Dandelions – weed or feed?

IMG_3230I was gardening the other day and pulled out a whole lot of dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), planning to give them to the neighbour’s chooks. Next I was going to re-establish the vege patch and start growing my own spinach and other greens again.

Then it occurred to me that what I was doing was quite illogical.

Why not eat the dandelions instead? All parts of the plant are edible and can be used in salads, stir fries, breads, frittata and many other dishes and drinks.

Dandelions are rich in vitamins, such as A, B complex, C and K, and minerals, such as iron, calcium and potassium. They also have medicinal properties – such as assisting digestion, cleansing the liver and kidneys, and perhaps even helping to fight cancer.*

Beware false dandelions that may not be safe to eat (e.g. left and top in this photo). Only the petals of the calendula flower are edible (right).

Beware false dandelions that may not be safe to eat (e.g. left and top in this photo). Only the petals of the calendula flower are edible (right).

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CAUTION – It is important for each individual to check that dandelions are safe for them to eat before trying them (especially if considering large quantities or concentrated forms, such as juice or extracts). For example, they may not be suitable for diabetics or people who take lithium, diuretics or any medicines designed to lower blood pressure. They may also cause allergic reactions or contact dermatitis in some people.

You also need to confirm the species (i.e. avoid false dandelions – that can often be distinguished by their different leaf, root and plant structures, such as hairy leaves, branched flower stems and/or no tap root) and ensure that the plants have not been sprayed with chemicals or contaminated with animal droppings or car emissions – especially if foraging outside your own garden and near roads.**

And remember that dandelions are still weeds and may be a nuisance to nearby residential and agricultural properties and parks – especially if they have manicured lawns.

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A quick search found numerous recipes that take advantage of all parts of the plant.

For example, the raw young leaves can be used in:

  • salads – along with chickpea, mallow, amaranth (pigweed), nasturtium and other edible weeds (e.g. Dandelion Salad with Fresh Goat Cheese and Apples 
  • dandelion pesto (e.g. here for a recipe and ideas for how to use it)
  • green smoothies (e.g. here for lots of healthy options).

The leaves are more bitter after the flowers emerge and develop a tough rib – so older leaves are generally best cooked in some way, such as:

The whole flower can be eaten:

Or you can use the petals only to make:

  • dandelion bread or muffins (if you have a cupful of petals)
  • dandelion pancakes (if you have a few cupfuls)
  • dandelion jam or wine (if you have many cupfuls).

And the dandelion roots can be:

  • added to any recipe using root vegetables (as long as they are well washed)
  • roasted to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute (e.g. Dandelion root coffee)
  • fermented in a herb beer (e.g. root beer if you have a few weeks).

The roots and leaves can also be dried and stored (for a short time) or blanched and frozen.

The dried (or fresh) leaves can then be steeped in hot water with:

  • lemon, orange, mint or honey to improve the flavour (to make dandelion tea)
  • cinnamon, ginger and other spices and then added to honey and milk (to make dandelion chai).

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IMG_3298Dandelions are an incredibly versatile and nutritious plant and grow so easily that they are called a weed.

They are also beneficial for the garden. For example, dandelions can play an important role in the garden by bringing up nutrients via their deep tap roots and making them available to other plants. And the flowers provide nectar for bees, butterflies and other insects early in the season when there is not much else flowering, while the leaves are enjoyed by a range of larvae.

I have therefore decided to set aside an area of the garden where edible weeds and flowers can grow wild. So far there are dandelions, day lilies and calendula (‘poor man’s saffron’), as well as mallow and chickweed, and I will add nasturtiums, rocket and parsley next spring.

In addition to dandelion main courses, I might try filling the last of the nasturtium flowers from my neighbour’s garden with guacamole as an entree (e.g. here) and perhaps even finish with a dessert using calendula petals in banana cake with maple cream cheese icing or a savoury Calendula cornbread.

Why waste time weeding and planting spinach?!

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* e.g. clinical study published in the International Journal of Oncology (May 2008)

** Try here for tips on foraging for food in the wild.

Sources: (All sites accessed 12 May 2014) 

Photo credits: Pip Marks



Categories: Gardens, Health & Wellbeing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. My Greek mother-in-law has been harvesting and cooking dandelions since moving to Australia in the 50s 🙂 My hubby loves them wilted with olive oil and lemon juice!

  2. My Grandma used to gather dandelion greens to cook, and several other wild greens too. She made a sweet vinegarette for them. She and my aunt identified many kinds for me, but way before I was into taking photos, so now of course I don’t remember them all. I tried the wine once, but mine didn’t work out. I used to pick lots of wild berries, back before the farmers sprayed so much. My brother still makes (great) elderberry wine from wild berries. Hmm, I think I’ll have a glass now.

    • Not much new under the sun, hey? I sometimes buy elderberry (and lingonberry) cordial from IKEA but am not sure if I would have the patience to make my own wine (or jam for that matter). I love it when my neighbour gives me a jar of her homemade homegrown chemical-free raspberry jam. We ask people not to spray at times when blackberries (a noxious weed here) are setting fruit but you can never be sure.

  3. Who woulda thunk it??? I have heard of dandelion wine. Our lawn is inundated with them. Looks like it’s time to make like a goat & get munchin’

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