A Local Wild Salad Bar: Dandelions & Greens
Updated: Jan 8
Before anyone out there goes to war with their lawns, I want to touch on healthy eating. Specifically, healthy eating that starts in our yard.
The last Local Wild column addressed the twelve-spotted ladybug’s adoration of early blooming flowers, specifically the oft detested dandelion. Before anything else has even begun to bud, dandelions are blooming and ready to provide a healthy meal of pollen and nectar for these native ladybugs and other critters. Already, fields and yards are showered in bright yellow flowers and no doubt homeowners are getting their weed pullers and herbicidal sprays prepped, too.
But—not so fast! Before you do a clean sweep of dandelions from your yard, consider that this so-called weed is worth a few bucks: dandelion greens are readily found at farmer’s markets and in “wild”-type salad mixes at the grocer; online, you can buy organic dandelion greens for anywhere from $2-$4 per bundle, which is more costly than common herbs like cilantro or parsley.
And it’s no wonder dandelion greens go for a pretty penny: they’re packed with amazing nutrition! Each ¾-cup of cooked greens contain as much as 7,212mcg of lutein, an essential for eye health and key nutrient for significantly reducing the risk of developing cataracts. They’re also stocked with calcium, potassium, fiber, and vitamins A, C, K, and folate (a B vitamin of particular interest to pregnant women). Consuming dandelion (especially the pollen-rich flowers) can also help alleviate seasonal allergies by naturally building up your body’s immunity.
While the entire dandelion plant is edible—from the ugly root all the way up to the pretty flower—most people don’t take the time to dry the roots to make tea or bother with using the flower to make a muscle ointment (dandelion flowers have “mild analgesic (pain-relieving) properties, making them an excellent addition to products designed for sore muscles”). It is a lot of work, no doubt! I, myself, prefer to focus on the easy-to-pick greens, which should be harvested early, before the flowers pop up, to avoid extreme bitterness. If harvested young enough, the bitterness isn’t overwhelming and the vegetable’s flavor is similar to the that of endive, radicchio, or arugula, other bitter greens found in many store-bought salad mixes.
Much of the bitterness can be cooked out to a large degree. Like other bitter greens that are popularly eaten cooked (e.g. kale, collard greens), dandelion greens can be blanched or braised to make them more palatable, or cooked with a flavor-heavy, fatty protein, like bacon. If you prefer your greens raw—as in a salad—you can soak them for 30 minutes or more in ice-chilled water.
I won’t detail through each of these, but here are a few other offerings from the local wild’s salad bar that perhaps you didn’t know were edible. (As always, get a positive and certain identification of plants before collecting and consuming them. If you’re unsure, best to let things growing in the local wild stay wild!)
· Stinging nettle
· Creeping Charlie
· Pheasant Back (Dryad’s Saddle) mushroom
· Morel mushroom
· Garlic mustard
· Broadleaf plantain
· Pineapple weed
· Red clover
If you’d like to try your hand at [intentionally] growing dandelions as an addition to your veggie or herb garden, harvest current plants from an untreated yard or field and transplant them to a more appropriate location. (Stay away from dandelions growing in sidewalks, parking lots, and at the edges of roadways, as these areas, even if not sprayed with herbicide or fertilizer, contain runoff and contaminants from vehicles or maintenance treatments (e.g. sidewalk salt or de-icers).) Use a weeding fork to loosen the soil around the root, then pull the whole thing out and relocate.
Dandelions are durable and incredibly resilient, so harvest—and eat them—frequently! Cheers to your good health!
 Pricing: $1.99-3.99/lb, depending on area.
· Wegmans $2.99/bunch organic https://www.wegmans.com/products/produce/lettuce-and-greens/greens/dandelion-greens.html
· ShopRite (MD) $1.99/bunch http://www.shoprite.com/pd/Fresh/Dandelion-Greens/1-lb/000000046152/
· Harris Teeter (NC) $3.99/bunch http://grocery.harristeeter.com/pd/Fresh/Dandelion-Greens/1-bunch/000000046152/
· Acme Fresh Market (OH) $1.99/lb bunch https://www.acmestores.com/product/00000000004615/fresh-dandelion-greens
 “12 Things To Make With Dandelion Flowers”, The Nerdy Farm Wife. URL: https://thenerdyfarmwife.com/12-things-to-make-with-dandelion-flowers/. Undated.
 Fleck, Alissa. “Can You Eat Dandelion Greens Raw?”, Hearst Newspapers, LLC (SFGate). URL: https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/can-eat-dandelion-greens-raw-4710.html. 17Dec2018.
 “How To Mellow Out Bitter Veggies”. Plated.com. URL: https://www.plated.com/morsel/mellow-bitter-veggies/. Undated. ©2019
 For more details on transplanting dandelions, visit https://tortoisegroup.org/transplanting-dandelions.