Dandelions are a herald of spring. Soon enough, the CSAs will be bounding with the tender, young leaves of this bitter spring edible and folks lucky enough to be recipients will be scrambling to figure out ways to use them. The husband is not a fan of the dandelion’s signature bitterness. That said, most of his experience with dandelions, he insists, was back in high school when he sold bouquets of them as a spring fundraiser. For the record, I’m pretty sure he meant daffodils.
Dandelion greens feature a snaggle-toothed leaf. The very name “dandelion” comes from the French “dent de lion” or “lion’s teeth” and to me, it evokes the snarling, untamed way the season of spring revs into life. Taraxacum officinale, its botanical name, hints at the dandelion’s strength as a curative herb. Taraxacum comes from the Greek word taraxos meaning “disorder” and akos meaning “remedy”.
And according to lore, being a remedy for disorder is exactly how the dandelion got its Chinese name. The story goes that one day in ancient China, a young heiress wakes to discover a rash-like swelling on her chest. Dismayed that her parents will think it was caused from hanky-panky and sneaking behind their backs, she jumps into a lake determined to end her life. Fortunately for her, and the Chinese materia medica, she is fished out by the daughter of a local fisherman. When they get wind of what is going on, they make the trek to the hillside for the dandelion’s jagged leaves and offer it to the heiress as a drink. The heiress’s swelling heals and the fisherman’s name, Pu, gets forever immortalized in the Chinese word for dandelion, pu gong ying.
The ability to relieve hot painful rashes and swelling is just one of the dandelion’s many impressive qualities. Energetically, the dandelion’s cold nature and bitter, sweet flavor can clear fiery heat and toxicity from the liver and stomach channels. The entire herb is commonly used to relieve swollen sore throats, inflamed gums, swollen red eyes, and skin issues, like abscesses, acne and eczema. And it’s especially a star with issues where the liver and its Chinese medicine BFF, the gallbladder, are involved. By gently and slowly clearing toxins in the liver, dandelions effectively help to “clean the blood”. That makes dandelions useful in conditions like jaundice, hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, and alcohol and drug abuse. However, if you’re prone to gallstones, you’ll want to stay away from dandelion roots because they get bile production going and could further clog up the bile ducts.
As a digestive bitter, dandelions are useful in treating constipation and digestion, and they’re also a powerful but gentle diuretic. Most pharmaceutical diuretics run the risk of causing a potassium loss, but these leafy superstars are packed with potassium and help replenish potassium wares while simultaneously releasing excess fluids. If that wasn’t enough, the cooling properties of dandelions can also help relieve joint pain, arthritis, and rheumatism. And for centuries, dandelions have been a curative go-to for breast problems, including mastitis and low milk production, especially when the issue comes from too much heat in the body. Studies are also looking into the dandelion’s healing effects over breast cancer.
Dandelions get the reputation of being stubborn weeds and the bane of gardeners, but its sheer durability as a weed speaks volumes about its strength, and that quality gets relayed to us when we make it our food. Dense with nutrition, dandelion greens are packed with calcium, iron, potassium, vitamin C, and they’re especially rich with beta carotene, an organic compound (also found in carrots) that many equate to vitamin A. Because it’s found in fibrous veggies, beta carotene vitamin A can be tougher to ingest by the young and the elderly. True vitamin A is found in animal products and fats. The happy solution? Coat these hardy greens with a coat of oil or butter for a truly beautiful friendship. For me, a sheen of smoky bacon fat did just the thing to soften the leaves and mellow the dandelion’s signature bitterness.
To further soften the dandelion’s edge, I added a pop of sweetness with a handful of freshly rinsed dried goji berries. They’re often used like dried cranberries, but without the tart acidity. Goji berries, incidentally, are a power packed force of their own (worthy of a future post), and therapeutically complement dandelions. For one, they nourish the liver and support the eyes (while dandelion leaves clear the eyes of heat and excess). I also found their mellow sweetness and chewiness added a pleasant contrast to the dandelion’s velvety bitterness.
Thick-cut bacon always makes a statement and here, it’s a smoky and delicious presence that rounds out the bitter and peppery flavors.
Dice the bacon into small pieces. I started with this larger cut, but preferred the smaller dice for crunch and maximum surface area spreadage.
The dandelion leaves I picked up were at our local produce market. These were a little rougher and courser than the young, tender shoots found in the typical CSA basket, so I prepped them with a quick 1 minute blanching in boiling water to soften the tough leaves. If you find yourself with larger leaves too, roughly chop them into 1-inch strips for a more bite-sized portion that won’t have you doing chewing reps.
Sauté these leafy beauties in a coat of rendered bacon fat. YES! Do it.
Add a squeeze of lemon for a burst of brightness. I think the husband will put his dandelion prejudices aside for this dish.
Wilted Dandelion Greens with Bacon & Goji Berries
Makes 4 servings
- 1 bunch dandelion greens (approximately 1lb)
- 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 8 ounces (about 4 slices) thick cut bacon, diced
- handful of slivered almonds, toasted
- handful of dried goji berries, rinsed
- salt and pepper, to taste
- fresh lemon juice
- Toast the slivered almonds in a non-stick frying pan, stirring for 3-5 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from heat and let them cool in a bowl.
- Roughly chop the dandelion greens into 1 inch strips. If your dandelion greens are large-leafed, or not entirely the freshest from the market, blanch them in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes to soften them up. Drain in a colander.
- Dice bacon into small pieces. I started with a larger cut, but preferred the smaller dice for crunch and maximum surface area spreadage.
- In a large sauté pan or cast iron skillet, fry the bacon until crisp and fat is rendered, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the bacon onto a paper towel, saving the fat in the pan.
- In the same pan, toss the garlic slices into the bacon rendering, stirring until lightly browned, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the greens, sautéing until limp, about 3 minutes. Return the bacon to the pan.
- Sprinkle in the toasted almonds and rinsed goji berries, allowing the heat of the greens to warm and soften the berries. Salt and pepper, to taste. Toss lightly.
- Serve with a generous squeeze of lemon juice.