Spring means time to enjoy dandelion greens!

By Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross, Elkhart Co. Extension Director

GOSHEN, IN -- Each year I choose to write my spring column on dandelion greens for a number of reasons. I will begin that part of the reason is out of respect for my grandparents. I remember them sharing the story of dandelions being the first fresh greens that they had since fall, and it was a long time from fall to spring. Some of the other reasons are that you can’t get more local that dandelions that you go dig and prepare, but the most important reason is that they are good for you.

The heavy rain that we are receiving as I type this will encourage the spring flowers to bloom and the dandelions will grow. Spring facts that make for the future of local foods are the temperature is getting warmer so the ground is warming, there is more sunlight which means the grass is greening, and the bulbs, trees and shrubs are also flowering.

The first food of spring that I see and enjoy is dandelion greens and I have seen some that are almost ready, they just needed a little rain to help their growth and now they have had it. I really like wilted dandelions greens, how can you not when they have bacon in the dressing! My mother called them our spring tonic. To enjoy a dish of these nutrient dense greens some of you with weed free lawns will have to visit areas where they are growing.

Dandelion greens are a spring food that have been eaten for years because they were the first salad-like food that grew and people were hungry for something that was fresh and like a salad. When people first started eating them they did not realize how good for them they were. Greens of all kinds are a great source of vitamins and minerals.

Spring is the only time I really enjoy fresh dandelions from my yard, this is when they are mild flavored and tender, but once they get close to blooming their flavor changes and develops a strong bitter flavor. Today commercial dandelion greens are grown and used in spring salad mixes that you can buy in the grocery store, so I would say some of you have been eating them and never noticed or realized.

Eating fresh dandelion greens is a great way to stretch your food dollars. Dandelion greens are also a great way to ‘live green’ in regard to the environment. You can dig them, clean and prepare them and enjoying eating them versus paying money to spray them - them so it makes senses to eat them!

I really encourage you to enjoy a mess of dandelion greens and I believe you are going to have to dig or cut your own as I have not seen them in local markets. There are a lot of different varieties of leaves to dig and there is a slight difference in their flavor. I suggest you look for dark green long leaves less than 1 inch wide.

I like to dig the leaves and root when it is not real muddy, then I do some serious shaking right after I dig the plant; this is kind of like magic. My mother taught me to do a lot of what she called, “dry cleaning” after shaking, cut the root off and let all the dead leaves and everything else fall out of it and pick through it before you begin rinsing the leaves. Then rinse the greens well in several changes of water. Sort or pick through the stems and discard any of them that are woody or thick.

How I enjoy dandelion greens is with the greens being were wilted. I fry the bacon in a cast iron skillet. Once the bacon is cooked I remove it and sauté a chopped onion. The bacon and onion are cooked in a cast iron skillet but then transferred to a regular skillet to finish making the dressing. The dressing is flour that is browned in the bacon grease. I add flour to the skillet and brown it, then add water. A little vinegar and sugar are added to the skillet and the dressing is cooked until it is a little thick. Then the clean, dry, cut greens are stirred into the dressing and just slightly heated until they are wilted. The wilted greens are served as is or over mashed potatoes. The greens are garnished with crumbles of bacon and/or slices of hard cooked eggs.

If you want to store the leaves I have found it best to sort through leaves when dry and store dry in the refrigerator crisper, then rinse several times before preparing!  The greens will keep for several days.