By: Donna Easto, C.H., H.C., H.E.

A dandelion-free lawn or hillside is a rare sight at this time of the year. North Americans are blessed to have access to these cheery yellow flowers growing wild – it’s one of nature’s finest gifts to us. Aside from being a true superstar in the world of medicinal plants, dandelions are among the tastiest, most versatile and most useful of nature’s edible plants.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is rich in vitamins A, C, E, B-complex, iron, calcium and potassium, and is cultivated as an herb in China, France and Germany. Young leaves are picked in the spring for tonic salads. In early summer, before the plant flowers, leaves are harvested for the manufacture of medicinal teas and tinctures. The roots of two-year old plants are dug in the fall for use in tablets and tinctures.
For culinary use, the young leaves can be steamed as greens and used in salads. They’re best when collected before the flowers appear, and some of the most tender leaves are found growing in shady areas. The roots can be sliced, cooked and served as a vegetable and make an interesting addition to stews. A caffeine-free drink can be made by slowly roasting the roots until dark brown inside and grinding them into the constituency of coffee.
My favourite use for the flowers is to add them to a sweet fritter or pancake batter. The flowers need to be very fresh, picked just before use, and I like to rinse them and remove the green bract found under the flower before adding them to the batter – they can be bitter. Of course, everyone is familiar with dandelion wine, and my sister-in-law makes the best dandelion jelly. The internet is filled with recipes for using dandelions in the kitchen, but these suggestions from Terry Willard of Wild Rose College, are two I’m going to try this year:
You can dig up a bunch of dandelion roots, plant them in boxes and store them in the basement.
This is best done in the fall, and will give you a natural, tasty “green” all winter.

Dandelion smoothie: place 100 small, washed dandelion leaves, 1.5 cups tomato juice;
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce, and a dash of tabasco in a blender. Blend for 3-5 minutes.

When collecting wild herbs of any type, it’s important to harvest them from an unsprayed area, and avoid picking plants by a road or near human, agricultural or industrial complexes. When using dandelion for medicine or food, be sure to check if there is any possible reason you should avoid dandelions. For example, I am allergic to chamomile and yarrow, and need to use dandelion with caution.