If you’ve ever gone into the produce section at a health food grocery store, you’ve likely been confronted by a lot of leafy greens you didn’t necessarily recognize or know much about. Don’t be intimidated – even people well acquainted with leafy greens can often come across something they’ve never encountered before. But it makes for a good opportunity to expand your knowledge and add variety to your diet. So jump in!
One of the greens you may be unfamiliar with is dandelion greens. And, yes, it is the same annoying weed you work so hard to keep off your lawn? The fact is, the greens from this “weed” are actually quite tasty and good for you. They make an excellent addition to salads and can also be cooked in the same way spinach is prepared.
Dandelion gets its name from the French “dents de lion”, or lion’s teeth, which describes the jagged edges on the leaves. The “lion” part of the equation might be there due to the fact that the fluffy yellow flowers of the plant resemble a lion’s head with its furry mane.
Dandelion greens are loaded with beta carotene, the carotenoid phytonutrient that is a precursor to vitamin A. Dandelion greens are considered to be the richest source of beta carotene in the vegetable kingdom! In fact, dandelion greens contain over four times the amount of beta carotene found in broccoli. They are an extremely nutrient-dense food. They contain almost double the vitamin K, twice the calcium and almost three times the iron as broccoli. That’s a lot of nutrients. They’re also rich in fiber, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and the B vitamins thiamine and riboflavin.
Dandelions also help to support digestion, they’re known to reduce swelling and inflammation, are used as an anti-viral and have been traditionally used to treat gout, eczema, jaundice, edema and acne. Dandelion greens have both mild laxative and gentle diuretic properties to purify the blood and cleanse the system. They’re even said to help dissolve kidney stones.
Dandelion is used as a medicinal in many traditional medicine systems. Apparently it appears in the U.S. National Formulatory and in the Pharmacopeias of Hungary, Poland, Switzerland and Russia. Dandelion is also one of the main six herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Dandelion root contains inulin, a pre-biotic that feeds the beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract, aiding in digestive health. Along with other greens like beet greens and milk thistle, dandelion helps to support the liver and is used as a liver cleanser.
While the leaves are the most commonly used as a food source, the entire dandelion can be eaten. I’ve never tried them myself, mind you, but if you catch them early enough apparently the crowns, the pre-stem bud before it goes to flower, are quite unique and tasty raw, steamed or fried. The flowers, used in the fermenting of “dandelion wine”, can also be boiled or stir fried. And the dandelion root can be dried and roasted to be used as a coffee substitute with none of the caffeine.
The best part of eating dandelion is that you can forage for your own. Be sure you know the source is clean, that is, don’t take them from public parks or lawns where they’re being sprayed with weed killer or are anywhere near roadways where they’re exposed to car exhaust. If you can find a clean area to collect them from, why not go out and pick some for your dinner? Since most people consider dandelion a nuisance, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any resistance to your picking. Plus how cool is it to pick your own salad? You can’t get much more local than that!
The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale