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Many wild plants and “weeds” are some of the most nutrient-dense greens you can eat. It is only in the past 100 or so years, as our food system became more and more industrialized, that wild superfoods like dandelion, nettles and others dropped out of our diet.
Dandelions rank in the USDA’s top 4 green vegetables for overall nutritional value. Dandelions are nature’s richest green vegetable source of beta-carotene, and the third richest source of Vitamin A of all foods, after cod-liver oil and beef liver!
Dandelions also are particularly rich in fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and the B vitamins, thiamine and riboflavin, and are a good source of protein.
In addition to their incredible nutrient density, dandelions contain active chemical constituents which may have specific therapeutic effects on the body. These include:
- Tof-CFr, a glucose polymer which Japanese researchers have found to act against cancer cells in laboratory mice;
- Pectin, which is anti-diarrheal and also forms ionic complexes with metal ions, which probably contributes to dandelion’s reputation as a blood and gastrointestinal detoxifying herb. Pectin is prescribed regularly in Russia to remove heavy metals and radioactive elements from body tissues. Pectin can also lower cholesterol and, combined with Vitamin C, can lower it even more. Dandelion is a good source of both Pectin and Vitamin C;
- Coumestrol, an estrogen mimic which possibly is responsible, at least in part, for stimulating milk flow and altering hormones;
- Apigenin and Luteolin, two flavonoids which have diuretic, anti-spasmodic, anti-oxidant and liver protecting properties, and also to strengthen the heart and blood vessels. They also have anti-bacterial and anti-hypoglycemic properties, and, as estrogen mimics, may also stimulate milk production and alter hormones;
- Gallic Acid, which is anti-diarrheal and anti-bacterial;
- Linoleic and Linolenic Acid, which are two essential fatty acids required by the body to produce prostaglandins, which can regulate blood pressure, lower chronic inflammation, and prevent platelet aggregation;
- Choline, which has been shown to help improve memory;
- Sesquiterpene compounds, which are what make dandelions bitter. These may partly account for dandelions tonic effects on digestion, liver, spleen and gall bladder, and are highly anti-fungal;
- Triterpenes, which may contribute to bile or liver stimulation;
- Taraxasterol, which may contribute to liver and gall bladder health or to hormone altering.
These chemicals, individually, are not unique to dandelions, but the combination of them all in one plant, along with high levels of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, makes dandelion an extremely valuable—yet free—superfood.
Dandelion Selection and Storage
While dandelion greens can be found at health food stores, co-ops and farmers markets, they are probably widely available during the spring and early summer months in your own backyard. Because dandelion is so easy to grow, the dandelion greens that you find in the store are typically organic.
Commercially cultivated dandelion greens may have whitish/green or red stems. The leaves are highly perishable. Store them in the fridge in a large plastic tub with a piece of paper towel to absorb excess moisture and condensation. If you store wet leaves in a produce bag, they will likely only last for a couple of days.
If you forage for dandelion, it is important to harvest wild dandelions in a natural setting, such as an open meadow, in order to avoid pesticide and lawn fertilizer exposure. Alternatively, you can sow dandelion seeds in your garden. In addition to simply picking a wild one for its seeds, there are many gourmet varieties of dandelion available through heirloom and specialty seed catalogs.
It’s best to pick dandelion greens (and all greens) in the morning when the sun is weak, as all greens tend to wilt if the sun is too intense. Tender, new leaves are sweetest; old leaves, midribs, and leaves growing with flowers are bitter.
To harvest, simply cut a clump of new leaves an inch or so above ground level, making sure there are no flower buds yet that would make the plant bitter. Dandelions will cut-and-come-again like some lettuces or celery if you leave an inch or two of the plant behind.
Here is an elegant and delicious way to serve fresh dandelion greens that will help you get the most of them while they are in season.
More Dandelion Recipes
- 2 large bunches young dandelion greens, tough stems discarded (harvest before flowering or greens will be bitter)
- 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, butter or refined coconut oil (refined doesn't taste like coconut)
- 4 cloves garlic , or 4 stalks green garlic scapes, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup raw pecans, coarsely chopped (soaked and dehydrated ahead of time)
- 1-1/2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
- Cut top 5 inches from greens and transfer to a large heatproof serving bowl.
- Cut remaining greens into 3/4 inch slices and add to bowl.
- Heat oil or butter in a small heavy skillet over moderate heat. Add garlic and nuts and cook, stirring, until garlic is golden.
- Stir in vinegar, salt, and pepper.
- Pour warm vinaigrette over greens and toss to combine.