My dad frequently tells me about my grandma taking him and my aunt and heading out, the three of them, to forage for dandelion greens. Where, and how, I’m not exactly sure, but she would gather enough that when they returned home with their treasure she would can them up for later use.
If any of you have cooked greens, and know how much they cook down, then you can imagine the lot it would take to can them.
When we purchased our place last year and I saw the acres of dandelions, I was delighted. I’d have the opportunity to channel my grandmother and go a-foraging. We had dandelions in our little suburban backyard. But we also had dogs. Nuff said.
Ever since the weather had started to warm I had been watching for them and last week it seemed like the best time to gather them.
According to Feasting Free on Wild Edibles* dandelions are best collected before they have started to flower as, after flowering, the greens put off a very bitter taste. This taste can be eliminated by boiling the greens, changing the water, and then boiling again.
The roots can also be roasted, ground, and used as a substitute for coffee.
While dandelions are pretty easily recognized, if you have trouble identifying them, look for the toothy edges which are said to resemble a lion’s tooth, hence the name “dandelion”.
I harvested mine using a weed removing tool. While I was not able to get much of the root itself, I was able to easily get the greens.
My husband and I don’t really mind bitter greens, so I took everything I could find that looked like it was in good shape regardless of whether it had bloomed or not.
For the two of us, I filled a large plastic bowl full, and then took them inside to clean them. Here I will say: if you wish to gather for supper, start early in the day. It takes some time to harvest them, and then a bit longer to clean them up. You’ll want to rinse them several times to get rid of all the grit and then put them through a salad spinner to dry them.
Greens can be prepared a number of ways. You could eat them raw, I suppose, or boiled as mentioned above. I opted however, for a warm greens salad.
Finely chop about 4 oz of bacon, and begin to render the fat in a large saucepan.
Then chop about 1/2 of a purple onion, or a shallot would be quite nice if you have one. Add the onion to the pan and slowly cook with the bacon. When the bacon is cooked, add your greens and toss to combine. You want the greens wilted and tender, but still a vibrant healthy green. If you need to put the lid on the pan to steam them for a bit that is fine.
When they are to your liking, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and use a spatula to stir up the bacony bits from the bottom of the pan. Serve on small plates. We ate ours alongside a roast chicken which was lovely, but if you have enough, prepare them the way my grandma did: topped with a hard boiled egg. With a side of biscuits or cornbread this could be an inexpensive meal just by itself.
While the greens provided a free meal, for which I am grateful, I have to confess that eating things out of the yard presented a bit of an “ick” factor for me. It reminded me of afternoons as a child when I would gather dandelions, henbit, and I can’t recall what else, and happily prepare a foul smelling mud stew. Seeing the greens and the dirty residue left behind in my sink, was not too unlike this childhood concoction.
The grocery store, with its produce aisles stocked with pristine vegetables draws a veil between us and the dirt. We forget that we aren’t that far removed from the soil ourselves ~ something that we would do well to remember from time to time.
In sharing this post, I am sharing our experiences only. Any foraging that you would choose to do would be at your own risk. If you have any doubt about identifying anything growing in the wild, leave it alone.
*A vintage copy of Feasting Free on Wild Edibles is available in our Etsy store here.