The Dandelion: Foraging, Benefits & Eating Dandelions
Updated: Aug 26
Dandelion leaves, roots, and flowers may offer more than just good eating and nutrition. It's health benefits are many and the list of culinary uses endless. In this post we'll talk about how to identify Dandelions, their benefits and share some great recipes that you can cook and enjoy.
The wild and common Dandelion. At the time of writing this post, it is mid-February the weather is cold and the fishing is not good, the days are still short and wild foods are not readily available. However there is one little ray of sunshine in a very common plant that persists through the cold weather and is readily available for those who crave wild foods.
Dandelion Distribution in the UK and beyond
The Dandelion or to give it its latin name, Taraxacum officinale is a group of plants that contain around 200 similar microspecies of the Dandelion genus that reside in the UK. The whole genus is found throughout the UK up to 1200m+. Dandelions prefer fertile, and disturbed through to more managed habitats, habitats we commonly call lawns and gardens in the UK. It can also be found in grassland, pastures, garden borders, roadsides and on waste ground.
The Dandelion is a real globe-trotter. Dandelions are thought to have originated in Greece, or perhaps the Himalayas where they spread to Mediterranean, temperate, steppic, boreal and arctic regions throughout Eurasia and North Africa, ranging from sub-tropical to tundra environments.
The Dandelion has been introduced to virtually every other region in the world and can be found in arctic zones of North and South America; to the alpine zones in New Zealand and Australia.
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The Dandelion is probably one of the first wild plants that you learn to identify as a child, I remember my sister picking up the seed heads and letting the ‘little fairies’ go on the wind. A much better use for the plant is to pick and eat it, they can be delicious and used in many ways!
Dandelions are easily identifiable by their yellow blooms and basal leaves (leaves which grow from the bottom of the stem only). Dandelion flowers grow on single, unbranching, hollow stems and the leaves are lobed and jagged or as I have heard them described ‘deep toothed’. The leaves are very recognisable, but not as recognisable as the tall yellow flowers that eventually turn into the fluffy seed heads. Uncommonly the Dandelion has a milky sap which exudes from broken leaves and the stem, I say uncommonly because most plants with a milky sap are poisonous. But let's look at every component of this plant in detail for a more thorough identification.
Light to dark greens depending on age. Leaves are deeply lobed with deep toothed edges with an appearance of sharp teeth. They grow in a round crown or rosette and release a milky sap when cut or broken.
Flowers have multiple yellow petals. Large yellow, pom pom flowers (about 4cm to 5cm across) made up of many fine, long, thin petals. They have no to little scent.
Dandelion Flower Buds
Dandelions produce a small, pea-sized flower bud early in spring before the stem shoots skyward and opens into a flower. They will be tightly closed and will look similar to little green buttons or like a large caper.
The Flowers Stem
A long, thin and hollow stem, the leaves do not have a stem and grow from the base of the plant. The stem exudes a milky sap when broken. Flower stalks are clean with one terminal flower head.
Dandelion seeds are known as a clock, they are widely known and recognised by all ages. Seeds are released by wind, they are inedible.
As gardeners will know, Dandelions have a large tap root, like a long thin parsnip. Off-white to pale brown in colour.
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Despite being such a common plant, for the novice forager, a Dandelion that is in seed or not in flower may be challenging to distinguish from lots of other species. Dandelion is a member of the 'aster' family, which contains many species with similar flowers. These include Hawkweeds, Hawk's Beards and Goat's Beard and Sow Thistles, amongst many others. The one distinguishing difference between Dandelions and their other family members is that they, unlike the Dandelion, have either leaves or flowers branching off along their flower stalk - which Dandelion does not.
The look-alikes above are not directly toxic to humans, however some can accumulate toxins over time. So just be wary and 100% confident that you are picking dandelion.
Is it safe to eat Dandelions?
Dandelions are safe to eat, nearly the entire plant can be eaten in one way or another. The only inedible, or shall we say, has little to no culinary use, is the stem, which contains a very bitter, milky latex-like substance and has a poor texture. The seeds have no culinary value.
Can I eat Dandelions from my garden?
Yes, you can eat dandelions that grow wild, or shall we say feral, in your garden. If you are not an organic gardener, remember to avoid any dandelions that have been sprayed with fertilizer or weed killers. Also, if you have a family pet.. Well, need I say anymore.
Cultivating Dandelion leaves like the French
If you are a gardener the dandelion can be easily cultivated and to tell you the truth is probably already very common in your garden. To make the best of it pull the leaves up in a plastic pipe. The leaves try to grow up the pipe and grow longer and more tender, if the pipe excludes light (except through the top) the leaves will also be less bitter and pale in colour.
Eating Dandelions and some Dandelion recipes
Dandelions pack a lot of essential vitamins and minerals into a small plant. They’re nutritionally dense and this common 'green' can compete, if not out-compete kale or spinach for nutritional value. As we have previously discussed, the Dandelion is made up of many parts most of which can be eaten.
Dandelion Leaves Recipes:
The green leaves of the Dandelion plant are best eaten young. The Dandelion has a bitter taste similar to Chicory that intensifies with age and leaf colour, indeed the nearest edible relative of the Dandelion is wild Chicory and the tastes are similar. Pick the young and tender leaves and you can include them in salads. You can incorporate them and cook them with other greens such as spinach or cabbage.
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Roman style Dandelion leaves
This is a super quick side, perfect for a whole multitude of dishes. Simply sautee Dandelion leaves with extra virgin olive oil, chilli flakes and garlic to eat them in a roman style, otherwise known as Cicoria alla Romana.
Dandelion leaves with eggs
Another great way to eat Dandelion leaves is to cook them down in a pan with a whole chopped leek and a knob of butter. Cook them until the leek is soft and sweet, a great foil for the bitterness of the leaves, then crack some eggs into the pan and top with your favourite cheese. This with a crusty loaf is a perfect lunch or brunch.
Cauliflower and Dandelion Leaf soup
For a fantastic soup, cook down dandelion leaves, onions, celery, garlic and cauliflower in a pan. Fry until soft with plenty of butter. Then add sage and a handful of walnuts. Add stock and seasoning and blend. Serve this yummy green soup with toasted nuts and crispy fried sage leaves.
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Dandelion Roots Recipes:
Dandelion roots are extremely expensive to buy. You'll see all kinds of teas and tinctures available using this root. If you find a good crop of large roots they can also be roasted like small thin parsnips – delicious but you will need a good few plants to make it worth it! (Keep an eye on your cooking time they don’t take long!).
Roasting and grinding Dandelion Roots
The roots are also edible and can be washed (do not peel) roasted and ground to make a caffeine free coffee alternative. To make, arrange the root pieces onto an oven tray. Roast the dandelion root for 30 minutes on 200°f. The roots need to be brown and dried right through. Allow the dandelion root to cool then finely grind, and roast a second time in an oven for 5 minutes on 180°f.
To make a delicious, earthy and warming brew. Fill a saucepan with about four cups of water, add three tablespoons of ground, roasted Dandelion root as well as a cinnamon stick and I like a few Wild Fennel seeds too. Bring the coffee to heat and gently simmer for five minutes. Poor through a strainer into cups, if you prefer you can add cream, milk or a sweetner of your choice.
Dandelion Root Tea
This recipe uses dried sections of the root. You can wash and gently dry sections of the root in a low oven (takes anout 90 minutes on a low heat). If dried completely, these roots will last you for months in an air-tight container. To make the tea simply boil enough water for a large cup, add a tablespoon of the dried roots and gently boil for five minutes.
Dandelion Flowers & Buds Recipes:
The most obvious part of the plant is the flowers the petals can be used to add colour to a salad (I pull the petals off and toss them through a salad or you can use them as a garnish), alternatively you can use the whole flower head, dip it in a nice light batter and deep fry the flower heads as a brilliant snack or starter – these go brilliantly with a hot chilli sauce or strangely a good home made tartare sauce.
Quick Honey and Dandelion Pudding
Here's a super fast (and microwaved) pudding. Get the following ingredients. 100g Butter, 100g Honey, 100g Self-raising Flour, 2 Eggs, 2tbsp Milk and a handful of Dandelion flowers, stems removed (so the petals are free). Place all of the ingredients in a blender and pulse until mixed. Put in a microwavable bowl and cover in cling film (make sure that it has room to rise). Cook for 5 minutes on full power, then allow to rest for a minute before serving with a splash of cream and a spoon of Dandelion marmalade.
Dandelion Jelly Marmalade
This recipe comes from River Cottage, its the best Dandelion Marmalade that I have ever made.
1 litre apple juice
80g Dandelion petals
100ml lemon juice
750g Jam Sugar
Bring the apple juice to simmer and add 60g of the Dandelion petals and remove from the heat. Leave to infuse overnight.
Strain off the petals, and return the apple juice to a pan. Add the lemon juice and heat to boiling. Add the sugar and remaning petals and boil rapidly until the set point is achieved. Remove any skum and decant into warm, sterlised jars (makes four or five jars).
Dandelion Flower Vinegar
For a burst of brightness in the kitchen, you can make a delicious Dandelion flower vinegar. I use apple cider vinegar. Take a jar or previously used vinegar bottle (with a wide top). Fill with Dandelion flowers and then top up with vinegar. Allow to steep for four to six weeks and it is ready to go.
The buds can be used in a similar way to the flowers or picked when they are still tight and brined and used as an alternative to capers.
Finally, if you would prefer a boozier recipe why not try our Dandelion Flower Schnapps.
Health benefits of Dandelions
Dandelion leaves, roots, and flowers may offer health benefits. These can include promoting liver health and combating inflammation. Dandelions are found in many teas and supplements, where they are added as a natural remedy to support blood sugar management and boost skin, liver, and heart health.
Here's some more ways that this nutritious little plant is believed to benefit us.
Packed with nutrition - The nutritional value of Dandelion extends to all parts of the plant. Dandelion is a rich source of fibre and many vitamins and minerals.
Contains potent antioxidants - Dandelions are a rich source of beta carotene and polyphenol compounds, both of which neutralise harmful free radicals.
Fights inflammation - The Dandelion contains polyphenols which have anti-inflammatory properties.
May reduce cholesterol - Some studies indicate that dandelion reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Aids blood sugar management - Dandelion contains chicoric and chlorogenic acid that have been shown to reduce blood sugar.
Can lower blood pressure - Dandelion may lower blood pressure as a result of its diuretic effect. It is also an excellent source of potassium.
Promotes liver health - Studies indicate that Dandelion may protect against liver damage, it is also widely known for its diuretic affects also giving it its other name of 'Piss-en-lit' or 'Pissabed'.
Supports healthy digestion - Dandelion is rich in fibre and prebiotic compounds such as inulin — traditionally Dandelions were used to treat constipation and promote gut health.
Boosts immune health - Dandelion has antiviral and antibacterial properties plus supports the gut, known to be a critical part of the immune response.
Healthy bones - A great source of vitamin K.
Could have anticancer effects - Still to be proven, but hopeful studies are underway.
Whether you are interested in its benefits or its culinary uses, if you are just starting out with gathering wild food, fancy a lazy day of foraging and can’t be bothered to look too far - or - simply fancy a different salad leaf for a change, the common and wild Dandelion is for you!
This plant or resilient little weed is a bane to most gardeners, but once you start to see it as a useful wild food plant you don’t just start to enjoy seeing the the fresh young shoots you start to welcome them!
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