Thursday, April 05, 2012

How (and Why) to Enjoy Dandelions

Dandelion flowers, early spring

Dandelions. We love 'em- we hate 'em. We love th' signal of spring in full swing- and a field of yellow flowers instantly transports us to our childhood days. To days when wishes were made by blowing puff balls all over th' yard. Laughing in silly glee. That was before we knew th' neighbors were cringing at th' thought of those lovely wishes landing in their yard and growing a hundred fold more wishes.

dadelion "puff ball"

Why is it that grown ups don't make wishes? Have not enough of them come true? Have they made th' wrong ones? Have they lost all hope? I say "they" as though i were not one- but truly, being grown up is a mentality- and one that dandelions battle with in all of us- either one way or the other.
However, being th' grown-ups that some of us are- we don't have to rely on wishes alone for th' dandelion to be a sacred part of our lives. For it is one of th' most nourishing foods we will ever eat. And, yes, you can even enjoy eating them. With a little time and attention, a little preparation, and those lovely little plants that we've been unable to kill with all our millions of tons of poison can actually taste good, and take care of us too. And how's this for a role model of forgiveness- by eating them, they can actually de-toxify our body of th' poisons that we've so ruthlessly lavished upon them. Among it's many medicinal uses, it's best known as a purifier of th' liver and kidneys, and has been used historically for gall and kidney stones. Being good for th' inside, it's also good for th' outside. With less toxins inside our body, less toxins will be released through our skin, thus it will be healthier. We will be healthier. With practically everyone we know getting cancer, and despite doctors claims, very few of them actually surviving it, de-toxifying sounds like a good option to me. In this case, prevention is the only medicine.

Honey bee on dandelion

Dandelions are also high in vitamins A and C, Beta-Carotine, Potassium and Iron. Persistent little buggers, ain't they. But i do realize that knowing something is good for you is simply not enough to make us go out and eat something we believe tastes absolutely repulsive. But, like all true treasures in th' world, There is a gem hiding, if you're willing to put in th' effort. Which, in th' case of dandelion, is usually not much. Just cook th' dang things like spinach. Use a little oil, or butter, or bacon grease- it'll taste fantastic and you'll be able to serve it to th' pickiest of palates. If you want to go a little bit further, you can selectively pick them for least bitterness, here's how: look for ones that have not yet grown a flower stalk- look for fast growing ones, usually in a moist location- and sometimes, though not always, look for ones with fuller, less saw-tooth shaped leaves. These are good indicators that th' flavor will be at it's best.

We use them, along with many other wild greens, in dishes where you would use spinach. It goes great in Quiche, sauteed with a bit of bacon or olive oil, omlets, enchiladas, soups, you name it. If you could put some greens in there, then dandelions will work. For some more great recipes using dandelions and other wild foods see th' blog Hunger and Thirst for Life.
And for some more great reading on th' value of common yard "weeds", check out Doc Weed's Doin's, this guy is a dandelion expert, and travels around teaching folks about th simple, yet overlooked, plants growing all around them. He lived through th' Great Depression eating weeds, and has a lot of really pertinent stuff to say about it.

Of course there's always th' famous "Dandelion Coffee"- see th' picture at th' top of our blog? That's not coffee, it's roasted dandelion root. This drink is quite bitter, perhaps we always make it too strong, and we'll experiment with it some more. We chopped th' roots to as even a consistency as we could, then roasted them in the oven on a cookie sheet till they turned dark brown, and smelled really good. Then just grind 'em up and brew like coffee, though use a little less dandelion root per amount of water than you would with coffee. I like to overdo it, but then no one else will drink it. Nevertheless, a nice warm drink is a good way to enjoy it's many health benefits.  Mix it with cream and sugar, or other herbs to make your own blends.

Once you get used to dandelions as food, you'll find yourself getting cravings for them. We like to eat th' flowers right off th' plants, and they also make a good salad topping. Our four year old friend and foraging companion Nohea was out in th' yard eating dandelion flowers, with her parents knowledge of course, and th' neighbors were looking on horrified. Hey- don't you know your kids are eating weeds! Yeah, they do it all th' time. Th' flowers are th' ingredient used in th' familiar dandelion wine, you can find numerous recipes for that online. We're not very skilled at making alcohol, but we did end up making some vinegar instead a few times.

The other day i walked into our local food co-op and, after being assaulted by "buy local" and "ride your bike" signs, saw that they had dandelion greens for sale. Being th' dandelion lover i was instantly drawn closer. That's when i saw that they were actually trucked over from California. That's just not right, i thought. For a month now dandelions have been popping up all over town, and folks have been out in th' yard spraying poison to try, in vain, to stop them. Folks, we're supposed to be the examples of a better- cleaner, healthier world. There is just no excuse or valid reason to burn however many gallons of diesel fuel it takes to get a truck from California to Colorado to buy something that we've been poisoning right in our own front yard. There's a big warning sign here, and if we don't see it it's not because it's not clear, but because we've forgotten how to read. A diversity of food will keep us healthy. Along with dandelions, here's some more common weeds that used to be used as food, are very nutritious, and would be in most peoples yards if only we'd let them. Dock, Amaranth, Lambs Quarters, Mustards, Mallow, just to name a few. And these foods will grow without our help. No more watering th' lawn with extravagant summer water bills, no more money spent on fertilizers and pesticides! No more expensive loud exhausting lawn mowers! Do you see i'm trying to appeal even to our pocket-books here? It's time we start seeing a new vision, one not of unsustainable lawns in th' high desert, but rather, a highly nourishing garden. So go ahead, make a wish.


  1. It's been years since I ate dandelions salads! When I was a kid, we were really poor. We lived in a small village in the Bordeaux region of France. I used to spend all the time I was not wasting in school, roaming the countryside, basically foraging for young dandelions shoots for salads, roots for making coffee, wild garlic, blackberries, wild cherries, figs, tiny wild strawberries, the odd grapes from the vineyards too...

    So yes the stuff is good to eat, particularly the young plant, as the old tend to get very bitter in tastes. I think I'll go and investigate the front garden, there are plenty of them there! And I still like to blow the seeds from time to time!

    As to making the "coffee", I seem to remember my mother also using chicory roots in amix, so to be less bitter?

    I just looked up a recipe:

    "Coffee Substitute: Can be made with dandelion and chicory. Roast the chicory the same way as coffee beans. Add 1 part dandelion root to 1/2 part roasted chicory root to a coffee grinder. Grind the mixture up and use this powder the same as you would some store bought coffee. This mixture brings the aroma, smell, and color your used to, but the taste is a bit different, but surprisingly close! It will also be a bit bitter tasting, herbally speaking, as that is common to herbs with liver affluence"

    1. That's great Joel, we don't have much chicory around here- but a few or 7 years ago we dug up a bunch while traveling, roasted it up way too much, and then, as is our habit with coffee, brewed it up extremely strong, it was terrible- so we haven't touched it since... but that's just th' same attitude/experience many folks have with dandelions, and i'm telling 'em that dandelions really are good... so we might have to give th' chicory another shot.... thanks ~r

  2. i just want to add a note that when cooking d. greens in just about any dish, i like to chop them up so they don't get stringy. stringiness is just gross, and adds to people's fear of dandelions in my opinion...

  3. Love the Honey Bee on the Dandy!)
    i like the flowers Too..thought i was alone.

    Since moving to the desert i haven't Seen Dandys but would be afraid to eat them here...our trailerhood is weed phobic..spray happy.
    i've let some weeds go to seed for the birds but the neighbors try to spray, IN Our Yard...when i'm not looking![

    The birds adore our Big pup Abby..Nieghbors & Cats stay out of our yard when she's out, She's our "Bird shepherd";))

    Your blog is very inspiring to me..Thanks for sharing your journey!

    *Blessings & Buzz'z

    1. Hi Kare- that's really a shame- we have some friends whose neighbors spray their yard when they're not looking too- and right on their "organic" garden- we know how ya feel- thanks for th' nice comment..

  4. I like to sautee dandelions with bits of bacon they taste great, of course anything cooked in bacon tastes great. Is it true that dandelions were brought to North America by early English settlers as a food source?

    1. That's what th' sources say, though i might wanna ask some native elders before i'd wager on it...

  5. Nice post. An old wifes tale we were told as kids here was if you pick dandelions your wet the bed! Loving the blog

  6. Interesting- one thing i forgot to mention is that dandelion is also a diuretic, which is to say it makes ya pee- maybe that's where that comes from...

  7. Love dandelion greens! We cook them up with some onion, sesame seeds, and apple cider vinegar. Can't pick them around us, though -- they just sprayed the whole lot a week or two ago. Oh, well. Silv's dad tries really hard to dig them all up and eradicate them every year, but lucky for us, it doesn't seem to be so successful!

  8. Oy, imported dandelions, that's like imported pine nuts, juniper, sumac, and the list goes on... I keep loving your pictures & your passion. Cheers!