|Issue #44 • March/April, 1997|
Want to eat a weed? One that’s easy to find and tastes great? Just start hunting for those first spring dandelions.
The dandelion’s true name is Taraxacum Officinale, which means “the official remedy for disorders.”
Legend has it that the people of Atlantis used the dandelion as a food and a tonic. The early colonists brought the dandelion to America from Europe. They used all parts of the plant, even the roots, which they roasted and ground for a coffee-like drink. We know that frontier healers often recommended dandelion greens as a spring tonic. They are full of vitamins unavailable to pioneers during the winter. There is no doubt dandelions have saved lives.
Our name for the weed comes from the French Dent de Lion, meaning “lion’s tooth.” This refers to the jagged points on the leaves, which look like sharp teeth. The French grow dandelions to eat, just as we grow lettuce in our gardens.
Modern science has analyzed dandelion greens. They are a good source of calcium, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. They have twice as much vitamin A in a one-cup serving than most vitamin pills. They also have as much calcium as a children’s vitamin or half a glass of milk. That’s more than most other vegetables. Without vitamin A, people have eye problems and have trouble fighting infections. Vitamin A helps kids grow tall and keeps skin healthy. Calcium keeps bones strong and growing and nerves working right.
Your parents might have heard of eating dandelions, but even your grandparents might not know how to prepare them. The first steps are knowing when and where to gather the tasty greens. Dandelions are best picked where the grass grows tall and free. Yard dandelions, which have been cut often, do not have as good a flavor. Also, many people try to poison the dandelions in their yards, and those chemicals are not healthy to eat. The best time to gather is long before the last frost of spring.
The first edible portion appears as a slightly reddish tangle of leaves. The greens grow from these. Dandelion greens are the leaves above the surface. They must be gathered before the plant blooms to be delicious. The best time to gather them is just when the bloom bud appears, before the stalk grows. If you wait too long, they will taste bitter. Eating the leaves after the yellow flowers bloom is like chewing yesterday’s gum.
To cook dandelion greens, wash them well with water, then place them in a pan and pour boiling water over them. Let them boil for five minutes, then season with salt and butter. Eat them hot. If the taste is too strong, gather the bloom buds and cook them with the leaves to smooth out the taste.
This spring, cook up a batch of nutritious, delicious greens for dinner. And you may want to invite your grandma…it could bring back some memories for her.