We’ve all been there. You spend hours in the spring and summer tending your garden and grass, only to look out the window to see dandelion weeds peeking their unwelcome yellow heads out of the dirt. What we commonly forget about this pesky “weed” is that it’s also an entirely edible, nutritious, and quite delicious plant.
A member of the daisy family, dandelions were once respected by many cultures as being as beautiful and useful as its relatives, and we think it’s time to give this plant the respect it deserves! Not only are dandelions a nutritious food item, they help keep dirt healthy by keeping it broken up with their tap roots. They can also help your yard when composted or cut up since their tap root allows them to access nutrients that shallow-rooted plants can’t get to. Sprinkle composted dandelion in your garden or yard to release these nutrients to surrounding plants. It’s true that one gardener’s weed is another’s best friend!
Seed Depth: Press into surface.
Space Between Plants: 6–8″
Space Between Rows: 10–12″
Germination Soil Temperature: 55–77°F
Days for Germination: 7–14
Sow Indoors: Can be sown easily indoors at any time. Leave seeds exposed as direct sunlight will help them germinate quickly. Transplant in the early spring.
Sow Outdoors: 5 weeks prior to average last frost. Although seeds prefer sunlight to germinate, planting them shallowly in the dirt will help keep them from blowing away or being eaten by birds.
As a weed, dandelions can adjust to a variety of situations, including a large range of temperatures. Although resilient and able to grow in most climates, dandelions like warmth and prefer Zones 5–9. Within these climates, they love spring temperatures and will flower in April through May. Like most other greens, they will continue to grow in the heat of summer but will become bitter, so plan on an early spring planting if you are growing them to eat!
Natural: Full sun. Tolerates partial shade.
Artificial: A standard fluorescent bulb will get your plants sprouting, Because they prefer full sunlight, bulbs with a higher intensity, such as HIDs or T8 fluorescents, will be best.
Soil: Not picky about soil types, dandelion will grow in almost any type of medium or pH but prefers rich, loamy soil.
Soilless: Germinate seeds in organic soilless mixtures containing coco coir or peat.
Hydroponics: Thrives in most hydroponic systems.
Aeroponics: Thrives in aeroponic systems.
Water: Thanks to their long taproot, dandelions require very low levels of water and can survive on as little as 1–2″ per month.
Nutrients: Will easily uptake all it needs from the surrounding area, so no added nutrients are necessary.
Rotation: Can actually be utilized as a cover crop, increasing soil fertility, drainage, and looseness of the soil. Take care, however, since dandelion self-seeds easily and may be hard to get rid of once there.
Companions: Grows well with tomatoes since they deter Fusarium wilt. Dandelions can also be a great companion to many other garden plants because of their pollinator-attracting yellow flowers. Take heed, however, since they can sap nutrients and water from their neighbors.
Harvest: Harvest the roots of the plant in the fall or early spring when nutrients are at their peak. To harvest, dig around the base of the plant and pull gently to keep the root from breaking. If harvesting the flowers, pick them when they are large and yellow. Wilt is a good indicator they are about to go to seed and should be plucked! For the greens, harvest throughout the season as desired, but try to harvest in the early spring just before or as buds appear since the greens become more bitter after the plant has flowered.
Storage: Store greens, roots, and flowers in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.
Fun Fact: At some point in your life, it’s likely that you’ve made a wish on a dandelion by blowing on the seed ball. What you probably didn’t know is that those seeds can travel up to 5 miles away! If something so small can travel so far, we think it’s likely that it can make your wishes come true, too!
Preserve: All parts of the plant can be easily dried. To dry without a dehydrator, place on a cookie sheet in the oven and set to the lowest temperature. Check every few hours and turn. Once dried, remove from the oven. Dried leaves and flowers will keep for 1 to 2 years in an airtight container. Leaves may also be frozen by blanching and then placing in freezer bags. Frozen greens will keep for up to a year.
Prepare: Roots are mostly used as a coffee substitute after roasting but can also be used fresh as a root vegetable substitute in stir fries or soups. Young leaves and flowers are used in salads, and leaves can also be cooked. Dandelion wine and tea is made from leaves and flowers as well. To make tea, dry and crumble the leaves and place in cheesecloth or tea bags. Steep for 5 minutes and enjoy!
Nutritional: This plant is a wonderful source of nutrients and is in fact even better for you than many commercially sold greens. Aside from having high contents of vitamin(s) K and A, moderate amounts of vitamin(s) C and D, and trace amounts of most others, it also possesses small amounts of the minerals iron, copper, calcium, maganese, and magnesium.
Medicinal: Many of the compounds and acids in this plant have made it medicinally popular for years in cultures all over the world. Although minimal scientific studies exist, many folks swear by its ability to serve as diuretic, stimulate appetite, moderate blood sugar levels, and prevent certain infections such as UTIs.
Warnings: Allergies to dandelions have been recorded, so use caution if you have not consumed the plant before.
For a fun spring activity, why not have a garden party and try your hand at making this Dandelion Hooch!