Plant: Taraxacum officinale, Common Dandelion
We know you know this plant. We were certainly happy to come across dandelions in the beginning of our Appalachian Trail thru-hike when we knew nothing about foraging besides that dandelions are edible. It was like finding a free buffet every time we came upon an expansive meadow on a sunny day. Dandelions are one of the most easily identifiable plants, and they grow in abundance. But did you know how nutritious and delicious dandies are?! The dandelion is a common meadow herb in the sunflower family and while there are many different species of dandelions, botanists can’t seem to agree on about how many species there are. What they can agree on is that they are ALL beneficial to our health and even more nutritious than kale and other dark leafy greens! People will make fun of us vegans for eating “rabbit food,” but hey, the rabbits know what they’re doing. We’ll take that as a compliment.
Just a Few of the Dandelion’s Benefits:
1. Dandelions are FULL of potent antioxidants AKA the free radical police. This means they protect your cells from unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radicals are produced naturally through metabolic and immune responses, but too many can lead to accelerated aging, weight gain, and the development of diseases such as heart disease or cancer. So eat those antioxidants!
2. Dandelions are LOADED with all the good stuff. They are a fantastic source of vitamins A, C, and K, and they also contain vitamin E and B vitamins. You can also get your daily source of iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium from dandelions. And of course, they are a great source of soluble fiber and are rich in prebiotic fiber inulin, making dandelions a great food for healthy digestion and for treating constipation… something us vegans didn’t have to worry about on the trail.
3. Dandelion root can be your new Starbucks. Yep, that’s right. So we actually haven’t tried this yet, but according to other sources, boiled dandelion root makes a tea that looks and tastes just like decaf coffee with medicinal benefits!
Warnings: Some people may have sensitivities or allergies to dandelions. Only eat a small amount at first when beginning to forage dandelions.
Edible Parts of Dandelions: Leaves, Roots, Flowers
How to Eat Dandelions: All parts of the plant can be consumed raw or cooked. The buds are best eaten when the flower is fully open. You may prefer eating the greens cooked, since they are more bitter than the flowers.
Taste to Expect: Kind of like arugula, but a bit more spicy and bitter (also depends on the species of dandelion–some are spicier or more bitter than others). The flowers are more tasty than the greens.
Where to Find Dandelions: Look for grassy fields or meadows where there is a lot of exposure to sun.
When to Find Dandelions: Depending on climate, dandelions can grow all year round, but they tend to be most abundant in spring and fall seasons.
Things to Consider When Foraging:
1. Ants, wasps, bees, beetles, and other little critters enjoy hanging out on dandelions. Before putting a dandelion in your mouth, be sure to not eat our little field friends. They won’t like it and neither will you.
2. Avoid eating dandelions growing in cow pasture or on landscaped/manicured properties, where there might be agricultural contaminants or herbicides/insecticides. Also, don’t pick by a road, as the dandelions might be contaminated by pollutants.
3. Don’t eat the “wish balls,” otherwise known as a dandelion’s way of seed dispersal to continue the existence of their species. By humans, the wish balls should solely be used for making wishes.
4. You might notice a milky white substance exuding from the leaves, root, or stem. This is normal and edible. Don’t worry about it.
Identification: You may think you know what dandelions look like, but believe it or not, there are dandelion look-alikes. To the right, you will see what dandelion greens look like. As you can see, they have edges that someone somehow thought looked like lion’s teeth and gave the plant its original name in French, “dent de lion.”
Notice that the edges of the leaves are smooth and hairless. If the plant is fuzzy, it may or may not be edible, but you’ll know it’s not a dandelion. Dandelions grow on a single stem and produce only one blossum per flowering stem.
YAY FOR DANDIES!!!! On a completely different topic, you might also want to check out Dandies Vegan Marshmallows. They aren’t healthy at all, but they are delicious and cruelty-free.