I was excited to get in the garden one mild day last week, but I didn’t anticipate the enjoyment of finding so many weeds under the thick layer of straw on the beds.  They were almost exclusively dandelions. There were so many that someone visiting my garden might have thought I planted them there on purpose. It’s not such a crazy idea, because people actually buy these things at Whole Foods Market, and Krogers grocery stores.

I have never liked eating dandelion greens, but I always felt a little bad when weeding them.  I knew that I should be appreciating this weed that so many tout as delicious and nutritious.  Since I had so many of them, it seemed like a good time to try again to be won over by dandelions.

I nibbled a few of the leaves.  They were still small and pale, having been under the mulch all winter.  They were a tiny bit bitter, like an endive, but tender and so fresh tasting.  Delicious.  My little girls tried some too and came back for more.

Try a Little Bitterness

I have just been reading about eating bitter plants and how beneficial they are to digestion.  Dandelion greens, mustards, arugula, and endives are some of the first plants of spring and they are said to help detoxify the system after a long winter.  I am never really sure what is meant by “detoxify” but apparently the compounds responsible for the bitter taste act on the digestive organs such as the pancreas, liver, and stomach where they promote the secretion of digestive enzymes.  I am not a real doctor, nor do I play one in this blog, but check out this impressive list of health effects reported by the Weston A. Price Foundation:

Thus, the taste of bitter can be used to strengthen the most fundamental aspect of our health—the ability to extract the nutrients from our foods and nourish our bodies. Taken over time, they will lessen symptoms of poor digestive function such as gas and bloating, constipation, loose stools and food allergies;2,11 enhance vitamin and mineral absorption;4 promote balanced blood sugar levels;3,4 protect the liver and strengthen eliminatory function;3,11 heal inflammatory damage to the gut wall;3,11 and reduce the incidence of allergic disorders.2,14 In short, the daily use of bitters can address some of the most rampant and heavily medicated health conditions of our time.4

Traditionally, bitters are consumed before mealtimes to jump-start digestion.  Our family has been starting meals with dandelion greens in our salads and, I have to say, we are the picture of health.

Roast to Your Health

As much as I have become a dandelion green enthusiast, I have to admit they are ephemeral stars.  Once the leaves get big and tough, there are other green things in the garden that I am much more excited about.  The real, lasting, star of the dandelion show, I now believe, is the root.

You simply must try this:

  1. Scrub off all of the dirt from a pile of roots. (Have your neighbors save theirs for you—everybody’s got them!).
  2. Cut into ½ inch pieces.
  3. Roast on top of a woodstove in a cookie sheet (on a trivet) or in an 120 degree oven for 2 or so hours until they are dry and crumbly. Your house will smell amazing.
  4. Grind the roasted root pieces in a food processors, blender, or coffee grinder.
  5. Steep about 1Tbs per cup and enjoy!

The taste has more body than tea, but is lighter than coffee.  It’s my new favorite hot beverage without caffeine.  People call it dandelion root coffee, but I think it should be in its own category.  It is full of minerals and sooo good!  It sells for about $15 a pound online and would make a nice value-added product for a farmers market—especially if you gave out samples.  In West Virginia, there are fewer regulatory hoops to jump through for dehydrated products such as this.

Dandelion roots are best harvested in late fall or early spring for highest nutritional value.

Flower Power

I have also been known to take dandelion fritters to spring potlucks.  They are an almost free, easy to make, attractive dish.  They also taste as good as anything battered and fried in butter.  Just pick them on the young side (just before they are fully opened) dip them in egg whites, shake them in a bag of flour, salt, and pepper, then fry in olive oil and/or butter.  Maybe not the healthiest dandelion option, but there are worse things for you at potlucks.  Speaking of that, dandelion flower wine can also be also quite nice, but that is a topic for a different place!

I am so glad I tried these dandelion experiments this spring.  It has given me even more motivation to get into my garden beds to weed and harvest before I have planted the first thing.