I was looking for spring ramps in the Adirondacks last weekend and instead found a bounty of dandelions. Dandelions in all stages of growth: from barely recognizable to robust and flower-less to flowering to puffball. I picked specimens at all stages except the last (assuming it would be extremely bitter) and set to experimenting to figure out how to eat dandelions.
Foraging tip: you’re going to have to deal with the harvest on a leaf-by-leaf basis at some point, so might as well take time and care while you are picking. Don’t just grab whole plants by their roots like I did. You’ll end up cutting off the roots, removing the random bits of stuff that creep in, then also removing flowers and buds. Better to do it right from the get-go, cutting each leaf with scissors.
The best way to eat dandelions is definitely in a salad, judiciously used in small amounts. To do this, pick the leaves with more surface area. They were consistently less bitter (though by no means tame) in my taste test. I think they may be wider both at the beginning and end of their lives; the intermediate stage where they’re pushing out reproductive components makes the leaves shrivel up and become extremely bitter. (Botanists, I welcome your corrections.)
As to cooking dandelions, the standard advice to treat them like any other green (collards, mustard etc): boil the hell out of them then serve with a flavorful sauce. Because of the bitterness I mistrusted that advice and went searching deeper on the web. I ended up making a middle eastern prep (where they are called hindbeh) where the greens are boiled, drained and re-purposed.
Some fun facts about Dandelions:
* They are not a native plant to North American but were introduced by helpful immigrants because of their health benefits.
* The familiar yellow flower actually lasts a single day. Then it closes up for several days and re-emergences as a puffball.
* Dandelion leaves can supposedly be used as a pregnancy test. Pee on them and if the leaves form red blisters, you’re pregnant.
* On the original version of the Rolling Stones’ “Dandelion” if you listen carefully you can hear Lennon & McCarthy singing backup at the end.