You face a choice: eradicate them or enjoy them. My personal choice is to enjoy them. It’s dandelion that I am talking about. Every spring, the first flower to bloom in the northern hemisphere seems to be dandelion, across every lawn north of the 49th parallel, and even well down into the central USA. Europe, too, has dandelion in abundance.
But dandelions are only noxious weeds because of our perception of them. In fact, they are one of the best sources of nourishment of any plant, from flower to root. In the spring, the young dandelion greens (the tender leaves) are delicious in salads or boiled and buttered, with thyme. Once the plant starts to produce flowers, the leaves tend to get a little bitter, but are still edible until the hot summer sun toughens them up.
Dandelion flowers, though, offer some of the best bounty available in the spring. Whether you want to make homemade dandelion wine, dandelion syrup or want just to enjoy the flowers fresh in a salad or steamed or sautéed, they are delicious.
There are a variety of ways to prepare dandelion flowers. Begin by picking either fully flowers or buds that have not yet bloomed, but that are full. When cooking the flowers, they will close up, in any event, and will shrink by about 80%. Four cups of loosely packed flowers will render down to about 2/3 of a cup if sautéed, and ¾ to 7/8 cup if steamed. If you choose to boil the flowers, be sure to save the juice. It makes excellent soup base or water when making homemade bread (use sage and parsley to kill some of the bitterness).
To reduce the slightly bitter taste of dandelions, avoid picking stems (containing a white milk) with the flowers. Also, if you have lots of time, remove the calyx (the green cup-like shell holding the petals) from the petals. You will need at least five time the amount of flower petals if you choose to do this, but it is the stalk and green calyx that hold most of the bitter flavour. Unfortunately, much of the nutrients also are found in the calyx.
All methods of preparing the flowers for consumption require that you rinse the flowers under cold water, to remove debris. (If you are squeamish, you will also be removing any aphids, ants and other insects). Be sure that you pick flowers in any area that has not been treated with herbicide or insecticide. Also, any areas where animals may have urinated (corners, near trees and shrubs, against walls, etc.) should be avoided.
The first method of preparing the flowers is to sautee them. Dandelion flowers, like the more mature leaves, can have a slightly bitter taste (reminiscent of tonic water). Heat two or three tablespoons of grapeseed or olive oil in a skillet. Add two cups of flowers, recue heat to low, spice with 2 teaspoons of brown sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of thyme. Cover the skillet and cook until the flowers are tender. Serve with peas as a companion.
The next method involves steaming. Steam the flowers for about 7-10 minutes. Save the liquid, as much of the nutrients will have leeched back into the water. Remove the flowers and, in a bowl, toss the flowers with melted butter and a little corn meal. Add a little hemp or flax oil for a smooth taste, or use ginger, melted butter and brown sugar for a lighter, sweet taste. If you wish, you may boil the flowers instead of steaming them.
Dandelion flowers can be eaten raw, as well. The buds, when washed and chilled in vinegar, make excellent snacks, while the flower petals (or entire flower & calyx) are great additions to a tossed salad. Sprinkle sunflower seeds or crushed walnuts on the salad for a great complimentary taste.
The next blog will deal with making dandelion wine.