Dealing with Dandelions - for Dinner!

Well, spring is finally in the air, and that means dandelions — a menace to some, but to an urban forager, they're a delight. These yellow-haloed herbaceous plants can be used virtually in their entirety, are packed with essential vitamins and minerals (including calcium, potassium, iron, and vitamins A, B-6, C, and E) and, best of all, are absolutely free. Heck, some gardeners would probably even pay you to take them away. And, as long as you make sure you’re not harvesting from an area where pesticides are used (in many cities, this information is required to be posted nearby), for absolutely no money down, you can be gorging away like a frugal gourmet until summer’s end. Here's what you need to know.

Leaves:

For salads and garnishes, the first young leaves are best (the ones before the plant flowers). Try them in place of arugula or endive. Mid-to-late season leaves are better as a cooking green — steaming, sautéing, or briefly boiling with a little apple cider vinegar or lemon juice will cut the bitterness, and don’t forget the garlic!

Roots:

While it’s hard for your average urban espresso junkie to take anything billed as a “coffee substitute” very seriously, it is true that a concoction of roasted dandelion root does taste vaguely like the real deal (ok, let’s be honest, really vaguely), but its healthful properties are reason enough to want to try it, regardless of the taste. For best results, harvest your roots in late summer/early fall, scrub clean, then place in a 200-degree oven for 1-2 hours, until dry. Turn heat to 375 and roast until dark brown (about 20 more minutes), then grind coarsely in a coffee grinder or blender. Brew with a Melitta-style filter, or in a teaball.

Flowers:

Dandelion flowers are so sunshine-y you almost feel bad for chopping them up, but there’s definitely something fun about creating edibles from this ubiquitous weed. While most people know about dandelion wine, they don’t realize that the blossoms can also be mixed in with pancake batter, fried in cornmeal, pickled in vinegar, or boiled with sugar, lemon, and pectin to make a sweet jelly. Fresh-picked dandelions are best, of course, but if you need to store them, freezing them works too.

Now go forth and graze!

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