by Erin Harper, University of Illinois Extension
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) originate from Europe but have been naturalized in North America. Many people regard them as a lawn weed, though their culinary popularity is growing. Dandelions are a perennial plant that produces thousands of seeds per plant and can regrow from pieces of taproot. It is a cool-season crop meaning it will grow from just before last frost in the spring to just past first frost in the fall. Because it begins growing so early in the year dandelion has become an important pollen source for pollinators.
The Dandelion plant which grows in your yard is different than the one which is grown commercially for the leafy dandelion greens you can purchase in a grocery store. Dandelion has been cultivated over time to produce plants that put more energy into leaf growth and that have tastier, less bitter leaves. However, the plants growing in your yard are still edible and will provide you with more root growth and better flower production so you can fully utilize all parts of the plant. If using plants already growing in your yard, you can remove the flowers throughout the growing season. This will encourage the plant to continue to put energy into root and leaf growth.
If you purchase seeds or collect seeds and grow dandelions as part of your landscape or garden, it is very important to remove the flowers continuously and not allow the plant to produce seeds or you will have a dandelion problem very quickly. Dandelions prefer full-sun and disturbed soils. If you have a healthy lawn, the grass should be able to outcompete the dandelions. Be sure to check your local regulations as some HOAs or cities may have restrictions on cultivating dandelion.
All parts of Dandelion (roots, leaves, flowers) are edible: the leaves can be used in a salad or sautéed with other veggies; the flowers can be cooked, dried and added to dishes, or used to make wine; and the roots can be roasted or dried and steeped to make tea. According to the USDA Agricultural Research Service, 1 cup of Dandelion greens has nearly 10% of the daily recommended Iron (1.7 mg), 8% of Calcium (103 mg), and 7% of fiber (1.92 g). Nutritional information is not available for the roots or flowers. Dandelion greens will be less bitter in the early spring before they put on a flower. Just like lettuce and other garden greens, dandelion greens will become more bitter from the summer heat and from a lack of water.
Dandelions are in the Aster plant family and related to plants such as Ragweed. If you have known allergies to such plants you could have a mild allergic reaction from eating dandelions. As stated in the first article to the series, start by eating a small amount of any food you are unfamiliar with or ask your physician. Also, the milky sap on the inside of the flower stem can cause a skin reaction in some people, especially those with a latex allergy.
Please remember to only eat plants from your own yard. It is important to know what fertilizers or pesticides may have been used on or near the plants. It is also important to eat plants that are not near common walking areas to be sure dogs and other animals have not used them as a bathroom and that chemicals from cars are not on the plants. You should always thoroughly wash any produce before consuming it.
Dandelion Pumpkin Seed Pesto: In a food processer combine 2 cups dandelion greens, 3 cloves garlic, ½ cup each pumpkins seeds and olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice or more to taste, salt and pepper to taste. Note: you can use any seed/nut and can add ¼ cup parmesan or other cheese.
Dandelion Flower Fritters: In a bowl with water, a bit of salt, and some lemon juice, submerge the fresh picked dandelions to wash them. Remove from water and let dry, flower facing down, while you combine the other ingredients in a bowl. Stir together 1 cup each flour and cornmeal, ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper, ½ teaspoon chili powder, and 1 tablespoon fresh or dry thyme. In a small bowl, combine 1 egg with ¼ cup milk. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to combine into a batter. Pour 1 inch of oil into a 9-inch cast-iron skillet. Heat oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Dip each flower into batter. Place in hot oil and fry until golden, about 2 minutes. Drain on tea towels. Salt lightly. I like mine with a spicy mayo sauce.
Dandelion Root Tea: Collect, wash, and chop the roots. Dehydrate. Steep the dehydrated roots in hot water, let sit several hours or overnight. Strain out roots and reheat tea as desired.
Dietary Supplement Label Database. National Institutes of Health. https://www.dsld.nlm.nih.gov/dsld/dailyvalue.jsp. Accessed 19 April 2020.
FoodData Central: Dandelion greens, raw. U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/787264/nutrients, Accessed 19 April 2020.