Free Food: Foraging Dandelion Greens

by Jenn @ Frugal Upstate on May 10, 2011

For years I have wanted to try picking & cooking dandelion greens.  Despite the fact that I grew up in the country, and our yard was constantly full of cheerful yellow blooms, I had never eaten them.  I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to get around to trying them–I guess the mixed reports I read online had me scared.  While some folks enjoy them and look forward to them as a delicacy-others cite their bitter nature and general dislike.

What if I cooked them and hated them?  Actually, so what? So I wasted some weeds in my backyard.  Honestly-there was no reason NOT to try them.  So, intrepid explorer that I am I headed out into my backyard to pick.

Dandelions are everywhere! Oh-and in that tire? The our horseradish.

Now I am sure most of you out there know what a dandelion, and dandelion greens, look like.  If you do not, make sure you follow the first rule of foraging and POSITIVELY IDENTIFY YOUR PLANT!!  I don’t believe that there are a lot of dandelion look a likes out there, but I’m not an expert.  I found Wildman Steve Brill’s website and his plant guide (he has a whole page on dandelions) to be very helpful.

There are two other important things you must consider when foraging.

One-chemical contamination.  Have the plants been sprayed with any kind of weed killer or fertilizer?  Are they in a run off area from a farm that uses those items?  Are the plants on the verge of a heavily traveled road where they have been exposed repeatedly over time to exhaust fumes etc?

Two-continuation of the species. While I hardly think anyone is in danger of obliterating all the dandelions in their yard (those suckers will grow back from just a tiny peice of root left behind) all foragers should keep in mind that they should harvest lightly-never more than half of what is present, if not less.  That way you don’t destroy any ecosystems and there will be plants there to harvest again next time.  (note: Garlic Mustard is an exception to this, but I’ll cover that in a different post)

Prime Dandelion

So now I was ready to forage.  After reading a series of difference sources on dandelions I decided to pick mostly greens from plants that had not flowered.  Although the greens are edible through all stages of the plants life, greens in the early spring before the plant has flowered and in the fall when the weather cools are supposed to be the least bitter.  For this first go round I wanted to have them as palatable as possible.

A Mess 'O Greens.

It took a good half hour to fill my largest mixing bowl.  Although there were some places where the greens stood out in a nice rosette that I could just lop off in one big go, many of them were lower and all mixed in with the other plants in my lawn.  I found that using scissors to cut the leaves at the base  and then pick them up, sort of one by one, worked best for me.  I cleaned as I went.  By that I mean that I picked out any grass or other leaves so that my bowl held only the dandelion greens.  I figured this would save me time later.

I rinsed them well in a couple of changes of water to make sure all the dirt & bugs were off (tip-it’s better to put items in a big bowl of water and then lift them out, leaving the dirt & sediment behind rather than trying to rinse or spray it off).

Again from my reading I had learned that boiling the dandelion greens first in salted water for 5 minutes would reduce the bitterness.  So I loaded up my pot, brought to a boil & set the timer for 5 minutes.

When I poured the water out it was a sort of yellow green! Stuff had definitely been removed from the greens.  As many greens do, the volume had reduced in cooking.  My biggest mixing bowl full of greens had reduced down to a lump in the middle of a dinner plate.  Note to self-next time pick twice as many.

They do cook down, don't they?

I tried a little taste at this point.  While they weren’t bitter as in sour, there was a definite aftertaste.  Although I could eat them, you know, if that was all there was, they wouldn’t be in my  list of favorites at this point.

mmm. Bacon.

To finish cooking the greens I chopped up a piece of raw bacon & cooked it in my frying pan until it was crispy and I had a nice little pool of bacon grease.  I added a tad bit of olive oil to that and then tossed in a bit of chopped onion and garlic.  Once the onion was translucent and the garlic fragrant I added the boiled greens (I had squeezed some of the extra water out) and cooked through until warm.

Don't those look good?

Again, time for a taste test.  The bacon, garlic and onion cut quite a bit of the “bitterness” out.  But I could still taste it a little bit.  I had Yankee Bill try some-he took one taste and said “vinegar!”

Yes vinegar is known to cut that bitterness.  I didn’t want a harsh, pickled flavor so I pulled out my mild rice wine vinegar and tried sprinkling just a bit over some of the greens.

Just a dash of vinegar. . .

Perfect!  Yankee Bill agreed.  Each of the kids tried a bit with and without vinegar and agreed-the rice wine vinegar took the bite out of it and made them delicious.

So delicious in fact that I came back in the kitchen a few minutes later to see Princess polishing off the last of the greens.  There were none left for dinner.  Yankee Bill was disappointed-“I even gloated to my mom that I was going to have delicious dandelion greens for dinner tonight!”

I had to promise everyone that I’d go out the next day and pick twice as many so that we could have them with dinner.

All in all? Dandelion greens were a total success.  They were free, tasty and nutritious.  I will be picking them frequently-we’ll see if the ones after they flower are still palatable (I’ll try to remember to give an update).  I haven’t decided yet if I will try to harvest extra to cook & freeze, or if I should just let it be one of those items that is a seasonal treat and enjoyed even more for that fact.

It’s also gotten me excited to try even more local foraged food.  Nature is an amazing thing!

Have you eaten dandelion greens?  What is your favorite way to prepare them? I’d love to know!

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