Lou

Contributor

At some point in our lives, we’ve probably all plucked a dandelion and blown on its fluffy head. Some of us even wished upon them while we blew. But how many of us have eaten dandelion flowers while they’re still in golden bloom? And how many of us have tried the young, vibrant, and tender leaves of a dandelion rosette in early spring? It may not be the first thing that springs to mind when we think of making a green salad or a gold-flecked risotto, but its versatility of use and mildly bitter flavor (reminiscent of spinach) make dandelion worthy of our attention.

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1. Hello, my name is Dandelion

Dandelions are found in virtually every kind of environment in temperate climates, whether it be road side, deep woods, rocky hillsides, gardens, or pastures. The common dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is nicknamed Lion’s Tooth because of its tooth-shaped leaves. It’s a hardy, perennial, herbaceous plant of the family Asteraceae (the daisy family)—considered to be one of the most highly evolved families in the plant kingdom; and it’s fossil record goes back as far as glacial and interglacial times in Europe.

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Although considered a pesky weed by many (due to its abundance and knack for growing with reckless abandon), for centuries people in Europe and Asia have benefited from and appreciated the dandelion’s flavor and potency and used it for nourishment and healing. The leaves, root, and flower are all edible; and they boast incredible nutritional value for humans and animals alike. They can grow as tall as 25 – 30 cm, if not taller, and the golden flower heads open themselves wide during the day and then curl themselves up protectively at night.
The common dandelion is considered safe for human consumption in moderate amounts. It’s a rich source of vitamins and minerals, and it even has some antioxidant qualities. For example, one cup of raw dandelion greens is reported to contain 112% of our daily required intake of vitamin A and 535% of vitamin K. It’s been long believed by many practitioners of herbal medicine that dandelion contains a long list of powerful healing abilities, diuretic and detoxification properties, and has a number of other supposed health benefits. It’s important to note that milky liquid inside the stems and leaves can lead to stomach pains and nausea when consumed excessively.

2. When (and how) to buy perfect Dandelion

Dandelions grow sporadically from early spring to late fall but most profusely in May and June. They can often be bought at Asian-food stores, farmers’ markets, wholefood stores, and some grocery stores. When buying dandelion greens, look for firm leaves with thin stems. Yellow, limp, or wilted leaves with overly large or woody stems should be avoided.

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Alternatively, non-GMO untreated seeds can be bought online and sown indoors or directly outdoors in your garden. However, if you choose to plant it in your garden, you may want to consider planting it in a box rather than directly in the ground so that it doesn’t end up taking over the whole space.
Foraging may seem like an attractive option to some, but unless you’re an experienced dandelion forager and really know your stuff, it’s safer to avoid doing this. Many plants in public environments have been contaminated by pollution and pesticides.

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3. How to store fresh Dandelion

Rinse the dandelions in cool water and let them dry thoroughly on a kitchen towel before wrapping them loosely in a slightly damp paper towel. Store them in an open plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the fridge to keep them crisp. They should keep for a few days.

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4. What to make next

The leaves can be prepared much like spinach or chard. For example, young leaves can be eaten raw and added to salads and smoothies, cooked in a quiche, added to rice or vegetable dishes, used in herb butter, dried and stored, or blanched and frozen. Older leaves should be boiled before consumption, and the cooking water should be discarded. Flowers can be made into things like dandelion jelly or jam and juice, and the root can even be made into a coffee substitute when baked and ground into a fine powder. There are endless dandelion recipes around!
You can use it much as you would use honey in tea or on a piece of toast. Additionally, the flower, roots, and leaves can be also used for tea making by infusing them in hot water to release their beneficial compounds.

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Dandelion is great served with chicken or fish, for example, or used in pasta dishes, and different parts of it can be used in savory fritters, sweet syrups, sharp vinegars, wholesome soups, and earthy pesto. The flowers have even been used to make dandelion wine and soft drinks such as dandelion and burdock soda: a beverage consumed in the British Isles since the Middle Ages. Really, the possibilities are as abundant as the dandelion itself.

Green risotto with dandelion pesto

Green risotto with dandelion pesto

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Chicken Involtini with dandelion cream cheese filling

Chicken Involtini with dandelion cream cheese filling

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Dandelion panzanella

Dandelion panzanella

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More delicious ideas for you