Have you ever tried growing dandelion greens intentionally? Don’t laugh, but as a child I thought this brainstorm of an idea was a way to further myself as a gardener. My parents, however, thought differently.
Dandelion Health Benefits
Although most gardeners would never introduce this weed into their gardens, dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are one of the most nutritionally dense greens we can eat. High in calcium, folate, iron, potassium and vitamins A and C, all parts of dandelions are edible and these weedy plants offer a myriad of health benefits.
Native to Europe and Asia, I’m quite sure generations of my Italian ancestors foraged for these lion-toothed greens in early spring when the leaves are most tender and least bitter. Dandelions leaves were commonly added to salads, but they can also be sautéed. The flowers can be used to make jelly, tea and wine.
Due to this plant’s highly invasive and self-seeding nature, dandelions were not formally cultivated by Eurasians. Had I known this as a child, I might not have made a huge gardening faux pas by trying to grow them.
Italian Dandelion Salad
This little gardening-experiment-gone-wrong began one night at the dinner table. As my mother ladled a spoonful of salad onto my plate, I noticed something different. Nestled among the pieces of iceberg lettuce were dark green toothy leaves. “What’s that?” I asked.
“Dandelions,” my mother replied. “Try them.” I did and immediately made a face. To the untrained palate of a child, dandelion greens are a bit bitter. I did notice my father seemed to enjoy this delicacy. That’s when the light bulb went off in my head.
The next day I scoured the lawn for dandelions. The goal was to harvest enough greens to make my own dandelion leaves salad. Not for myself, of course, but for my dad. Yet, trying to find dandelions in a well-maintained suburban lawn was like looking for a needle in a haystack. So naturally, I did the next best thing.
Did you know a single dandelion plant can produce as many as 20,000 seeds? While I didn’t know that little fact at the time, I’d had just enough gardening experience to understand that one round puffy dandelion seedhead contained a sufficient number of seeds to start my own little dandelion garden.
Thinking back, I realize this was one of those moments when parents admonish themselves for doing something they believed was right, but turned out to be so very wrong. After all, I’m sure my parents didn’t teach me to garden so I could intentionally fill their garden bed with weeds.
To this day, every time I see a dandelion with big succulent leaves, I think back to this garden experiment. I now know better than to intentionally plant dandelions, but occasionally I harvest dandelion greens to mix in with my other salad ingredients. And yes, as an adult, I’ve come to appreciate the slightly bitter flavor of dandelions – just like my father did!