Dandelion - edible weeds

Edible Weeds Part 1: Dandelion

While we’re at home, it’s fun to slow down and explore what’s around us. Some of the plants we think of as weeds are edible and can be a great addition to our diets!

At this time of year, one of the most common wild plants we see around are dandelions (Taraxacum officinale). These have amazing nutritional properties and have been described as a super food – you can eat all parts of the plant from the roots to the flowers!

Dandelion LeafThere are many other lookalike plants. True dandelions have a single, non-branching golden yellow flower head on a hollow stem – when picked, it oozes white sap. The leaves have very definite triangular teeth that point to the base of the leaf; the name dandelion comes from French, dent-de-lion or lion’s tooth. Another key is that when you turn the leaf over and run your finger along the main vein of the leaf, there are no hairs.

The leaves contain high amounts of Vitamins A, B and C, calcium, potassium, iron, potassium, phosphorous and more. They are also high in protein. In herbal medicine, the leaves and roots are used to help cleanse the kidneys and liver.

The leaves ar e best eaten in spring before the flowers appear, when they are not so bitter, although leaves picked in autumn and winter can be boiled to remove some of the bitterness. Eat them as you would any other green, although because they can be bitter, they are best mixed with other vegetables. They can be added to salads, stir fries, green smoothies and made into pesto. To eat the flowers, choose new flowers and flower buds – boil, steam or sauté them – you could also try them dipped in batter and fried, or use them to decorate a salad.

Dandelion leaf 2The deep tap roots can be a challenge to harvest, so use a good trowel. They’re best harvested in the colder months as they’ll be at their biggest and sweetest. These can be used to make dandelion coffee – a great liver tonic.

A couple of key rules of thumb for collecting wild plants:

  • Clearly identify the plant you are collecting. If you’re not completely sure, don’t eat it
  • Do not collect from anywhere that’s likely to have been sprayed or is polluted in any way (roadsides, parks)
  • Get permission from the landowner if you need to
  • Take only what you need and leave enough for others
  • Know how to identify plants at all stages of their life cycle – they may look different at different stages
  • Introduce new foods to your diet gradually

For more information and recipes, visit: www.juliasedibleweeds.com