If there is one weed sprouting that causes gardeners to let out a collective sigh, it’s dandelions. People hate them. Ironically, they are simultaneously reviled, while being one of the most nutritious plants in the garden.
It’s amazing that a plant so good for us and also so easy to grow has been completely vilified. The bad reputation stems back to the post World War II, at that time there was a boom in suburbia, which with it grew a false fantasy of the perfect lawn. Years turned to decades of “yardeners” pouring chemicals on their turf in failed attempts to stop an indestructible plant. Dandelions, cockroaches and Keith Richards will survive the apocalypse and outlive all of us.
If they were hard to find, or even harder to grow, they would have a cult following and people would swoon over their annual release.
Dandelion greens are tastiest right as they sprout, with just a hint of bitterness. Like most greens and vegetables, after they begin to produce seeds — also called bolting — the foliage is extremely bitter, becoming inedible.
They are certainly an acquired taste. Beer is a perfect comparison. As kids, we watched the grownups enjoy a cold beer and thought it must be good. Your first taste changes all of that, and over time, some learn to love it.
The greens are traditionally cooked in consort with bacon, so you’ll get the best of both worlds. They also pair well with balsamic vinegar and red sauces.
When my kids were young, I set up a blind taste test, not telling them what they were eating. I baked three small pizzas. The first had a light amount dandelion leaves over the tomato sauce, the next had a little more, and the final option had a heavy covering of dandelion foliage. Without a doubt the last one was the overwhelming winner. At which time I announced to my kids that they were eating dandelions, eliciting screams, a total fit and general disbelief.
Once the plant has completed the flowering cycle, its ready to be cut to the ground. Those greens that return won’t be as good as the ones in early spring but are safe for use in the kitchen.
I like to move the wild varieties to the edges of my vegetable garden where the soil is better, providing bigger and more tender leaves.
Be wowed, there are even cultivated varieties like ‘Italiko Rosso,’ that produces tall, green foliage with deep red stems. Those are beautiful, easy to grow and make a great addition to recipes.
“A weed is but an unloved flower,” says Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Perhaps you may fall in love with dandelions as I have.