When I was a young boy one of the early spring chores given to me by my grandmother was collecting dandelion leaves. She would hand me a shopping bag and send me to her back yard, telling me to pick from the plants with no flowers. After I picked them she washed them in cold water several times and then boiled them like spinach. She would serve them as a side vegetable, just like spinach, beet or chard greens, and they were delicious. Many people sauté them in bacon drippings with onion or garlic, which also sounds delicious.
Though dandelion greens can be bitter, young dandelion leaves are less so and are good raw in salads. They taste like chicory, endive, or escarole; just slightly bitter enough to taste. Early spring and after the first frost are times when they are the least bitter naturally, and boiling them at other times of year will reduce bitterness. Dandelion roots have culinary uses as well; when roasted and ground they make a good coffee substitute and when boiled and stir-fried they are an excellent cooked vegetable.
Dandelion greens are a good source of Folic acid, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Manganese. The leaves are higher in beta-carotene than carrots and contain more iron and calcium than spinach. According to the USDA Bulletin “Composition of Foods,” dandelions rank in the top 4 green vegetables in overall nutritional value.
You can buy dandelion greens, but instead of fretting over those dandelions in your lawn why not dig the roots and plant a row or two in the garden? Once the roots have grown leaves and the plants have become well established, cover them with straw or evergreen boughs about two weeks before you’d like to harvest them. Doing so blanches the leaves and reduces the bitterness. Dandelions grow best in full sun and moist soil.
Note: Dandelions should never be harvested from areas where herbicides and pesticides have been used.