I have long been a fan of Dandelions. Whereas most gardeners dread the sight of dandelions in their yard, I have actually planted them in mine. From the time that the basal rosettes first appear in the spring until the ground turns hard with winter frosts, I find ways of making use of this versatile plant. At this time of year, before the flowers appear the leaves of the dandelion are mild and tender, ideal for eating raw. Dandelion greens can be used in place of spinach in most cooked recipes.
Once the flowers bloom, the leaves become rather bitter, but can be boiled to make them more palatable. However, at that time of year, I concentrate more on gathering the flower heads, which I immediately freeze and save until I have enough to stuff a gallon ziplock bag. I give these to my friend Elana, who makes an outrageous dandelion wine every year. It tastes like a fine sherry. Naturally, she saves a bottle for me.
The petals and stamens of dandelions also make a potent yellow/green dye, good for dying Easter eggs.
The roots can be gathered at almost any time and cooked in many different ways, however, in the fall, I look for the older plants and dig the roots for making dandelion coffee. I grind, dry and roast them until they turn a dark brown, much like regular ground coffee. The resultant drink looks and tastes a lot like coffee, with added notes of chocolate and caramel. The roots can also be used for making dyes, and produce either red or pink (also useful for dying eggs)
As well as their use as food and dyes, dandelions make good medicine to help tonify the kidneys and liver and to help encourage the flow of urine, helping to lower blood pressure. The leaves in particular aid the digestive system and stimulate appetite. They are rich in minerals and vitamins (including A, B2, C and K).
Just to further illustrate the Dandelion’s amazing versatility, even the white milky latex has its uses. Applied regularly to a wart, the rubbery latex will ultimately remove it altogether (never to return).
Paul Tappenden is the Rockland Forager. He leads identification walks once a month in our area. See regularly updated blogs, videos, events, and what he and other foragers, herbalists, and naturalists are up to at www.suburbanforagers.com.