For many people in our area right now, the annual war on dandelions is in full swing. The first sight of those stems reaching for sunlight has us reaching for the spray bottle. We dig them up, burn them, mow them. But whatever our weapon of choice, we have it all wrong.
What we really should be doing is eating them.
“Dandelions are one of the most nutritious plants on the planet,” said Doug Oster, garden editor for the Tribune-Review and everybodygardens.com. “Every part of the plant is actually edible.”
The leaves and crown provide considerable amounts of vitamin A and vitamin K which promote blood clotting and new blood cell growth. Dandelions also provide healthy doses of potassium, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, magnesium and iron.
Eat enough of them and benefit from lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients important in maintaining healthy eyesight. The American Optometric Association reports these nutrients are responsible for protecting delicate eye tissue from light-induced damage — considerably lowering your risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
So why the war on this superfood weed?
“What is a weed anyway? We make that call,” said Oster. “If they were hard to grow, there would be a garden club dedicated to them, but we’ve been told by the folks on Madison Avenue that we don’t want dandelions in our yards. They’re actually a great plant, and they’re great for pollinators, too.”
It’s best to pick the buds before they bloom, otherwise they’ll taste bitter. March and early April give the tastiest plants, but dandelions can be harvested all summer long. Cut them for consumption when the bud grows back, but before the yellow blooms. Then repeat.
Oster recommends growing cultivated varieties of dandelions for the best eating experience.
“Dandelions have been a staple in European culture for years, so they’ve bred them for their most desirable qualities like tenderness and larger leaves.”
But if you want to capitalize on what’s already in your yard, Oster said, “Make sure they haven’t been treated, and move the wild dandelions to the edge of your garden and let grow there for a time. They become more tender and tastier when growing in better soil.”
Dandelions pair well with balsamic vinegars or red sauces in recipes. Simple dandelion greens sautéed with garlic, rosemary or other aromatics can be a nice side dish. Try them in a veggie burger or as part of a mixed green salad.
Some people may remember their grandmothers gathering dandelions and cooking them with bacon drippings — a popular pairing in Germany and other areas of Europe, still today.
“They can be used in desserts, too,” said Oster. “Like rhubarb in pie — just add sugar to balance it, but the trick to eating dandelions is you want enough of the dandelion flavor to come through, that you can appreciate it.”
For cultivated dandelion seeds, try Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at rareseeds.com.
One area of the country goes all out to celebrate the blooming yellow buds each spring. The Dandelion Festival, now in its 24th year, is held at Breitenbach Wine Cellars in Dover, Ohio.
The annual festival will be held the first Friday and Saturday of May. Guests can sample dandelion sangria and dandelion wine, take cellar tours, purchase arts and crafts and enjoy live entertainment on both days.
Saturday at noon is the children’s dandelion picking contest where kids can compete to find the biggest bloom, the tallest stem or fill their basket with the highest number of dandelions.
Crafters are encouraged to make their soaps, pottery, handmade jewelry and other creations with the beloved weed in mind.
Dandelion foods will also be a big part of the event. Dandelion bread, dandelion sausage and dandelion gravy are just a few specialties available. And it wouldn’t be the Dandelion Festival without Breitenbach’s famous Dandelion Wine to wash it all down.
“We’ve made dandelion wine for 37 years,” said Anita Davis, General Manager of Breitenbach Wine Cellars.
Davis, along with her sister Jennifer Kohler, started the festival more than two decades ago to celebrate the unusual dandelion wine their father was making using an old German recipe handed down to him.
“We have Amish families that come to pick the dandelions early in the year, so the plants aren’t bitter. We can make about 2,000 gallons of dandelion blossom wine from that,” said Davis. “We take the blossoms and soak them in water for about a week, so it makes a type of tea. Then we ferment the tea and add honey.”
The finished product is a sweet, white wine.
Foodies can also get their fix at the Toolshed, a shelter located on the property, where three chefs will give cooking demonstrations using dandelions. One item on the menu is a three cheese creamy risotto with dandelion greens topped with chicken.
And of course, samples are offered.
Also not to be missed, a food truck cook-off.
“We have 17 food trailers serving their own specialties — BBQ, sandwiches, pierogies, smoothies — but we have asked them to come up with an original dandelion dish to serve, so people can taste lots of different dandelion foods,” said Davis.
Can’t miss menu items:
- Dandelion Boursin burger with carmelized onions, candied bacon and marinated red peppers
- Dandelion and artichoke mac and cheese
- Dandelion wine smoothies
Annual Dandelion Festival event details:
- When: May 5, 12 – 7 p.m. & May 6, 9 – 7 p.m.
- Where: Breitenbach Wine Cellars Roadhouse Amphitheater, 5934 Old Route 39 Northwest, Dover, Ohio 44622 (about two hours west of Pittsburgh)
- Contact: 330-343-3603, breitenbachwine.com/events/dandelion-festival