Every spring, when dandelions pop up, I wonder how this charming plant earned such a weedy reputation. I imagine if dandelions weren’t such tenacious invaders of our precious lawns we would readily welcome them into our gardens. If they were tender or rare, we would seek out heirloom dandelion seeds and dote on them in specially prepared beds.
Consider dandelions for a moment outside of the cultural notion that they’re weeds. They pop up early with compact serrated leaves and bloom throughout the season. The sunny flowers could make charming border plants, and the whimsical seeds add more interest. In addition to simply being cute, every part of the dandelion is edible and medicinal. Despite our prejudices, dandelions endure. They thrive in all kinds of conditions, and they dodge our Roundup efforts and continue to pop up year after year. List all their attributes in a seed catalog under a different name, and dandelions seem amazing!
I often think we don’t like dandelions because they aren’t challenging enough. All the mowing, weeding, and fertilizing we devote to lawns fills time and gives us a sense of purpose and accomplishment. What would we do with that extra time if we let the dandelions stay instead of devoting whole weekends to trying to control nature? What if we stopped being “busy” just for the sake of filling time and paused to enjoy what we have, even when we have dandelions?
This early spring has gifted me with all sorts of premature buds and bulbs, including a lot of dandelions. I am always so anxious to eat fresh foods from my garden this time of year. As the frozen foods from last season dwindle, I start to daydream about all the green things to come. Dandelions are often my answer to this hankering.
The young leaves are a great spring tonic, and roasted dandelion root tea is my favorite detox drink. Both leaves and roots are great for the liver and kidneys. Dandelions have lots of minerals and a mild diuretic effect. They’re full of calcium, vitamins A and K, and fiber. One of my favorite spring rituals is to stir fry some dandelion greens after a day of prepping beds. To me, it’s a promise of all the bounty of the season to come.
Dandelion root tea is delicious in a chicory coffee sort of way. After any period of indulgence, I always drink a few cups of dandelion root tea to get rid of puffy skin and sluggishness. I used to buy the Traditional Medicinals boxed tea, but I realized that I could forgo the pricey packaged herbs and harvest my own. It’s so easy!
First, just dig up the roots. Some people say spring or fall is the best time, but I think anytime you’re weeding or gardening is the right time to harvest dandelion roots. Clean the roots well then remove and set aside the leaves.
Then, dry the roots in the oven set at 200 degrees. You could drag the dehydrator out for this, but I think the oven is easier since you’re going to roast them anyway. It’s quicker and there’s less cleanup.
Once the roots are brittle, turn the oven up to 350 and roast until they are nice and dark. The time it takes to roast the roots will vary based on the size and how roasty you like them. The more you roast the roots, the more they develop their coffee-like flavor.
Finally, let the roots cool and then grind them in a coffee grinder. You could also just break them up into coarse bits. Whatever feels right is just fine. Your dandelion tea will be tasty and healthy either way. I make little tea bags from scraps of fabric. They’re waste-free, and the pretty prints add to the beauty of my tea ritual.
On a side note, this lovely handmade spoon is from my amazing friend, Evie of Sweet Destructor. A talented ceramic artist, she gifted this spoon to me not long after the start of my year of nothing new. With few things entering my life this year, I’ve really grown to love this pretty spoon. The particular beauty of truly handcrafted pieces reminds me that consumerism doesn’t have to be a shallow pursuit, and this sweet piece makes me think of Evie often.
I usually stir fry the greens, but pesto is a fun alternative. Dandelion pesto does not have the sweet taste of basil pesto, but the bright bitterness somehow always seems just right for spring. I’ve included a recipe below, but really you can substitute dandelion leaves in any pesto recipe you like.
The blossoms are amazing, too! You can add them to salads, make a jelly that tastes like honey, or make old fashioned dandelion wine. With their cheerful color and health benefits, dandelions are so much nicer than a boring, thirsty lawn. I like to leave them be and take the time to appreciate the beauty of the perfectly imperfect moment.
Here’s how I make Dandelion Root Tea and Dandelion Pesto:
- whole dandelion roots
- Scrub the roots well and remove the leaves. I slice the top or the root off with all the leaves together.
- If your roots vary dramatically in size, chop them up evenly. Some people blend them into a slurry, but then you have a blender to clean. Chopping should be fine.
- Dry the roots in a dehydrator or an oven at 200 degrees for a couple of hours. Once the roots are brittle, they are dry enough.
- Turn the oven up to 350 degrees and roast for about an hour until the roots are really roasted.
- Let the roots cool and then break up into pieces or grind in a coffee grinder. Some people like to grind the roots right before drinking.
- You can add the roots directly to hot water and steep or use a tea bag or tea ball. I make little tea bags out of fabric scraps for loose teas. They are pretty and waste-free!
- approx. 1/4 c. chopped garlic
- approx. 1/4 c. olive oil
- approx. 2 T. lemon juice
- salt to taste
- approx. 1/4 c. nuts like pine nuts, sunflower seeds, or cashews
- A colander full of young washed dandelion leaves with stems and dead leaves removed
- other garden herbs (optional)
- Add the garlic, oil, lemon, salt and seeds to a food processor. I like to use cashews for this recipe because they are sweet and creamy and balance the bitter leaves. I always add a few cashews to vegan pesto since I don’t use any cheese. Usually, I use sunflower seeds for pesto, but they have a bitterness, too, so I don’t suggest them for dandelion pesto. All of my quantities are approximate because pesto is really about what you like. I probably add way more garlic than this. If you want it thinner, like chimichurri, add more olive oil. You really can’t mess it up.
- Add the dandelion leaves and other herbs if using. I had some lemon balm popping up, too, so I added a bit of that. You could cut the bitterness with some sweet basil, too.
- Chop until the pesto is the consistency you like. Scrape down the sides and taste. Add whatever you like to get it just right.
- Use right away on pasta or veggies or store in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days.
Perhaps I devote too much time to odd pursuits like praising humble dandelions and their culinary merits. The time I spend roasting roots and cleaning leaves is a little unconventional, especially in the Midwest. I really like the roasted taste of the tea and the bitter greens, and I’m not that fond of the taxing quest for perfect turf. So, I’ll keep my dandelions. If you decide to try some dandelion tea or pesto, I’d love to hear what you think! If you don’t, that’s okay, too. 😉