This week's wild edible is Dandelion!
Ah, at last, we come to the notorious dandelion. This is one of the most recognizable and well known wild edible plants in the US and maybe even the world. It's incredible how useful this plant can be even though we treat it like the plague when it enters our lawns and gardens. There is even research going on currently to use dandelion as a method of cancer treatment and prevention.
These guys grow just about in any environment, and in great abundance. So if you're reading this, there's a good chance there is some dandelion out in your yard right at this very moment (even if it hasn't sprouted yet).
What it looks like.
The first thing many of us are going to notice is the bright yellow aster-esque flower that adorns this plant when spring rolls around. This "flower" is actually a group of flowers called a floret. Another common identifier is the fluffy white "lion" like seed head from which dandelion's name is derived. This is the part we all blew on as kids, and then watched the seeds float away.
The dandelion stem is a hollow stem that is sparsely covered in fine, smooth hairs. The stem grows out of the center of a basal set of rosette leaves reaching up to 12" tall. The leaves in the rosette on the base of the plant are long, narrow, and spear shaped. They have notches and lobes that face backwards towards the stem, giving it an arrow or serrated appearance. The leaves are hairless, but can appear rough upon closer inspection.
If you were to dig this plant up, you would find a central taproot that can be several inches long. This is the reason that when you move over the plant it keeps coming back, and back, and back.
When and where to find it.
Just about everywhere. No, seriously lol. Dandelion is a very adaptable plant and can grow in just about any kind of reasonable environment. Many people refer to this plant as "people-loving" since everywhere people are or have been, dandelion isn't far behind. It also tends to grow in decent sized groups, so where one is found, there usually are more close by.
Dandelion starts popping up in the early spring months and will continue hanging around until through fall. Due to it's deep taproot, dandelion is a perennial, meaning it will come back year after year. If you can locate where a plant was in the winter, then you can still dig up the root in the winter in an emergency (although it could be quite tough at that point).
Like I said earlier, dandelions grow all over. Some of their favorite haunts are open fields, yards and lawns, gardens, cultivated land, stream banks, wooded areas, tree lines, around fences and fence posts, and even rocky hillsides.
Just about all of dandelion is edible...if you can stomach the bitterness. The parts you really want to be after are the young leafs , young flower heads , and the taproot.
The leaves are great as early spring greens, but you want to make sure you get the young leaves before the flowers appear. This will help reduce the bitterness. If all you have is older leaves available, they are still edible, just a bit more bitter. These older leaves are more suitable to stir fry, green smoothies, and mixed in with other greens in a salad. If possible, try to get plants that live mostly in the shade. This will help some to reduce that bitterness.
The flower heads can be plucked right off and eaten fresh if you want. Be sure when eating the flowers to remove the green leaves surrounding the underside of the flower. These are extremely bitter. Picking the younger dandelion flowers will help reduce the bitter flavor that can be present in them. There are many recipes out there for dandelion flowers including dandelion bread, deep-fried dandelions, and garnish in salads. You can even use the flowers to make a tasty dandelion wine.
Dandelion taproots are pure gold in a a survival situation or for the frugal forager. The root can be used as a substitute in recipes using any root vegetable, but where is really shines is as tea and coffee substitute. If you take the leaves and chopped roots and dry them then you have a nice healthy tea substitute. If you take the roots, finely chop them and brown them in a pan to almost black, you will have a nice rich coffee substitute with many healthful benefits.
Dandelion is packed full of many essential vitamins, including A, B, C, D and also minerals such as iron, zinc, and potassium. It also historically has many medicinal uses as well such as: a diuretic, an antioxidant, immune booster, improving kidney function, detoxifying the liver and gallbladder, treating intestinal gas, an appetite stimulant, helping upset stomachs, a mild laxative, a blood tonic, help to stabilize excess blood sugar in diabetics, lower bad cholesterol and triglyceride while raising good cholesterol, help with inflammation, and treating infection. There are even studies currently taking place to use dandelion as a means to fight cancer naturally.
You can also make a yellow dye out of the flowers of dandelion. This dye is best suited for dying natural fibers such as wool and cotton as it may fade on other fabrics.
**Warnings, Disclaimers, and Precautions**
Please be sure to read ALL of this section!!
**When identifying plants you are unfamiliar with, please use multiple references, as well as help from experts when available. Unless you are 110% sure what a plant is, it is best to avoid it completely.
**If you plan on using any plants for medicinal uses, consult a healthcare professional, as well as botanist familiar in the field of wild plants. And as always, use as many references and expert opinions as possible when identifying a plant.
**Be sure to avoid any plants growing near roads, around chemicals, other poisonous plants, or polluted/contaminated water.
**As always, be sure to use the Universal Edibility Test to ensure the plant is the correct plant and to help identify any unknown allergies you may have.