Eat Your Weeds: The Miracle of Dandelion Greens

Eat Your Weeds: The Miracle of Dandelion Greens

Could a dandelion save your life?  Maaaaybe not.  But it could make it a whole lot longer.  The NYT Magazine piece entitled “The Island Where People Forget to Die” references the Grecian diet of dandelion greens that contribute to this small isle’s longevity. Dr. Ilias Leriadis, a local doctor on the Greek island of Ikaria, a place populated with healthy 90-somethings, spoke about a local “’mountain tea.” Made from dried herbs endemic to the island, the tea is enjoyed as an end-of-the-day cocktail. “He mentioned wild marjoram, sage (flaskomilia), a type of mint tea (fliskouni), rosemary and a drink made from boiling dandelion leaves and adding a little lemon. ‘People here think they’re drinking a comforting beverage, but they all double as medicine,’ Leriadis said.”

I always loved dandelions, the bright yellow flowers cheery, the puffy white heads just begging to be blown into the air. With one puff, the beautiful seeds float away into the air, slowly landing wherever the wind took them. Then I was caught – a spreader of weeds in my mother’s garden. But, as DailyOm’s Madisyn Taylor notes, “one person’s weed is another person’s wildflower.” Weeds are defined by their tendency to thrive, often where they are not wanted. “In a sense, weeds are harbingers of this wildness, pushing their way into our well-ordered plots, undermining more delicate flora, and flourishing in spite of us.”

I tend to thrive in a wild, overgrown garden, too. And, as food prices rise and I continually learn how important digging in the dirt is to both my soul and my stomach, I love being able to eat from the earth, especially in case of that pesky zombie apocalypse.  And, if you don’t want to treat your lawn with chemical fertilizers or weed-killers, harvesting your dandelions will help keep them in check.

According to SF Gate, dandelion greens “provide four times as much calcium, 1.5 times as much vitamin A and 7.5 times as much vitamin K as broccoli. This leafy green vegetable also contains twice as much iron and three times as much riboflavin as spinach, and, while spinach provides no vitamin E or carotenoids, dandelion greens boast 17 percent of the daily adult dose of vitamin E and 13,610 international units, or IUs, of lutein and zeaxanthin per 3.5-ounce serving. However, dandelion greens are lower in vitamin C and folate than either spinach or broccoli,” so mix up your garden and your diet.

To eat like a Greek, add dandelion greens to your tea or salad, Ikaria-style.  The lifestyle on the island sounds like a dream for those of us longing to escape the race of rats in the city.  Describing a day in the life of one couple, Buettner writes, “Like that of almost all of Ikaria’s traditional folk, their daily routine unfolded. … Wake naturally, work in the garden, have a late lunch, take a nap. At sunset, they either visited neighbors or neighbors visited them. Their diet was also typical: a breakfast of goat’s milk, wine, sage tea or coffee, honey and bread. Lunch was almost always beans (lentils, garbanzos), potatoes, greens (fennel, dandelion or a spinachlike green called horta) and whatever seasonal vegetables their garden produced; dinner was bread and goat’s milk.”

Who’s moving with me to Ikaria? As long as my Netflix works there, I’m IN.

If you’re not ready to retire to a Greek island, are you ready to embrace the weeds in your yard?  If you’re foraging for dandelion greens, be sure to avoid places where weed killer may have been sprayed. How will you prepare them? “The tender leaves can be sautéed like kale, and the flowers are prime for dipping in tempura batter and frying or baking into a sunny loaf of bread. Even the root is edible, making for a coffee-like drink or base for ice cream,” writes Leslie Kelly, over at SeriousEats.

So the next time you see the delicate puffy ball of dandelion seed poking up through your garden, let go the stress of a weed-free life, enjoy blowing the beautiful seeds into the winds, and then reap the benefits and greens of the dandelion.

(Photo Credit: Ramon Felinto)