Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) originated in Europe. (The name comes from the French dent-de-lion, or lion’s tooth, which describes the leaves’ jagged shape.) Their seeds were probably spread via colonists’ ships, and dandelions are now found all over the world in a range of climates. In Europe, there are centuries-old traditions not only of eating dandelion greens, but also of using the roots as a tea and a medicinal diuretic, and the flowers for making wine and jam. In the United States, dandelion greens have become a popular food in recent years, and they are now cultivated. Despite being the same species, cultivated leaves may be longer and less jagged.
Dandelion greens can be found at farmers’ markets, farmstands, and well-stocked supermarkets, but you may not have to go to the store to find them. You can pick the leaves off dandelions in areas that are lightly trafficked by people and animals, and where you are confident the plants have not come into contact with weed or insect killers. If you’re foraging, bear in mind that smaller leaves from younger plants will be more tender and less bitter.
Whether you pick them or buy them, look for firm stems and green leaves with no yellow or brown spots, wilted areas, or holes.
Trim the tough stem ends up to where the leaves start, and rinse thoroughly just before using them.
Dandelion greens can be quite bitter, especially raw. When using them in salads, consider adding a creamy dressing or bacon (or both) to balance out the bitterness. A traditional salad from Appalachia has hard-boiled eggs and warm bacon vinaigrette, which wilts the greens slightly.
Cooking dandelion greens makes them less bitter. They are good sautéed and tossed with pasta or potatoes, or added to frittatas or quiches. They make a great addition to soups and stews, and can be served on their own as a side dish. Use them wilted in a warm salad; bake in a savory tart; add to soups, frittatas, pastas, and gratins; braise or sauté.
To soften dandelion greens’ bitterness, pair them with sweet flavors, like balsamic vinegar or honey; spicy or piquant flavors, like garlic, chile, pepper, or onion; or acid, like vinegar or lemon juice.
Store dandelion greens in an open plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three days.