Dandelions, reviled as a scourge of lawns, are not native to the Americas. European settlers, who considered the medicinal properties of the dandelion very important to their health, brought these sunny yellow spring flowers here. The leaves, roots and flowers were used as greens, a coffee substitute, and an after-dinner drink. Easily spread by the puffy seed heads, dandelions may be the most recognized “wild” flower we Americans know.
Dandelion greens are more common in food markets; packed with vitamins, they are still an acquired taste. If you enjoy collards, mustard greens, kale, or escarole, by all means try sautéing dandelion leaves with some garlic and olive oil as a side dish.
You won’t see dandelion flowers at the grocery store. As with violets, it’s easy to find dandelions in a grassy field or lawn. Don’t pick any for eating unless you are sure that the ground wasn’t treated with pesticides.
My sister-in-law is fortunate to have several farm acres upstate, and dandelions abound in her organic pastures. One of her country neighbors gave her a recipe for Dandelion Wine, which makes a gorgeous presentation. The flowers are picked in March and April; the wine matures through the summer and is ready to drink at Christmas time. It is a clear, golden liqueur that brings the sunshine of spring into winter when you taste it.
Preparing Dandelion Flowers
Start with fully open dandelions. With one hand, hold each flower by the yellow tips. With the other hand, squeeze the greenish base. This should loosen the petals enough that you can shake them off into a bowl.
Dandelions have a mineral or peppery taste that works well in savory cooked foods.
If using them raw or in sweet dishes, use this alternative method: hold the blossom in one hand by the yellow tips, and use scissors to cut off the base of the plant entirely. You’ll have fewer petals to work with, but no bitter flavors in the mix.
Simple Uses for Dandelion Petals
– Bake into vegetable quiches to add color and bite
– Mix them into muffins or cookies
– Use as a garnish for asparagus, instead of cooked egg yolks
Recipe: Dandelion Wine