If there is any ubiquitous forageable plant, it is certainly the dandelion. Dandelions are easily recognized, available just about everywhere, and have a number of uses. Today I am focusing on the greens, but the flowers and roots are edible as well.
Pretty much everyone already knows what a dandelion looks like, but we might as well talk about plant identification anyway.
Flower: The dandelion is in the Asteraceae family, so that bright yellow flower is actually made up of a whole bunch of little ray florets (~200) spreading outward from the middle of the flower. The base of the flowerhead has green inner and outer bracts.
Leaves: Dandelion leaves are hairless and deeply toothed, from 2-10” long, and form a rosette above the taproot.
If you don’t already know dandelion leaves, get to know them. The leaves are most delicious before the plant flowers, so for ideal foraging you do not want to be reliant on that bright little flower to find your dandelions.
Dandelions grow all over the place, so you can be a bit picky in terms of where you forage them. Try to avoid places where they may be sprayed with herbicides or exposed other unpleasant chemicals such as roadsides or highly manicured areas. If you can find a nice neglected piece of grass there will likely be good dandelions in there, and tall grass forces the dandelions to grow much larger leaves to get at the sunlight.
Young dandelion greens can be tossed straight into a salad. Later in the season the leaves tend to be more bitter, but they are still perfectly edible. To help abate the bitterness you can simply blanch the leaves for a few minutes in boiling water. Also, once blanched, the greens can then be frozen for future use.
Here’s a recipe that I like for late-season dandelion greens. It is based on an Italian recipe for chicory greens, which has very similar uses to dandelion. The recipe is very simple but also delicious and packed with nutrients. Enjoy!
4 cups dandelion greens, washed and chopped into 2” pieces
3 cloves garlic, smashed
¼ cup olive oil
½ tsp crushed red pepper
Salt + Pepper
Blanch your washed and chopped dandelion greens in salted water until the stems are tender, around ten minutes. Once cooked, drain the greens in a colander, pouring over cold water to stop the cooking process. Press out excess moisture.
While the greens are blanching, you can start the oil over medium heat. Once it is hot add the garlic and crushed red pepper. Cook these until the aroma is excellent, but be sure you do not burn the garlic. Once the garlic and pepper have had time to infuse the oil, add the greens to the pan and saute until well mixed and heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Remove the greens to a plate and finish with lemon juice.
I enjoyed mine alongside a plate of avocado toast and fried eggs in true millennial fashion.