Spring is in the air, bringing with it new life to the the trees, the flowers, and yes, the weeds. For as long as I can remember, weeds were always a bad thing – a pesky garden invader that must be eradicated by any means necessary! I never thought much of it and grew up believing that yes, all weeds were not only created equal, but that they all needed to be diligently removed from the yard “before they take over.”
Fast-forward to today and I now know that no, all weeds are not created equal. Not only that, but many weeds are actually used for their medicinal purposes, and can even be eaten! One such weed is the dandelion; those pretty little round, globe-like yellow flowers that pop their heads up around this time of year. I only remember them from my childhood, growing up in Chicago. I don’t ever remember seeing any during the 10+ years that I lived in South Florida (yeah, they’re pretty obsessed with their manicured, polished lawns down there ;)), and I’m now seeing them in lawns all over our new neighborhood here in Toronto, because the city (and the whole province, I believe) have stopped spraying pesticides on public spaces.
The technical term for dandelions is Taraxacum officinale – anytime you see ‘officinale’ in the name, it means it’s a medicinal herb – imagine that! Dandelion also has many culinary uses as well, as the entire plant is edible – the flowers can be pan-fried, added to dishes like eggs, or made into syrup, the greens are used in salads or sautéed, even the roots can be used to make a coffee-like drink!
Nutritionally, dandelions are full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They have the highest vitamin A content of all greens! Medicinally, they are a good diuretic, a blood-detoxifier, good for liver function, and can also be used to treat digestive disorders. Quite a long list for what seems like just a pesky little weed!
To read more about the health and nutritional benefits of dandelions, visit this link.
But we’re not really here to talk about why dandelions are good for us; we’re here to discuss how we can incorporate them into our diet! This week, Mr. B and I tried a few recipes using both the leaves and the flower buds, and I must say, I’m really liking all of this edible weeds business! As we sat down to eat each dish, we both reveled in the fact that we’d just literally picked this wild plant out of our own backyard…because it’s just there…growing…on its own…without any help or effort from either of us. Amazing!
One easy, quick way to use dandelions is just by adding it to your salad. We just made our regular salad, using a little less romaine lettuce than we usually do, and added some young dandelion greens, that we chopped up into 2-inch pieces. The greens gave the salad a slightly peppery kick, which we both enjoyed very much.
We also made dandelion fritters (pictured above) by dipping the flower heads into a batter of flour, milk, and egg, then pan-frying them in a skillet. We drizzled them with honey and enjoyed a quick, sweet mid-morning snack 🙂 I found the recipe at this link, if you want to try it. I also added some honey and cinnamon to the batter (not in original recipe). You can also go for savory, instead of sweet, and add salt and pepper, garlic, hot pepper, and any other spices you like.
Once we got a little better acquainted with the idea of eating this weed, we then attempted to use it in a main dish for dinner. I improvised what I think was the tastiest meal I’d eaten in a really long time! But I may be biased 😉 I chopped up some greens and sautéed them with some garlic, frozen spinach, mushrooms, a splash of soy sauce, and some chopped cashews. This. Was. Awesome. For my original recipe, follow this link: Dandelion Greens & Spinach Stir-Fry (pictured below)
We also added dandelions to our breakfast in a baked omelet. I love baked omelets and frittatas (way more than the traditional folded omelet) so I couldn’t wait to try this! We used unopened flower buds and some chopped greens, along with onions, mushrooms, and cheddar cheese. All I can say is YUM! The recipe is up at this link: Dandelion Greens & Buds Baked Omelet (pictured below)
One night, we made two different dishes with the greens for dinner: Tilapia and Dandelion Greens on Pita and Mashed Potatoes with Dandelion Greens and Carmelized Onions. Best. Dinner. Ever. I won’t even bother explaining this to you. Just follow the links and let the recipes and photos speak for themselves! Here are some teaser photos 😉
Looking out at our lawn, filled with dandelions, has inspired me to keep finding new ways to use the plant in our kitchen. Next on my list is dandelion syrup, dandelion blossom muffins, and cream of dandelion soup, as well as finding new ways to incorporate them into our favorite dishes. Yes, it seems I’m creating a whole new category of posts just for this wonderfully versatile weed 🙂 But you better hurry, because before we know it, they’ll be turning to seed and we won’t get to enjoy them again like this until next year!
Some notes to consider when selecting and preparing dandelions:
- When foraging for dandelions, make sure to stay away from areas close to roads, or areas that have been treated with pesticides.
- The best time to harvest the greens is in early spring, when they’re young, before they begin to flower. As they get older, they become bitter, but can still be used if you boil or sauté them.
- The greens shrink down dramatically when cooked – up to 4-5 times smaller! Keep this in mind when gathering greens; you can almost never have too much.
- The tenderest, sweetest part of the plant is the “crown”, the cluster of new buds that sits right above the taproot.
- When washing the greens, rinse them under water, then soak for a few minutes, changing the water as many times as needed until there’s no more debris in the water.
- To wash the flowers, gently rinse them under running water to force out any bugs. Then lay them out to dry, while you prepare your recipe.