Dandelion greens are the leaves of the common dandelion plant, which many people think of as a weed. In fact, dandelions are edible and highly nutritious, in addition to being ubiquitous. The leaves are the most frequently eaten section of the plant, and they are edible in both raw and cooked form. The flowers and roots may also be eaten, however, typically cooked to mitigate their more bitter flavor.
Dandelion greens can often be purchased in health food stores and specialty markets, but they can be more readily harvested wild. In addition to being cheaper, wild harvesting is a great way to learn more about nature and the edible plants in your neighborhood.
The use of dandelion greens as a food dates back for centuries. In France, the plants came to be known as dent de lion, or “lion's teeth” in a reference to the long, jagged leaves and the sunny flowers which do rather resemble the manes of lions. With some adjustment to the name, the plant made its way into the English language, as well as the English diet.
As a general rule, dandelion greens are best when they have just emerged. The longer they are allowed to mature, the more bitter they get, and some consumers also prefer late summer and early fall greens to summer greens, which tend to be fiercely bitter. When used raw, dandelion greens complement salads in the same way that chicory and endive do, introducing a new layer of complexity and flavor. Cooked, dandelion greens may be lightly steamed or sautéed with other vegetables. Light cooking is generally the way to go with dandelion greens. If the greens are simply too bitter to eat, boil them in several changes of fresh water to leech out the bitterness.
The flowers can be fried, steamed, or used to brew wines. Some people particularly enjoy the flowers pickled as a condiment. The edible roots can be roasted, boiled, and stir fried, and they go well with naturally sweet root vegetables like carrots and yams.
People who are hesitant about foraging can harvest dandelion greens in confidence, since the plants are very distinctive and easy to identify. Foraging is well worth the effort, as well, since dandelion greens are rich in iron, calcium, and vitamins B, C, and E, among many others. The vitamin-rich greens are a great addition to any diet, and the bitter flavor will enhance the range of your palate as well.