Dandelions? Don't poison them, eat them. They're delicious in many ways and nutritious, too. Here's how to harvest and enjoy them.
One of the first wild foods in the spring, dandelions are thought to be one of the bitter herbs the Israelites missed when they left Egypt. The slight bitter edge one tastes in fresh dandelion leaves increases digestive efficiency and the nutritional properties of dandelions in all forms helps detoxify the body. There is no more pleasant spring tonic!
If you want to try dandelions, be sure that the plants have not been exposed to herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizer. Your own back yard is probably the safest area, as long as you do not use chemical treatments. For the best plants (yes, your neighbors will think you've gone nuts), extra water during dry spells, and a little natural fertilizer like manure tea or a side dressing of compost will do it.
Besides the leaves, buds, blossoms and roots are used as food and medicine. Each is harvested at different times and used in different ways.
The most common use of dandelions is for "greens," a spinach-like food. If taken care of, dandelion leaves can grow quite long and lush. Pick them before the plant blooms for the mildest flavor. However, the leaves can be used any time and some people pick them throughout the growing season. If you boil them for a few minutes, then drain the water and finish cooking them in fresh water, that will help remove the bitterness, but it also loses a lot of nutrients down the drain.
Fresh, raw dandelion leaves are good in egg drop soup or other soups, in omelets and sandwiches. When young and tender, they're excellent in salads.
Dandelion tea (dandelion coffee is a different drink) is made from dandelion leaves. Make as you would any tea by boiling water and steeping a handful of fresh leaves or a teaspoon of dried crushed leaves for five to ten minutes.
To harvest, simply cut the leaves close to the crown and wash well to remove grit. Let the leaves soak in a salted bath for a few minutes to encourage any insect to vacate.
Dandelion buds, while still small, are a good boiled vegetable, served with butter and a little salt.
To harvest, cut or pull small buds from the plant. Remove the stem and any green leaf-like spikes around the bottom of the bud. Wash well.
Dandelion wine is a traditional favorite, but there are other ways to use dandelion flowers. Frittered dandelion blossoms are a treat for anyone. Use a light pancake type of batter, dip the blossoms face down into it and fry in hot oil until very lightly browned. Serve as a side dish or sprinkle with powdered sugar and use as a dessert.
Other uses: Make dandelion jelly, or pull or cut the blossoms from the stamen and use them in egg drop soup, artisan bread or cookie dough.
To harvest, choose the largest, brightest blossoms you can find. Be sure to check for bees or other small pollinating insects! Drop the blossoms into cold water, then add a little salt and let them set for a few minutes. Rinse well and remove stem and so on, as for buds.
Dandelion roots can be used as a boiled vegetable or a drink. Use whole roots to boil, and serve with butter or lemon sauce.
Dandelion coffee is delicious and good for you. There is no caffeine, but there are a lot of minerals and vitamins!
You can make it just like real coffee, in a percolator or drip coffee pot, or like tea, steeping it in boiling water.
To harvest dandelion root, it's best to wait until the fall, after the last blooming period. When things begin to die down after the first frost is the best time to dig the roots. Use a sharp spade and dig straight down around the plant, lifting it out of the ground. Shake or brush off as much dirt as you can, cut the root off at the crown and put it in a bucket of water. When you've harvested eight or ten large roots (or more smaller ones), swish them in the water to get as much dirt off as possible, then pour the dirt back in the hole and take the roots to the kitchen.
Once there, scrub them thoroughly. You don't have to peel them or remove hair roots, but you might want to cut away gnarly areas or where they've grown crookedly and there are hiding places for dirt. They have a natural brownish tint on the outside, so don't scrub them to death trying to get them white. When they're clean, chop into quarter inch pieces and spread one layer thick on a cookie sheet. Roast them at around 325 degrees until they're richly browned. Remove, cool and store in an airtight container, then grind in a coffee grinder or food processor when you're ready to use them.
There's much to be said about dandelions, but after all this, perhaps a little warning is in order. The French have a name for them that translates loosely to bedwetting. If that's not a clue, how about this: Dandelions are a diuretic in any form, so don't overdo it, no matter how good it tastes!