Please Eat the Dandelions
by Victoria Quesada
I once watched a television commercial where a neighbor screamed “kill them all”—and the object of their wrath was a dandelion. The name dandelion derives from the French dent de lion meaning “lions tooth.” The dandelion is one of the most generous and useful plants to ever offer its gifts to mankind and yet, many folks put poison in our earth and water to kill it. Go figure.
In Greens (Collins Publishers San Franciso), there is a chart showing nutrient levels of many plants including kale, spinach, lettuces, and dandelion greens based upon a 3 ½ oz serving of each. Dandelion greens have 14,000 IU of Vitamin A. The next closest is Kale at 8,900 IU and the lowest is Iceberg Lettuce at 33 IU. Dandelion greens show respectable levels across the chart in the remaining categories of Vitamin C, Fiber, Calcium, Iron and Potassium. Steve Brill, author of Foraging New York (Falcon Field Guides) adds that the plant “provides vitamins B1, B2, B5, B5, B12, C, E, P and D, as well as biotin and inositol. Minerals include calcium, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium and zinc.” Impressive.
The entire plant is useful; leaves, flowers and roots. The dried root is used by herbalists in tea, and as a detox remedy and is listed in US Pharmacopoeia. Young leaves, before the plant has flowered, or mature leaves, later in fall and well after flowering, can be used as both raw and as cooked greens. Flowers and flowerbuds are edible but you must pick off the green sepals, which are quite bitter. The flowers can be eaten raw, sauteed in butter or even in fritters. Dandelion wine is made from the flowers.
Foraging is both a nature study and a way to get nutritious food touched only by your hand. It is exciting for young and old to identify, to harvest, and to bring home a plant that has value to yourself and your family. You can explore how to cook it together. We are in calamitous times but the one thing that I am grateful for is that spring has come to many affected areas and we can forage, even in our own yards. One note of caution, do not use weed killer in your yard or forage where you believe some has been put down. Respect private property. If you are sensitive to bees, use your sense and do not go near flowering plants. Use a trowel to pick the entire plant by the root rather than try to pick the leaves outdoors. Dandelions are familiar to most of us but check out resources if you have any doubts. Beyond the distinctive lion’s tooth leaves remember the flower stalk is leafless, hollow and with a milky latex.
There are many books and websites on the subject. I mentioned a few and www.wildmanstevebrill.com is a start. A good field guide is Edible Wild Plants, Eastern/Central North America (Peterson Field Guides).