A Pest in the Yard Works Great in the Kitchen

Before you start pulling and poisoning, it’s time for some sage advice: “If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em!”

That’s right—dandelions are edible. Not only are they edible, they’re tasty, versatile and chock full of health benefits.

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Young dandelion greens are wonderful in salads, sautéed or steamed, which makes them great for breads, soups and main courses. The greens have a subtle bitterness similar to chicory and endive, but that is balanced by pepperiness similar to what’s found in arugula. Mature greens can get pretty bitter, but this can be tamed by blanching them.

Dandelion greens are best in early spring, before the flowers appear. When foraging, look for young dandelions growing in rich, moist soil, making sure not to pick close to roads or in areas that have likely been treated with garden chemicals.

The taproot is edible all year, but is best from late fall to early spring. It’s often used to make tea, but can also be used as a cooked vegetable, especially in soups. Roasted dandelion root tea has been shown to be particularly useful in balancing blood sugar.

Dandelions actually have many medicinal qualities and have long been used by herbalists to treat digestive disorders, kidney and liver problems, arthritis, eczema and acne. They’re also full of vitamins and minerals. In fact, dandelion greens have more iron than spinach and more beta-carotene than carrots. They’re also rich in fiber, potassium, iron and calcium and are a good source of protein.

The flowers are full of antioxidants and add color and an unusual bittersweet flavor to salads. They have a meaty texture that contrasts with lighter vegetables in a stir-fry dish or a casserole, and they can also be used to make dandelion jelly, dandelion syrup, dandelion tea or dandelion wine.

Dandelion wine is often homemade, but Breitenbach Winery in Dover, Ohio, is one of the few commercial wineries in the country to bottle it. As the years went on, Breitenbach’s founder’s daughters decided to start a Dandelion Festival.

“A lot of people came up to us and were telling us about the history of dandelions and how their grandmothers made dandelion gravy,” Davis said. Since then, the Dandelion Festival has become a smorgasbord of dandelion foods.

The first weekend of every May, thousands gather at the winery to celebrate what many see as a troublesome weed. They drink dandelion wine and dandelion sangria and eat dandelion sausage and dandelion ice cream, but the real feast comes in the festival’s main attraction: the Great Dandelion Cook-Off.

For 20 years, chefs and amateur cooks have been competing to see who can use dandelions to create the most delicious dish and Breitenbach has collected their recipes for their Great Dandelion Cookbook. There’s no greater evidence that the dandelion can be elevated from pesky weed to celebrated green than a cookbook with more than 100 recipes. Just taste for yourself!

The 2013 Dandelion Festival takes place on May 3 & 4 at Breitenbach Winery in Dover, Ohio. Visit BreitenbachWine.com for more information.