Although gardeners are preparing for another year’s battle with the yellow-flowered dandelion weed that grows wild in their yards, cooks view its jagged-edged leaves with delight. Dandelion is a bitter-tasting green that’s packed with beta carotene (vitamin A). Dandelion greens have a little bit of a peppery flavor to them. They can be used raw in a salad, where a vinaigrette dressing might soften the green’s bitterness. They also are great braised in a liquid and served warm.
Traditionally, dandelion roots and leaves were used to treat liver problems. Native Americans also boiled dandelion in water and took it to treat kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn and upset stomach. In traditional Chinese medicine, dandelion has been used to treat stomach problems, appendicitis and breast problems such as inflammation or lack of milk flow. In Europe, it was used in remedies for fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes and diarrhea.
So far, there aren’t any good-quality scientific studies on dandelion. Today, the roots are mainly used as an appetite stimulant and for liver and gallbladder problems. Dandelion leaves are used as a diuretic to help the body get rid of excess fluid.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain components that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.
Dandelion is generally considered safe. Some people may develop an allergic reaction from touching dandelion and others may develop mouth sores.
If you are allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigold, chamomile, yarrow, daisies or iodine, you should avoid dandelion.
How to select dandelion greens
Choose flat leaves that are crisp, upright and not wilted. Avoid greens with leaves that are wilted, yellowing or have dark green patches of slime on parts of the leaves.
How to store dandelion greens
Place unwashed greens in the crisper section of the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Nutrition benefits of dandelion greens
Low in fat and sodium and free of saturated fat and cholesterol, dandelions are an excellent source of vitamins A, K and C and a good source of fiber, calcium, manganese, iron and vitamins B1, B2 and B6
All parts of the dandelion are edible
Dandelion root can be roasted as a coffee-substitute or boiled and stir-fried as a cooked vegetable.
Dandelion flower can be made into a wine and boiled or stir-fried as a cooked vegetable.
Dandelion greens, or the leaves, can be boiled, as you would spinach, and used as a cooked vegetable in sandwiches or as a salad green with some “bite.” Consult recipes for dandelion greens for ideas.
Dandelion Greens with Chopped Onion Topped with Parmesan Cheese
1 pound dandelion greens
½ cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 whole small dried hot chili pepper, seeds removed, crushed
¼ cup cooking oil
Salt and pepper
Discard dandelion green roots and wash greens well in salted water. Cut leaves into 2-inch pieces. Cook greens uncovered in a small amount of salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Saute onion, garlic and chili pepper in oil. Drain greens and add to onion-garlic mixture. Taste dandelion greens and season with salt and pepper. Serve dandelion greens with grated Parmesan cheese.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.