Dandelion Greens Are More Than Just A Familiar Weed

The Entire Plant Is Edible. lissart/Getty Images

Almost everyone is familiar with these cheery little flowers that spread throughout green lawns in the suburbs and poke their yellow heads out from between sidewalk cracks. 

Children pick the flowers and bring them home to their Moms as they would a bouquet of roses. They are such a pretty plant. How then did they end up being considered a weed?

I don’t know the answer to that, but any plant that is not where someone intends it to be and it is not wanted there, I guess it’s considered a weed.

 

The dandelion is more than just a weed. It is actually a very nutritious green and you as well as your companion birds can eat it. 

The name has an interesting background. It comes from the french term dents de lion, which means “tooth of the lion.” This is due to the deeply serrated leaves that are shaped like a lion’s canine teeth. 

With its characteristic serrated, smooth leaves, happy flowers and edible root, you would think that more people would have a higher regard for this plant that grows with wild abandon beginning in the springtime. Well, that time has come.  

With the advent of a new interest in “superfoods lists” and the public perking their heads up at the mere mention of the phrase “power foods,” a respect is growing for this formerly sneered at little but ferociously hardy plant. They discovered that it is incredibly nutritious. 

The botanical name, Taraxacum officinale doesn’t tell you much, but it is related to the sunflower.

Apparently the sunflower has a fairly big family because this family of sunflower cousins include over 22,000 relatives which would make for a rather large family reunion. 

Apparently, they were first referred to in texts by Middle Eastern physicians in the 10th and 11th centuries where they were thought to be used as a medicine of sorts according to what was written about them.

Welsh references in the medical books at the time noted that both the leaves as well as the roots were used. 

In hindsight, apparently the writers of those texts were on to something. The plant contains 535 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin K, 112 percent of the daily requirement of Vitamin A as well as being high in fiber. 

The mineral count is unreal! Along with Vitamin B6 and C C  thiamin, iron, riboflavin, potassium, calcium, as well as manganese, copper, folate and phosphorus.  That’s a pretty impressive list!

Much like arugula and watercress, dandelion greens are rather bitter. But if you are going to feed them to your flock you might find them taking a liking to them. Fresh and green, you’ll find them more and more often in grocery stores as well as finding them in abundance at farmers markets. I bought some recently and I was very impressed with the quality and freshness of what I found. I used the leaves to make Chop for my flock of African Greys. 

What I didn’t know until doing further research was that the entire plant, the leaves, flowers, stems and root are edible. 

One word of caution: you are going to want to look for the younger more tender greens as the older the plant is, the more bitter they become.

(Which sometimes happens with some people, I guess) If you have an organic garden and want to grow these for your use in the kitchen, planting them in a shady spot will tamp down the bitterness in their taste. One source recommended that I look for “perky” dandelion greens but I didn’t see any even remotely resembling Katie Couric. 

Despite this, I pressed on and found the youngest, tenderest and greenest leaves I could find for my rather large batch of Chop that I intended to make and freeze for my parrots. I simply washed them in an apple cider vinegar/ water bath, drained them, let them dry and coarsely chopped them before adding to the batch of Chop. 

I use raw dandelion greens in Chop but they can be cooked as well as eaten raw. It’s recommended that they be blanched followed by draining and then squeezing the water out of them.

 

As for your dinner table, you can then chop them up and braise them briefly with garlic or spicy chile peppers. Apparently this brief blanching followed by sautéing the greens softens the bitter flavor of the greens and they lose that bite that they have when served raw. 

 I haven’t tried this yet, but I imagine it would have a texture similar to cooked spinach although I can imagine it would possess a stronger flavor. I can also see them made with root vegetables such as golden beets.. Reading up on some cooked spinach or collard greens recipes might give you some ideas and new insight on how to flavor these healthy babies and you might stumble across a new combination of flavors that has you return to that recipe tie and time again!

it’s been recommended that you mix them with other milder field greens to balance out the bitterness which despite what you might think at first, this bitterness in these greens as well as watercress and arugula tends to grow on you. To serve them raw to your human family, mix those greens in with the salad greens you already have and give it a try with mandarin organ slices, sautéed almond slivers and a favorite dressing.  Mixing them with a sweeter component such as the mandarin orange slices or even slices of apple might have a hand in taming that bitter, yet delightful flavor. 

Dandelion greens have a lot going for them and they are becoming easier to find and more widely available so you might as well get a bunch and see if you like them. One other use would be to use them in place of escarole of Belgian endive in a recipe you might have using those two greens. 

The one thing I would not recommend is to go out running around and foraging for them willy-nilly in the wild. Unless you know that no toxic substances have been applied in that area, don't take the chance.  The use of pesticides on vegetables such as dandelion greens couldn’t possibly be good for either you or your flock. Blindly selecting these from gardens or fields without knowing how the area has been treated could be risky.

If  you know someone who maintains an organic garden and uses only natural organic treatments and fertilizers in their garden, then foraging for them there would be safe. You can always still buy them from a reputable source and if you can get them from an organic market, all the better.