How to Use Dandelion for Cooking and Health
Spring is here and dandelions are popping up. While many people consider the flowers a nuisance, most don't realize just how useful dandelions can be. In fact, dandelion plants are a type of herb, and luckily for us, they're an herb that grows abundantly and requires no real effort to cultivate! Every part of the plant can be for either culinary or medicinal purposes, and in some cases, both.
- Young leaves can be used as a unique, local alternative to spinach or salad greens and are rich in vitamin A.
- Flowers can be a colorful addition to a fresh salad, cooked in fritters, or made into a summery dandelion wine.
- Roots are most commonly used for medicinal purposes but can also be used for making a caffeine-free alternative to coffee.
Below, you'll find a harvesting guide and several dandelion recipes to make at home. So when you see those bright, cheerful, yellow blossoms, appreciate the pretty splash of color they bring and consider the potential of this abundant natural resource.
Dandelions may be harvested anytime between spring and fall, but they are at their best in early spring. The best place to gather them is in loose soil, in an open field or meadow. Avoid areas where pesticides and fertilizer may have been used.
Harvesting Dandelion Flowers
The flower portion of the plant will open and close depending on the weather. At night or during rainfall, the bloom will close to protect itself. Blooms will start to open at 7 in the morning and will open fully when the sunlight is most direct. The best time to collect them is when the sun is out, and they are free of rain and dew (which may wilt them faster). Avoid flowers that appear stained, dry or dying, or those that seem to have been eaten by insects. Flowers should be collected as close to the time you intend on using them as possible to avoid wilting. You may eat flowers fresh or choose to dry them for later use.
Harvesting Dandelion Leaves
The best leaves are those that are youngest and palest, belonging to plants without flowers or buds yet. These leaves are tender and are less bitter than older leaves. Harvest leaves early in the spring or try blanching them for the best flavor. Blanching can be accomplished by covering plants you intend to use with a flower pot. This will block the light, leading to paler, tastier leaves that make great salads and sandwiches. Some people will remove the center rib of the leaf to avoid a bitter flavor, but this is really only necessary in older leaves. Avoid stained, insect-eaten leaves.
Harvesting Dandelion Roots
The best roots are those that are large, thick, and minimally branched. Branching of the roots occurs mainly in poor, stony soil, so harvesting from well-turned plains is best. Root harvesting is recommended for plants that are at least two years old. Look for larger plants - the larger the root, the better quality. It is the juice inside of the root that gives the dandelion its power, so avoid breaking it if at all possible.
Once collected, roots should be rinsed and dried. Drying will be complete when roots are hard and brittle enough to be snapped - in about two weeks. Preserve dried roots by storing them in closed tins or jars.
"I grew up eating this salad; I loved it then and I love it now. My mom would get up early in the morning to pick the tender leaves from the backyard. She would then make a sweet warm bacon dressing that did a nice job of offsetting the slight bitter flavor of the greens..." - Linda Mclean from Livingston, NJ
- 1/2 lb Torn Dandelion Greens
- 1/2 Red Onion, chopped
- 2 Tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 tsp Dried Basil
- Salt and Pepper
- Optional Toppings:
- Boiled egg and bacon
- Mango, pinenuts and blue cheese
- Toss prepared greens, onion, and tomatoes together in a large bowl.
- Season with basil, salt, and pepper.
- Add toppings if you wish, along with the dressing of your choice.
Sauted Dandelion Greens
"Very good, easy recipe. We used it last night & added the greens to a pasta dish with fettuccine and mushrooms, with tasty results."- Steven from Westminster, CO
- 3 lb Dandelion Greens, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 5 large Garlic Cloves, smashed
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp Dried Hot Red Pepper Flakes
- 1/2 tsp Fine Sea Salt
- Boil greens in a 10-12 quart pot of boiling salt water (3 tbsp salt per 8 quarts) until the ribs of the leaves are tender (approx. 10 minutes)
- Drain and rinse in cold water until cool, and then drain again, pressing out excess water.
- Heat a 12 inch skillet with oil over medium heat until it shimmers, then add garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir until pale gold - 1 and half to 45 seconds.
- Turn heat up to medium-high and add the greens and sea salt, heating and coating them with the oil for about 4 minutes.
"One of my favorite activities is making and eating dandelion flower fritters ... First of all I love gathering the dandelion flowers... just the tops for fritters. They are easy to pick and so bright and cheery on a sunny day. Usually, I want to pick more than I need, just because the gathering is so fun. Do pick them in the sunshine when they are open, and when you have time to make the fritters right after gathering."Kimberly Gallagher
- Dandelion Flowers (as many as you'd like!)
- 1 Egg
- 1 cup Organic Hemp, Nut or Soy Milk
- 1 cup Flour
- Olive Oil (to coat pan)
- Maple Syrup
- Mix egg and milk in a bowl. Stir in flour and add maple syrup or honey for added sweetness if desired.
- Heat skillet with olive oil over medium heat.
- Take a flower by the green base and dip the petals into the batter until covered.
- Drop in the skillet flower side down, and continue adding batter coated flowers.
- Check every so often to see if they are lightly browned yet. Flip them over when they are, and lightly brown the other side.
- Remove browned fritters and place of paper towel to absorb excess oil.
- Serve them sweet with a drizzle of honey, maple syrup, jam, or powdered sugar. Or serve them savory with dipping mustard.
"The wine tastes fantastic. It's clear, light and just slightly sparkling. Popular with friends and family alike, it's probably going to be a Christmas favourite. Works equally well cold or warm, but I think we'll keep refrigerating it first." Paul Fenwick from Melbourne, Australia
- 4 quarts Dandelion Blossoms
- 4 lbs Sugar
- 6 Orange
- 5 Lemons
- Earthenware Crockpot
- Muslin Bag
- Wash dandelion blossoms and place inside your earthenware crock.
- Pour 5 quarts of boiling water over and allow 36 hours to stand.
- Strain into a deep stone crock or jug, using a muslin bag squeezing the moisture from the blossoms as you go.
- Add the grated rind and juice of the oranges and lemons.
- Tie a piece of cheesecloth over the top and let it stand in a warm kitchen about one week until it starts fermenting.
- Move to a cool place and leave the mixture for three months.
- Strain the results into your wine bottles. It should look nearly colorless, clear amber color at completion.
Dandelion Tisanes for Health
Dried dandelion roots can be extremely useful when used in herbal teas, or tisanes. Prepare these custom blends by steeping in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes before straining.
Dandelion for Digestion:
Drink one cup twice a day to stimulate bile production, promote optimal digestion and relieve gas.
- 1 oz Dandelion Root
- 1 oz Dandelion Leaves and Stems
- 2/3 oz Fennel Seeds
- 2/3 oz Peppermint Leaves
Dandelion for Skin:
Drink one cup a day. Skin clarity should be noticeable within a few weeks.
- 2/3 oz Dandelion Root
- 2/3 oz Dandelion Leaves
- 2/3 oz Nettle Leaves
- 2/3 oz Red Clover Blossoms
- 2/3 oz Rose Hips
Dandelion For Fluid Retention:
Boosts metabolism and stimulates kidneys to reduce bloating and fluid retention.
- 1 oz Dandelion Root
- 1 oz Dandelion Leaves
- 2/3 oz Nettle Leaves