back from the road and in areas that have not been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides.
If buds or flowers have already appeared on your dandelions, harvest them when flowering is complete. Then cut the old greens and flowers off at the root and let new greens grow. Harvest the new greens while they are young and tender, and they will be only slightly more bitter than in early spring.
To reduce bitterness even further, cover growing dandelions with a pot, a piece of slate, or some other device that will help them blanch as they grow. Blanching the greens will, however, reduce their nutritional properties.
Wash greens thoroughly to remove any sand or grit, and peel off old leaves.
Nature’s Perfect Fast Food
To cook dandelion greens, first wash them thoroughly in slightly warm water, removing old, discolored, or badly broken leaves. Cut off the roots and any tough stems, and wash again, lifting the greens out of the water to allow any sand to settle in the pan. Then sprinkle the greens with salt.
Cook the greens, with only the water that clings to the leaves after washing, in a tightly covered heavy pot or steamer until they are limp and barely tender. This takes between 5 and 10 minutes.
Drain greens and finely chop.
Dress greens with your choice of toppings. The foods that complement and best reduce the apparent bitterness of dandelion greens are olive oil, garlic, pork or pork fat in some form, eggs, vinegar, lemon juice, cheese, and bread–plus a bit of salt and pepper. Combining one or more of these ingredients with raw or cooked dandelions is the best way to enhance your enjoyment of them.
Adapted from Dandelion Celebration by Peter Gail. Copyright © 1994, Peter Gail. Reprinted with permission of Goosefoot Acres Press.