Whether in America or Europe, I always heard neighbours complain about the dandelions that infested their grass, and television advertisements promote chemicals that would allow homeowners to destroy their unsightly flowers once and for all.
I never saw the point – surely a field of flowers looks more pleasing than a blank expanse of grass. I didn’t realize at the time how edible and versatile dandelions were – and what a widespread and nutritious food source.
Dandelions are particularly high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron. Most of all, it is extremely high in Vitamin K – one cup has more than five times your daily needs. Unlike many wild foods that take a long search, dandelions are found in almost every garden, green and field. And while many wild plants require special training to identify and discriminate from similar-looking poisonous plants, dandelions can be readily identified by every schoolchild.
In theory, the whole plant is edible, but new green leaves are best, before they form their distinctive saw-tooth shape (“lion-teeth” or in French, dent-de-lion). After that, they are still edible but quite bitter. They wilt quickly, so gather as many as you can and then drop them into cold water to keep them crisp.
Even the young leaves have a slight bitter flavour, like that of rocket, but if that bothers you mix them with other leaves like lettuce, corn salad and linden. As I wrote this, I was eating a salad of dandelions and daisies, both of which grow profusely around here, mixed in a savoury dressing of mayonnaise, concentrated stock, herbs, cayenne and lemon juice. You could also make a salad of dandelions, apples and nuts, or mix them into egg salad or potato salad.
Leaves could be picked a bit older if they are to be cooked, either sautéed into a dish like spinach or mixed into scrambled eggs or quiche. Very mature leaves should probably not be eaten except in an emergency. Of course, only pick dandelions from land you know has not been treated with pesticides, and away from any car traffic.
I cut the yellow flowers and make them into fritters. After you have gathered and washed a large bowl of flowers, cut off the base where the threadlike petals inside turn white. Take the yellow part and drop it into a batter made from equal parts flour and milk. Mix the flowers in until it is thick, perhaps with some oats for texture or some chives or other herbs for flavour. Fry the mixture like a pancake until golden brown on both sides. This is a general recipe – play with the amounts until you find your taste.
Some people make dandelion wine and dandelion jams, although I have not tried these myself. I have also never used dandelion roots, but I am told they can be stir-fried like parsnips or roasted and ground into a coffee substitute.
We spend millions every year ridding our lawns of flowers and plants that could be eaten, in favour of flat sheets of grass that have no function other than to require massive infusions of drinking water and pesticides. We can’t turn every college green, public park and lawn into a vegetable patch overnight, but we can stop killing off the food that grows there naturally, for free.