Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
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Dandelion Leaves, Roots & Flowers
Drawing. (By: Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen)
Season: Leaves: Spring & Summer. Roots: Early Spring or Fall. Flowers: Spring & Summer
Urban, Rural or Both: Both
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).
Use the young, fresh leaves from a plant that has no chance of being sprayed. Best not if from a yard where a dog lives, but otherwise, this is a safe plant all around. I also tend to avoid roadside ditches, as they can be quite polluted. The lighter green leaves are best. I find the ones on lawns that have been cut, and are growing low and horizontal to not be a good to eat as the ones growing unchecked and more upright with big leaves growing up and out at about a 45 degree angle. You can also find them at some grocery and speciality food stores.
There is a strange thing about dandelion leaves. When you first eat them, they taste quite bitter, but as you have them more and more, you notice it less and less. Other people I've spoken to about this agree, so if you have them for the first time and find them very bitter, just keep eating a small amount regularly, and soon you will find them quite tasty.
Good raw in salads, or a snack on their own, when out walking. Personally, I like them best cooked with a few leaves in a stir-fry or soup. I find if I use too many, the taste is compromised, but with a few, they add a nice flavor.
A good way to start if you do find them bitter, is to put into a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, simmer for a minute, pour off the water, then use the leaves in stir-fry's, soups, etc. I don't do this as you loose some nutrients, but better to eat some this way than avoid them altogether.
I find the more I eat Dandelion greens, the better I feel overall. All parts of the Dandelion are renowned to cleanse the liver, so maybe that is why I feel better when I include them in my diet. Some grocery stores sell Dandelion greens, so you don't have to be without them in the winter.
Dandelion roots are best picked in the spring before the plant flowers, or in the fall.
There are a couple of ways I regularly use Dandelion roots. One is to add small bits chopped up in soups - they do go well with Burdock roots in soups.
The main use I have for them is for making coffee with the water Dandelion and Chicory roots have soaked in overnight. Wash them well, cut up into little bits, dry well or roast lightly in an oven on a flat tray at about 250-300 Fahrenheit until they start turning a gold-brown. If you don't roast them, but just dry them the taste is sharper and less coffee like. Keep them in lidded jar until used. I put about 1/4 teaspoon per cup of water the night before, and in the morning, strain them, and use that water for making coffee. I think it makes the coffee taste better (I use a dark roast coffee), and you don't get that hollow jittery feeling with coffee made that way. I now usually use half Chicory and half Dandelion (see Chicory section) I don't use cream or sugar, but I have found for the very occasional time I use some milk, it does not affect the taste negatively.
The famous yellow flowers are edible and mild. Pull the pedals from the stem and cup that holds the yellow pedals, and put on top of a salad before serving. They have no bitterness and look fantastic. You don't need many to make the salad far more visually appealing. There is very little noticeable flavor to them, so they go with any salad, and can even be served fresh on top of a cooked meal to make it look nice.
They have to be fresh, yellow flowers. They turn quickly to seed, and any time other than newly opened bright yellow flowers are not worth gathering.
People also make wine from them, it is a lot of work, as there can be no green parts used, and you need an awful lot, but I've had some and it was very good wine.
Growing this plant in your home garden:
For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Dandelion page.
- Plant Size: Up to 70 cm (28 inches) tall, usually much smaller, can be very low on lawns when cut repeatedly
- Duration: Perennial
- Leaf Shape: Much longer than wide, usually widest near tip.
- Leaf Phyllotaxis (Leaf Arrangement) on branch: All leaves come from the base - there is never a stem with leaves coming off it.
- Leaf Size: 5-45 cm (2 to 18 inches) long and 1-10 cm (2/5 to 4 inches) wide
- Leaf Margin: Ranging from deep to very shallow lobes, sharp or dull saw-toothed.
- Leaf Notes: Large central vein that extends from base to tip, sometimes a reddish purple from about half way on leaf to base getting deeper in color closer to the base. Sometimes central vein is green only.
- Flowers: Bright yellow, usually 2.5-3 cm (1 to 1 1/4 inches) diameter
- Fruit: 2-3 mm long, less than 1 mm wide attached to a whitish pappus that acts like a parachute to let the fruit be carried by the wind.
- Habitat: A colonizer of disturbed ground - fields, paths, lawns, pastures. Requires good light, so not found in shaded woods.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
- The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.
A perfect specimen of a Dandelion just after dug up. Cut off the root, wash and use, and use the excellent looking leaves for soups or stir-fry's.
A close up of the root.
A picture of a gorgeous Dandelion flower in pristine condition. Pick the whole flower with a bit of stem, and holding the base with one hand, pull out the petals with the other and just eat, or use as a colorful garnish on a salad. There is almost no flavor, so whatever your salad's taste is, it will not be affected by the Dandelion flower. Use mixed with some Red Clover flowers on top of a salad and together the colors look fantastic.
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