The humble yellow dandelion has been eschewed in modern America as a weed, not a flower. Dandelions have relegated to the bottom rung of floral stature, to be pulled and discarded with other garden pests and eyesores.
However dandelions are weeds no more – at least not to hungry, health-wise gardeners who recognize the powerful nutrient content and strong, bitter flavor of their green leaves and stems. In fact humans have been eating dandelion greens since prehistoric times, and cultivating them in earnest in parts of Europe and Asia for eons. Dandelion greens have been used as a medicinal agent throughout history, and are one ingredient that makes up the taste of root beer.
One cup of raw dandelion greens yields only 25 calories, but packs a powerful dose of vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, potassium, iron, manganese and vitamins A, C and K. In different cultures, dandelion greens have been used to treat everything from infections and liver problems to cancer. Some research shows the weed to have anti-inflammatory effects, and it can be used as a diuretic. Many swear by the leaves for treating urinary tract infections, and its high level of potassium is great for sore muscles and those recovering from trauma.
Dandelion greens can be harvested from your backyard, local park or forest, or you can also find them at some farmers markets during the spring season. Dandelions are easy to spot in the wild thanks to their pretty yellow florets, which give the plant its name (“dent de lion” means “lion’s tooth” in French). Look for bright green leaves that are firm and tender, and not discolored or wilted at all. Picked dandelion greens will keep in the refrigerator for a few days, and can be prepared with the same methods as spinach – raw or cooked.
One of the best ways to enjoy this seasonal treat is by making a fantastic spring salad with raw dandelion greens. Dandelion leaves have an earthy, slightly astringent flavor that pairs well with other robust flavors. The French have been dining on dandelions forever, and the following recipe uses strong Dijon mustard to balance the bitter taste of the greens.
First, wash the greens well – very well, if you’ve gathered them from the wild (which includes your backyard). Dry the leaves well and tear them into bite-sized pieces for your salad.
Whisk together the minced shallot, mustard and red wine vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste, then slowly whisk in the oil in a slim stream.
Toss the dressing with the raw dandelion greens, and then top with a few shavings of fresh Parmesan cheese. Enjoy the green taste of spring!
Please note: Some people are allergic to dandelion pollen, which can cause severe reactions when handled or eaten. If blowing on the seed head of a dandelion makes you sneeze for days, you should probably avoid this spring salad.