Generally speaking dandelions are greatly under-appreciated, at least by those older than 7. To many adults they are the bane of any meticulously manacured lawn, but when it comes to foraging, dandelions are an abundant and underutilized culinary treasure.
While dandelions are often referred to as weeds, they are in reality a hearty perennial herb. They are easy to identify by their bright yellow petals, hollow stems and milky sap. While there are some lookalikes such as catsear and yellow star-thistle, their solid stems give them away easily.
Dandelions are found on all 7 continents. Yes, even Antarctica, where they are an invasive species brought in by the increased human presence over the last few decades. While they prefer to grow in warm, shady spots, these tenacious little blooms aren’t picky and will grow just about anywhere.
You may see folks online asking you to leave dandelions alone because they are a vital early spring food source for bees. Sadly these well-meaning nature lovers are lacking accurate information. The truth is many flowers are blooming before the dandelions begin to pop-up in spring. On top of that, dandelions are lacking in amino acids and other important bee nutrients. Dandelions are not a prefered food source for bees, so don’t feel bad about foraging them for your own uses.
Dandelion is a versatile and easy to prepare plant. Its roots can be used as a caffeine-free coffee or tea substitute, the leaves have a peppery taste perfect for salads or sautéing, and the flowers have a sweet flavor ideal for baked goods, jelly and wine. Dandelions are a good source of vitamins A, C and K and are also a source of vitamin E, folate, iron, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. I highly recommend spending some time looking for recipes as there are just so many to choose from! In addition to culinary uses, many foragers use dandelions to make soaps and salves. Because of it’s reputation as a pest species, it is important to be aware of and avoid plants sprayed with herbicides when harvesting.
While it may not seem like the most glamorous or exciting foraging score, dandelions have a lot to offer. Happy foraging!
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