Dandelions are highly nutritious - and often described as a wild superfood.
They contain vitamins A and C, plus B vitamins, and they're rich in minerals - notably potassium. They also contain many other useful phytochemicals.
If you don't have any dandelions growing in your garden or wild around you, you could always buy a packet of seeds and cultivate them yourself!
Use dandelions differently depending on the time of year ...
Autumn and winter
Most people say the colder months are best for digging up and using the roots - it's when they're biggest and sweetest. (An exception is legendary US forager Euell Gibbons, who wrote that he preferred to dig them in spring.)
After some disgusting-tasting attempts many years ago, I've finally managed to make delicious dandelion root coffee. The secret is to oven-roast the roots on a low temperature for a long time - try about 4 hours at 100 degrees C.
They shrink a lot, so start with a decent-sized bowlful. Give the roots a good wash and scrub first, and if they're big ones, chop them up small. They're ready to take out of the oven when the insides are a darker brown than the outsides, and they snap easily between your fingers.
They give off a slightly chocolatey smell as they roast, which has really grown on me.
Next time I roast them I'll do it at the same time as making meringues or something though, so that I feel having the oven on for that long is more justified!
Dandelion leaves are at their most bitter in autumn and winter, but are still perfectly edible, as long as you boil some of the bitterness away first. (I'd boil them for 10 minutes at least.) Or you could just chuck them in a slow-cooking casserole.
Spring and summer
Dandelion leaves are best in spring before the flower comes up, and can be ...
- cooked quickly (wilted in hot oil or steamed)
- eaten raw as a bitter salad green
- infused dried or fresh to make dandelion tea.
A recipe I've seen several variations of is wilted dandelion leaf salad with hard-boiled egg and/or bacon bits (free range of course!)
Throughout the year, the new flowers and the flower buds of dandelions are edible, but are most abundant in summer.
Dandelion flower wine is a particularly popular wildflower wine - and there are nearly as many methods for making it as makers. Try this website for starters. Gwen Skinner's now out-of-print book Simply Living contains several recipes too. You can find it in libraries and second-hand bookstores.
The trouble with dandelions
Dandelions are notoriously tricky to identify at first, because of the many look-alikes also growing wild. This is such an accepted phenomenon it even has its own entry on Wikipedia - see damned yellow composites (DYCs)!
Dandelions are distinguishable from other DYCs by their unbranching, hollow flower stems and smooth, usually highly toothed leaves.
Common dandelion imposters in NZ include catsear, hawkbit, and hawkweed. The Massey University Weed Database gives a good rundown on the differences.
Don't worry if you end up with one of those others though - they're all edible.
Dandelions in medicine:
Dandelions are a diuretic, and in western herbal medicine the leaves and roots are used to cleanse the kidneys and liver.
Eating dandelion buds
Wild green pakoras recipe
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