Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are best known as pesky weeds that invade lawns and are difficult to remove. They are native to Euorpe, Asia and North America where they thrive in disturbed soil such as roadsides and waste areas. As a member of the aster family (Asteraceae) the flowers are carried in dense heads that are borne singly on leafless stems from spring until fall, but are best for culinary use in the spring. The flowers are butter yellow and have a honey-like fragrance and taste. The name dandelion comes from the French dent de lion, meaning lion’s tooth, a reference to the toothed leaves of the plant. Other names are Swine’s snout, Irish daisy, puffball, blowball, peasant’s cloak, and priest’s crown. This last name refers to the green bud that opens golden yellow like the hair of a young priest but matures to white and falls out as the priest ages.
The use of dandelion leaves for salads and the flowers for wine is well known but the flowers have many other culinary uses. They can be used for making jam, jelly, soup, and a honey substitute syrup (May-honey). Added to bread, muffins, pancakes, cake or cookies, they lend flavor and texture and when batter fried can be a savory snack or sweet dessert depending on the spices used. They can also be made into veggie burgers!
The best tasting flowerheads are the ones that are produced in the spring. After harvesting them, soak them in a bowl of water with about one tablespoon of salt for about 10 minutes to rid them of insects. Rinse the flowerheads in fresh water and spin them dry in a lettuce spinner. Gently tug the petals from the bitter green cup of leaves that hold them together. Forty to sixty flowerheads will produce about one cup of petals.
The dandelion has been known for many centuries for the medicinal properties of its root. As early as the tenth-century, Arabian physicians mentioned the plant and by the sixteenth century British pharmacists viewed it as valuable drug. Roots can also be made into ice cream and a variety of beverages including a coffee substitute.