Many early spring flowers and greens are edible and very nutritious. Pre-refrigeration these foraged crops were a welcome change to a winter diet lacking in fresh foods and provided a nutrient rich boost to spring diets before new crops came in.
Dandelions, usually treated as a weedy nuisance, are wonderful perennial herbs widely spread across the world. When young, the whole flower, greens and roots can be used in a variety of recipes from jellies, honey, salads, baking, soups, even coffee substitutes and wine! Since these plants are so prolific, easily identifiable and their look-alikes are non toxic they are a great first step into foraging. You can identify dandelions by their hollow stem with a milky sap. They have distinctive basal leaves (grown from the bottom of the stem) with spiky lobes. Yellow flowers and puffball seed heads are commonly recognized and easy to spot from a distance making these plants easy to find!
Always remember to forage responsibly leaving some plants to grow. Don’t pick plants to consume unless you are certain of their identification. Avoid picking in areas sprayed with pesticides or chemicals. If you have never eaten dandelions, start small, prepare and eat a few before consuming more. To prepare greens shake off any debris when picking, then rinse several times in clean water, a salad spinner is handy to dry them. Greens are best picked in early spring before flowers bloom, they increase in bitterness through the season. Flowers should be picked late morning when flowers are open but dried from dew. Here are a couple recipes to try with your dandelions!
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup honey
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1/2 cup dandelion petals
Heat oven to 375F and grease a 12 cup muffin tin. Mix together flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl. In a larger bowl combine honey, buttermilk, butter and eggs. Pour the dry into wet ingredients mix until just combined. Fold in dandelion petals. Pour into muffin tins, dividing evenly and bake around 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool and enjoy!
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
- 2 cups tightly packed dandelion leaves, clean and dry
- 2-4 cloves of garlic to taste
- 1 cup lightly toasted nuts. Pine nuts are traditional I often substitute walnuts or almonds
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup parmesan
- Salt and pepper to taste.
Place all ingredients in a food processer or blender and mix until a paste forms. Serve with pasta, eggs, on toast. Store in refrigerator for 1 week, freeze in cubes for later use.