The dandelions are coming! The dandelions are coming!
Actually, the first dandelions of the season have arrived. They’re still few and far between, but I found enough to make a salad.
Dandelions are at their best in early spring, when their flavor is sweet and mild. As flower buds develop and blossom, dandelion greens can become too bitter to eat. In Alaska, dandelions reseed themselves more than once (at least in my yard), and new plants can be harvested throughout the summer, so long as the leaves are small and flower buds are either not present or just forming at the base of the leaves.
To harvest dandelions, slip a knife into the dirt and cut dandelion root just under the basel rosette. Pop it out of the ground and shake off any dirt or debris clinging to the plant.
Although not necessary, dandelions are easiest to clean if you let them soak overnight in a sink full of cold water. This helps soften dried-on dirt which, depending on when and where you gathered the dandelions, can be an issue. Cut off leaves just above the the basal rosette and any flower buds. Wash again in sink of cold water with 1/2 cup white vinegar mixed in; a vinegar wash kills bacteria lingering on vegetables. Give the greens one final rinse in cold, clear water. Dry leaves in salad spinner or with paper towels; the dandelion greens are now ready to use.
Rules for Gathering Wild Plants
Spring wild greens season is one of my favorite times of year. In season, I pick large quantities of my favorite greens (such as nettles, devil’s club, and dandelions), blanch for 1 minute in salted boiling water, and freeze in zip-lock bags for winter use. To harvest high quality greens in a responsible manner, follow these rules:
- Some plants can be confused with inedible or poisonous look-alikes. Be sure you know what you’ve harvested before eating any wild plant. Follow the wise adage: “When in doubt, throw it out!” There are many excellent field guides to edible plants. Consult one or more that focuses on the plants of your region before going on foraging expeditions.
- Don’t gather endangered species or over-harvest a single species in one location. Gather only what you need.
- Don’t break laws by trespassing on private property or in public areas where foraging is prohibited. In Alaska, most state and federal parks allow foraging of mushrooms, bark, ferns, moss, berries, cones, herbs, roots, and wildflowers for personal and subsistence harvest. The laws governing city parks vary from city to city; check local regulations before foraging in city parks.
- Even though a plant is edible, its flavor may not be worth the effort of harvesting or preparing it, particularly when there are so many other easily harvested plants around. Chickweed is an example of an edible plant that, for me, isn’t worth the effort to clean it. Before gathering a large amount of a plant that is new to you, cook and taste a small bit to make sure it appeals to your palate.
- Be careful about gathering wild plants in areas that’ve been sprayed with pesticides, or in areas where you don’t know if spraying has occurred. I don’t gather wild plants within 75 feet of a main road because dirt and pollution from traffic and exhaust fumes can contaminate the plants. I also avoid gathering wild plants in areas where animal waste is likely to be found.
- No matter where I gather wild greens, I meticulously wash them before using. After an initial cleaning to remove loose dirt, wash wild greens in cold water with 1/2 cup of vinegar mixed in, and then in cold, clear water.
Now that you know the rules, head outside and see what you can find. A list of Alaska’s most desirable wild edible is found here.
UPDATE 1: My post on how to harvest and use Devil’s Club is here.
UPDATE 2: My post on how to harvest and use Fireweed is here.
More Dandelion Recipes from Laurie Constantino: