The dandelion is an obvious place to start any foraging adventure; it is easily identified and has no poisonous lookalikes so it provides a first foraging experience in a neat, risk-free bundle. It’s incredible that a green which is so high in the nutrients that our bodies need to fight off infection are currently just lying around being stepped on – or worse, called weeds and chucked in the bin!
You’d be hard-pressed to find a person who didn’t know what a dandelion looked like, but should you have been living in your cellar for your entire life, they are a bright yellow, round flower made up of multiple small florets. The leaves have a distinctive repeating arrow shape which grow in a circle, tight to the ground.
Although dandelions are the bane of suburban gardeners and farmers, they’re nutritional power houses. Just a handful of dandelion leaves contains more calcium than a glass of milk, more iron than spinach ad is rich in Vitamins A, C and K. It’s also an excellent boost for the immune system – and I think pretty much everyone is hoping to boost their immunity right now, so get munching.
You can find dandelions pretty much anywhere, but if you’re picking them to eat, you probably want to stay away from the ones next to the road, along a well-used dog-walking route or anywhere that has been sprayed with fertilizers or other chemicals.
Harvest the leaves when they are small and slightly lighter in colour as they will be less bitter than. (Depending on where you live, the best time to find new leaves in late February and throughout March – I guess April too if you live particularly far north).
Picking dandelions doesn’t need to be a chore, it’s fun to go out and discover them in wild places. When you’re picking early in the year, the flowers probably won’t be out yet so it’s a bit like a treasure hunt finding the circles of leaves on the ground. You’re best to bring a bag or some pockets with you for collecting as small people can be very zealous at this stage in the proceedings!
When you get a good couple of handfuls of leaves picked and everyone is done having whatever fun they are having, it’s time to head home and do some prep. Give the leaves a really good rinse, make sure you pick out and repatriate any rogue snails that have escaped into your house, then roughly chop the leaves.
I made us a delicious pearl barley risotto with our harvest. I’m not a chef so you just have to wing it a bit when you’re reading my recipes. Bring 1.5 litres of water to the boil with a couple of vegetable stock cubes dissolved in. Once boiling add 400 grams pearl barley and reduce to a simmer for about 20-25 minutes (until cooked through but still retaining a bit of bite and still slightly watery).
About half-way through cooking, shred about 100 grams of peeled sweet potato right into the pot of boiling water. When you’ve got about 5 minutes cooking time left, throw in your chopped dandelion leaves. I’d say grate some Parmesan into it but, if your kitchen is anything like mine at the minute, (No I didn’t stockpile. Yes we are self-isolating. No I did not manage to get a grocery delivery slot.) you’re going to need to do without the cheese. But anyway, yum.
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