Although many of us have been taught that dandelions are weedy annoyances that mar a perfect lawn, the bright-faced arbiters of springtime and warmer months are, in fact, a deeply cleansing plant that arrive just in time to refresh our systems after a long winter.
The dandelion is a gently detoxifying bitter tonic, and all parts of the plant are widely used in herbal medicine. The bitter root and leaf stimulate the liver and the entire digestive tract, increasing the elimination of toxins and pollutants through the liver and kidneys. This process cleanses the blood, making dandelion a perfect wild edible to ready our sedentary (and sluggish) winter bodies for summer.
At first, the taste of dandelion greens may seem overpowering, since their bitter flavor is one of the more advanced levels of our palate. However, it’s that very bitterness that engages and stimulates our digestive systems. (C’mon, it’s good for you.) I recommend harvesting smaller greens to eat in a salad, which are more tender in texture and less bitter. I tear up them up into small pieces and add them to my springtime salads, which often include other tasty tender greens, like mâche, arugula and mizuna.
There are many ways to integrate dandelions into your meals. I’ve recently discovered this recipe for dandelion jelly, which I plan on making in the near future. Dandelion beer was once a popular rustic beverage, as well as dandelion wine. Many herb books also mention roasting and grinding dandelion root and using it as a nutrient-rich, caffeine-free coffee replacement.
One of my favorite ways to integrate dandelions into summer meals is dandelion fritters. The dish satisfies a fried food craving in a not terribly unhealthy way – and nothing says summer like eating flowers for dinner. Serve the fritters over a bed of dandelion greens and spinach (the sweetness of spinach works well to balance the dandelion greens), with a handful of sliced radishes sprinkled on top, finished with your favorite vinaigrette.
1-2 cups plucked dandelion flowers
1 cup milk
1 cup any type of flour (or ½ cup flour & ½ cup cornmeal)
dash of honey or maple syrup (optional)
oil of your choice (for frying)
Mix together the egg and the milk, then stir in the flour and the optional sweetener, and voilà: you have your batter! Warm the oil over medium heat. Hold a flower by the bit of green stem still attached to it and dip into the batter until the flower is covered. Drop into skillet, flower side down. When lightly browned, flip over and brown on the other side. Drain excess oil on a paper towel. Enjoy immediately.
A note on harvesting: When foraging your dandelions for the flowers, greens or roots, be sure to harvest in low-traffic areas and not from roadsides or pastures where chemical fertilizers are used.
Top two images courtesy Misha M. Johnson.
“A Modern Herbal, Volume I” by Mrs. M. Grieve
“The Way of Herbs” by Michael Tierra
“The Complete Medicinal Herbal” by Penelope Ody
“Flower Power” by Anne McIntyre
Taylor Mardis Katz is a poet and a farmer living with her partner in the hills of central Vermont. Together, they run Free Verse Farm, a small herb farm specializing in culinary herbs, tisanes, medicinals and herbal remedies. Follow Taylor online at panacheperhaps.com.