I first started becoming interested in herbs a couple years ago when I purchased the HerbFairies course for Barefoot Girl and I to do together. Even though it’s made for kids, it’s so engaging that it drew me in! What started as a slow interest is becoming a deep fascination and serious appreciation.
One of the first ways we started using herbs years ago was at just this time of year with foraged greens and flowers for salads . . . so although I’ve “dabbled” in dandelions and violets and chickweed, this year I’m really taking a serious look at what’s behind these plants.
Cultures all over the world have used and admired dandelion’s use as a spring tonic to “start up” the digestive system after a winter of heavier meals; the bitterness of the leaves (which we’re actually enjoying — even Barefoot Girl is eating without complaint!) helps with digestion and constipation and are even used to balance out high blood pressure.
The leaves are rich in minerals such as potassium and calcium and vitamins A and C, and the whole plant is an excellent source of inulin 9
the white stuff) (the “pre” to the “pro” biotics — prebiotics feed the healthy bacteria that we need in our guts). Since poor gut health and low levels of healthy bacteria are linked to depression (and we’re dealing with that in our house), I am intentionally trying to add more of these types of food to our meals.
Early spring is such a potent time for foraging dandelion and other greens because the leaves are storing all the vitamins and minerals that will go into the plant’s flower later in the season. In fact, an herbal saying that’s helpful to remember the flow of the nutrients in the plant is “spring up, fall down” (nutrients are rising in the spring before falling back down to the roots for winter storage).
Surprisingly, it is actually possible to make a mistake in harvesting dandelion. In my research this spring I learned that there’s a lookalike called Spotted Cat’s Ear or False Dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata). Although it’s not poisonous (dandelion is such a beginner’s choice for foraging that there wouldn’t be a dangerous lookalike), it’s interesting to learn how to look a little closer to make sure we have the right plant.
True dandelion leaves lack hairs, while the lookalikes have little hairs on the back and along the major leaf vein. They also have a single flower on a single stem — unlike the lookalikes that have numerous flowers per stem.
How to Eat
For now, we’re mostly eating them fresh on whatever fruits or vegetables we’re having, although Mr. Buckeye’s favorite way so far is sauteed in olive oil with garlic salt. I’ve wilted them on top of meat and gravy sandwiches, which is a delicious way to get just a hint of flavor without an overpowering taste. Soon, I’m going to start making some vinegars with the leaves and root to use as salad dressings. We’ll see what comes after that!