April 30, 2009

If I can't smoke it, why should I grow it?

The ultimate NIMBY...
Photo credit: aussiegall

I grew up in a neighborhood of immigrants. One year, the guy across the street planted his entire front yard in potatoes. His daughter, not being from the Old Country, was mortified with shame. It was UnAmerican to use a front yard like that. He never saw her point of view but, not wanting to embarrass her, he went back to growing grass like everyone else.

Sometimes convention is habit that's hardened into prejudice, and prejudices cannot be addressed using logic. Surprisingly enough, some vegetables fall into this category. They provoke illogical responses -- especially this one vegetable. I mean, I could say that this vegetable contains the fountain of youth and people would still scoff.

I think the conversation would go something like this:

Me: It's really healthy and full of vitamins .

Friend: Who cares! It's a weed!

Me: It's easy to grow your own -- fresh, local, and organic.

Friend: Who cares! It's a weed!

Me: It can help you lose weight.

Friend: Who cares! It's a --- hmmmn, wait a minute. I don't want to be too narrow minded here. Can you tell me more?

Dandelion leaves fall into the category of healthy green leafy veggies.

What were you saying about it helping weight loss?

They grow, as most people know to their regret, almost any where.

You mentioned weight loss a minute ago?

Not only are they in the top 4 green vegetables in overall nutritional value (USDA Bulletin #8, "Composition of Foods, Haytowitz and Matthews 1984), their diuretic properties work against excess water retention. Most diurectics have the serious drawback of causing you to lose potassium, but dandelions have such a high level of potassium in the leaves that you don't end up with a deficit.

Who cares about all that so long as I'm thin, thin, thin!

All right, you can say it's a weed. But not just a weed. It's a nutritious weed. (Yes, unless you spray it with evil poisons, but those poisons would be bad for you regardless of the food they were sprayed on -- even if you were eating a cupcake.) Dandelions are a "very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Manganese."

Note: people take dandelion pills or tinctures for medicinal benefits. (For example, it is used as a traditional medicine for liver problems.) Using concentrated amounts of dandelion extract can have a powerful effect on your system, not always a good idea if you're taking other medications as the same time.

That's not what I'm talking about. I am focused here on eating green leafy vegetables. You take anything in concentrated doses and you'll want to be careful. Ingesting dandelion leaves in a salad is much safer. If you're just concerned with eating a vegetable that's good for you, this is it.

A cup of dandelion greens, 25 calories, gets you:
112% of your daily need for vitamin A
30% of vitamin C
585 friggin' % of vitamin K
24 mg Omega-3
144 mg Omega-6

Dandelion are supposed to have medicinal properties as well. The official name of the plant is Taraxacum officinale, which is fancy language for the "Official Remedy for Disorders." Most of its reputation as a tonic is based on traditional European folklore. That doesn't mean the claims are false, but I'm conditioned to want to hear about health from people in white coats.

There isn't as much scientific research out there as I would like re: its tonic properties. I did find a study that claimed dandelions would help with lipid metabolism of diabetics. Mostly what I found was vague but quite positive. "The well-known pharmacological effects, together with the low toxicity, suggested by other authors, make this underutilized plant a good candidate for use as food source."

All the experts on the web and in upscale recipe books say pick the tender young leaves. However, if you're trying to follow the folklore route and eat this stuff to help your liver, they say you should include some of the older, more bitter-tasting leaves. Southern cuisine pairs dandelion leaves with bacon, Asian cuisine combines it with salty-tasting recipes.

Also, you can use the root to make tea. "The tea made of it is of medicinal importance, has a stomachic, tonic, diuretic, aperient, digestion stimulating, antibilious, blood purifying effect."

Incidentally, another weed that people spend a lot of time and effort trying to get rid of is purslane (Portulaca oleracea). Did you know it is the highest vegetable-based source of omega-3s?

If you want to eat a healthy diet without breaking the bank, maybe it's time to stop thinking of all weeds as an enemy. (Some weeds are definitely still in the enemy category -- I haven't found a single source that claims poison oak has a redeeming quality.)

What, you're still reading this? You haven't given up in disgust and clicked on Bubbleshooter instead? I'm impressed. To most people, the idea of eating weeds that grow in a backyard sounds as absurd as planting potatoes instead of a lawn.

I think it's the same mindset as growing potatoes on the lawn. Eating dandelions might be logical, it might be practical, it might be healthy.

Plus it could help you lose weight! Don't forget the important stuff!

But if you ate it, people would think you weird. Why is this? People don't value something if it's free? You can buy dandelion leaves in upscale trendy grocery stores. Does that make the veggie more appealing?

I think this prejudice falls into the category of "Just Because." Can't see another reason for it. (If you can, please let me know!)

I'm not planning to start a campaign, People for the Eating of Dandelions Dammit (PEDD). I'm just curious -- what's your reason for avoiding them?

Caveats: I haven't been able to verify this, but I've read you should avoid dandelions if you have allergies to latex or daisies. And yes, yes, obviously, avoid it if you're not sure the area has not been sprayed. While supposedly quite helpful for people in the early stages of liver and gall bladder disorders, dandelions are in check-with-the-doc territory if you have gall stones. The bitter elements increase the amount of bile produced.


  1. HMM..so interesting! I was totally un-aware Merry!

    Ok, I'm not really planning on going to the park to collect them but I'm curious to talk to someone who has reaped all these benefits!!

    Thanks for the info & the laughs :)


  2. That is so completely interesting! It never would've occurred to me that I could eat them but I'm pretty open-minded and would try them. Unfortunately, all that vitamin K would be tragic for me with a clotting disorder so I won't be running out to my backyard to make a snack out of 'em anytime soon.

  3. Wow, I had no idea!

    Do dandelion leaves taste nasty-bitter or just mildly bitter? Because I'd definitely give them a try after reading this.

    I'll start keeping an eye out at upscale produce retailers and untended weedy areas and see what I can rustle up.

  4. SO INTERESTING (and creative and innovate a post. D*mn you Merry :)).

    and should anyone want any dandelions collected for them Im quite confident the Toddler would be happy to oblige and we really REALLY have zero plans for the day so...

  5. If I get urge to try this, my neighbor, who doesn't give a damn about his yard, will supply all the weedy treats I desire in abundance.

  6. This is a very interesting post Merry. In the realm of science I caution to avoid any of those furry little plants that may grow close to your pets waste removal area.

  7. Unfortunately you have to worry about the neighborhood dog that still isn't on a leash pooping and peeing all over your leaves or maybe in some cities the drunk guy walking by and needed to take a whizz.

  8. My grandparents used to eat dandelions. But to your point, as I sat here and read this, my wife stated her opposition to eating dandelions.

    Maybe we need to visit that trendy grocery store...

  9. I never would have thought about it. Not sure I could bring myself, but I'll try to keep my mind open!

  10. I also worry about how close the plant was to excrement.

    However, I wouldn't be adverse to growing them in flowerpots.

  11. If it weren't raining, and if I weren't at work right now, I would totally go round up the dandies and start munching away!

  12. I was just thinking as I went to the site, that I haven't had my fix of Merry's writing for a while!

    I don't feel there is such a thing as a weed! (Not to be confused with "weed.")

  13. I will totally eat random plants! I scared my neighbor the other day because the kids and I were eating the purslane that grows in the cracks in the sidewalk in front of his house. After I explained that we weren't just vagrants now, he suggested we might want to wash it first. Man has a point.
    PS> Replacing all that water-sucking grass with flowers and veggies is becoming all the rage in "progressive" burbs - NY Times just did a whole piece on it.

  14. My reason for not eating them is that they don't taste good. Sorry. My grandmother ate them all the time, so I don't find the idea odd. My parents fed us turnip greens and beet greens and swiss chard, but I never liked any of it. Greens are yucky. Sorry.

  15. Hmmmm....can't say I ever munched on a dandelion (I leave that to the cats so they can of course heave it back up on my carpet). They just don't look tasty to me. Who else has tried them?

  16. I eat dandelions every now and then...like you said you can get them as part of an expensive leafy green mix usually labeled as "weed salad." My usual excuse for eating them is the same as for most things, I can't grow S*&t in this city! Although I plan on pushing the "fire escape garden" to new limits this summer ^_^

  17. I used to eat dandelion stems when I was a kid. The inside is kind of milky.

    These days we buy those mixed salad leaves that have dandelion leaves in them.

    I had no idea dandelion leaves were so good for us, though. I'll keep that in mind when choosing which bag of salad.

  18. I suppose it makes me sound off that I can't see anything at all unsavory about growing potatoes in the front yard.

    My neighbors are going to love me.

  19. So, wait, can you smoke it?

    I remember hearing about what a great food dandelions were as a child. I remember trying to eat the stems and spat them out in disgust. So, this is going to be a hard mental implant to overcome. But I'm willing to give it a try. It's just going to feel weird buying them from a grocery store on purpose.

  20. My earliest observation of dandelion eaters was the two elderly sisters who used to dig them out of the highway median every spring. In the 1950s these ladies wore their skirts ankle length, and wore shawls instead of sweaters.
    After I was grown I tried some myself. Once. I love turnip greens, and will now eat cooked spinach if you put it in front of me. I would eat kale only if the alternative was starving to death. Beet greens are only slightly less detestable. On my greens-edibility scale, dandelions fall below spinach but above beets.
    How bitter they are depends on how old they are. Really young one have no bitterness (and not much flavor that I could tell.) Leaves with flowers are really bitter.
    Chickweed, on the other hand, I will happily munch as I pull it up. Tastes like cabbage to me.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  21. I always wondered about dandelion Wine. Hmmm wine AND dandelions...who knew? And yes, don't weight loss tips no matter how peculiar, perk up all our ears?

  22. I never knew this info about dandelions. Who woulda thought. I do, however, remember eating those honey suckles at recess in elementary school...if I knew then about dandelions, I could of had a real nice snack :-)

  23. I used to eat dandelion greens as a kid. And if I remember correctly, the flower buds when they just started to come out (so they were still all closed up). No matter how "young" the leaves were, I always thought they were bitter. Which is okay if you're in the mood for it. My guide to the great edibles always said he thought it depended on the soil it was grown in an the temps at the time - same with radishes.

  24. I loved today's post. It made me laugh and gave a lot to think about. Such a great combo. Now I'm off to scour the yard for dandelions, so I can be thin...uh healthy!

  25. Good Lord, I thought everyone would turn away in disgust at How Weird Merry Is. I'm surprised at all the people who /have/ tried dandelions.

    Yes, wash them before you eat them!

    I'm such an anti-vegetarian by birth that I think all vegetables taste nasty. I eat them for the vitamins.

  26. We take dandelion supplements sometimes, and have often thought that I should pick some of the dandelions from our yard to eat, but with all of the foxes and cats that wander the area, there's no way! We did, however, have a "garden" in the front lawn last year with pumpkins growing rampant. Fun! Vee at www.veegettinghealthy.blogspot.com

  27. Vee -- did your family object to the front-yard garden? (I think it's a good idea to use a front lawn as a garden, so long as you don't have a teenage daughter who would get upset, like my neighbor.)

  28. I LOVE dandelion greens! They definitely taste good-bitter, not nasty-bitter, though they are vastly improved by the addition of a little oil and salt. (Whatever kind - olive oil and a dash of salt in a salad, cooked with bacon like the Southerners, etc.)

    Maybe when I buy a house, I should just let the yard go to dandelions. All the salad I can eat and I won't have to mow! (Now if I can just convince my neighbors that my yard is NOT neglected, it's a GARDEN.)

  29. Oh this brings me back - my Sicilian grandparents used to make dandelions ALL the time - unfortunately for me, they also made their own ravioli and wine. Guess which way I wandered?

  30. My aunt used to cook them all the time when I was little. They're pretty good actually.

  31. I've actually seen dandelion greens at the grocery store! And we used to get purslane in our CSA share. I wish I knew more about which plants are edible, although I'm definitely warier around here of eating wild plants than I was when I lived in a more rural setting.

  32. WOW, never heard this with all I read about fitness. Very interesting!!!!! Did I miss how you eat them besides just eat them. Are there ways to prepare to make them mroe "appealing"? I am not a cook so maybe some of your readers out there are & can provide some insight. Thx for the very informative poost...

    AND, It can help you lose weight! HA!

  33. In my poor student days I would often make soup using nettles as one of the ingredients (they lose the sting once cooked) - a great source of vitamins.

    There are loads of hedgerow plants that are edible and healthy - it doesn't have to come pre-washed in a cellophane bag to be good for you!

    Great post - love ya!

  34. ... You lost me at bubbleshooter :)

  35. I, sadly, am old enough to have eaten dandelion greens...wilted, sauteed, in a salad, in pepper jelly, and of course the ever popular dandelion wine. Which, incidentally, I don't recommend. My grandmother and mother were both devote├Ęs of the dandelion greens. I had to help pick the biggest, fattest and greenest. No one in the neighborhood sprayed, cuz everyone harvested the darned things. We didn't have potatoes covering our yard, but we had dandelions!! When they were losing their flowers and ready to go to seed, I was sent out to pluck the fuzzy tops off so they wouldn't spread. Go figure that out...we wanted greens, but didn't want the weed to go to seed. Very odd, looking back on it. Anyway, thanks for the stroll down memory lane. :)

  36. If we can't smoke it, why should we grow it?

    Because it makes wine.Where are people's priorities?
    *sad headshake*

  37. Thank you, all I can think of today is Sid from Ice Age saying "a DANDELION, yumm-o!"

  38. Great Post!

    I haven't even thought about eating dandelions since I was a kid.

    I use to walk around and eat them and my parents would laugh at me, but when I was a kid, I'd eat just about anything. I actually use to eat the entire flower... gross...

  39. I've fed the wild dandelions to my horses, tortoise and canaries for years, and have bought them in specialty (Japanese) produce stores for salads before. I would love to grow them in the backyard, but need to find some seed heads to harvest to get them going.

    Great post about the vitamin etc content, I didn't know they were THAT healthy, though I knew about the overall tonic reputation.

    So much to grow, so little yard!

  40. Maybe we can add the dandelion leaves to Crabby's Shrek shake/smoothie (by-the-way...I tried it with the spinach, and it was pretty good...well "good" but not "pretty."

  41. They seem to taste kind of bitter. I grow some other stuff in my yard that's kind of healthy, amaranth I think? Weeds.

  42. We eat dandelion greens all the time now, courtesy of two men in my life. One is my 95 year old Italian stepfather who introduced us to them when he was visiting years ago. He went out in the yard, gathered them, and served 'em up. They were delicious.

    Then just this year Mark Bittman (the other man mentioned above) posted a recipe on his blog under the title of The Greening of Potatoes. It's a mixture of dandelion greens and potatoes with a healthy dose of olive oil (and maybe garlic?). It is fabulous.

    I'd post the link but I'm on the road and computer access is sketchy. But look for Mark's recipe. I can't imagine you wouldn't like it.

    Also, he talks about how it's lighter way to serve potatoes -- for the weight-loss-interested. :)

    Finally, apologies to my husband. Mark is a culinary hero but only on tv...er, the computer.

  43. My godfather used to give me a whole bunch of things from the ground to eat, and planted them too, so I don't find it weird. I'm sure at one point dandelions were included.

    I actually always wanted them as flowers for my future yard, but that may be because I watched Beauty and the Beast way too much as a child and wanted to run through them like Belle. (Disney has warped me beyond the usual.)

  44. I grew up eating dandelion greens mixed in with other greens in salads...should I mention my whole family was still overweight?

  45. S.J., what other kind of food did your family eat?

  46. Souns weird at first but I would give it a chance and eat some.... I'm always open for new experiences.


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