Like most new skills, wild harvesting can feel intimidating, keeping would-be foragers from starting their journey with wild edibles. Dandelions are a great plant for beginners to start with. They are easy to identify, readily available, the whole plant is edible, and they are full of health benefits. With a bit of knowledge and tips from experienced foragers, harvesting dandelions can be really fast and fun.
A note of warning: dandelions are a commonly sprayed weed so make sure you trust your harvesting location. If there is a possibility they have been sprayed, take caution and find another place to harvest. Dandelions are everywhere, so it should be easy to find another location.
Dandelion Flowers – Edible And Beautiful
Dandelion flowers have many uses in desserts, jelly, dinners, teas, and more. For some recipes only the loose petals are used, while for others the whole flower head is used, including the green part that holds the flower together, called the receptacle. Either way, try to pick large fresh flowers. Try not to harvest to close to nightfall, as dandelions close up at night, making it harder to work with the flowers.
If your recipe calls for only the petals, you can save yourself time by harvesting only the petals straight from the plant. Use scissors and cut the petals as close as possible to the receptacle and let the petals fall into a bowl. It is also very effective to pinch the petals out with your fingers instead of using scissors, and let them fall into the bowl (1).
If your recipe calls for the whole flower head, don’t bother with scissors. You can harvest the flowers much quicker by just popping the heads off with your fingers.
Make sure to wash the dandelion flowers as there could be insects inside them. I often just rinse them in a colander, but you can immerse them in water and stir them around gently with your hand for a really thorough wash. For some recipes, you may need to dry the flowers. If this is the case simply lay them on a dishtowel to dry.
Dandelion Leaves – Nutrition With Unique Taste
Dandelion leaves have a very strong bitter taste. In Italian they are called cicoria and are commonly eaten in salads, pasta, sauces, and more (2). They can be dehydrated of frozen for winter storage.
Early spring, before flowers form, the leaves are milder in taste. This is the ideal time to harvest them, especially if you plan to eat them raw. I harvest them all season but I tend to use less of them in my recipes later in the season so their flavour is not overpowering.
To maximise your harvest and make it very fast and easy, gather the leaves in one hand and cut at the base of the plant with the other. A knife is easier to use than scissors. If you are not looking for a huge harvest, you can just cut or tear off the leaves that you need them. I tend to add a few dandelion leaves into almost anything I make. So when I go out to the garden to get what I need, I just pick a few leaves from the best looking plant I see.
Cleaning the leaves is very easy. Just rinse or soak like you would any other green. Feel free to use a salad spinner to dry or just towel dry.
Dandelion Roots – For Dinner Or Tea
Dandelions roots are a tasty, healthy, and interesting addition to any meal. They are also often used to make tea or a coffee like drink. The roots are probably the most challenging part of the dandelion to harvest and clean. They can be roasted, dehydrated or frozen for winter storage.
If you are planning a big harvest for winter storage, the best time to harvest is in the late fall through to the early spring. At this time, the plant has gone dormant with all the plants energy stored in the root. As a result, the levels of insoluble fibre is higher and the fructose levels are lower (3). For me, I like to harvest as I need them, which means that I collect them throughout the season. I have not noticed any change in taste due to harvest time.
The root is a taproot, meaning that it has one main root that grows vertically downward (4). The root is commonly 6 to 18 inches deep, but can go as far down as 15 feet (5). Because of this, expect that often you will not get the whole root. There are many specialised tools made with long tap roots in mind, and many of these work very well at harvesting most of the root with minimal lawn damage. I have also had a lot of success using a small shovel, digging in near the dandelion as far down as possible and lifting the dirt a bit. This exposes the root and makes it easy to pull it out. Plus the lawn is not affected as I can close up the hole I made easily.
For the dandelions in your own yard, you can get bigger stronger roots by removing the flowers from the plants before they get a chance to seed. By keeping up on this process a few years in a row, you will be forcing more energy into the roots making for a really big harvest once you dig them up. I first discovered this while harvesting dandelions from friends yards. One friend had massive roots on almost all of her dandelions. She had been paying her sons to deflower the dandelions to prevent them from spreading their seed. Little did she know she was making super-dandelions by doing this. I have been practising this ever since and it works wonders.
Roots being underground and full of crevices, they can be very challenging to clean. Rinse the roots outside to get much of the dirt off. Do this a few times until the water no longer becomes black. Then soak the roots in warm water for at least 15 minutes, agitating them occasionally. This water may need to be changed a few times as well. Use a vegetable scrub brush to get the rest of the dirt off and rinse in a colander.
Now That You Have The Knowledge Go Use It
Now that you are armed with all the information you need to start your harvesting, check out these dandelion recipes to make sure you make the most of your harvest.
Amy grew up on farm property with very large impressive gardens and eventually found a community garden to practice her skills until she was able to have her own garden at home. She now has a beautiful garden full of edibles, flowers and insects (both predator and prey) where she and her family can be found digging in the dirt and snacking on delicious food. Her son has grown up helping in the garden where he has picked up a love and knowledge of plants far beyond his years.
Sources for this article include:
(1) Well Preserved: How to Pick Dandelion Petals(A TIP/ TRICK), by Joel MacCharles
(2) The Italian Garden Project: Foraging for Dandelions, by Mary Menniti
(3) Common Sense Homesteading: Harvesting and Using Dandelion Roots, by Laurie Neverman
(4) Encyclopedia Britannica: Taproot Plant anatomy
(5) University of California: How to Manage Pests in Gardens and Landscapes – Dandelions