Commonly viewed as a weed, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) actually serves several culinary purposes. For example, its greens add exotic flavors to salads, and its roots are dried and brewed as coffee or tea. If you want to try dandelion root for yourself, know what to look for and how to harvest this common plant. You'll find these plants thriving throughout U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9.
Location, Location, Location
Dandelions reproduce prolifically. You'll commonly find them growing in cracks in sidewalks, along busy highways and in city street medians. If you're hoping to eat dandelion greens and roots, stay away from the plants that are growing in such high-traffic, highly polluted areas. Not only do dandelions absorb the toxins in the soil and air around them, but they might also have been treated with pesticides since they're often viewed as a weed. Instead, look for dandelions growing in rural areas, forests and sunny fields far away from human activity.
Check the Calendar
Dandelion roots are best when harvested anywhere from the fall to spring. The flavor of dandelion roots changes depending on the season. In general, roots harvested in the spring have a more bitter taste. In the fall, the roots of dandelions taste sweeter. Roots harvested in the fall are also higher in inulin, a natural dietary fiber.
Choosing a Dandelion Plant
Look for tall, vigorously growing dandelion plants. The bigger the pant, the bigger its root system. Also, as dandelions are reproducing and growing blossoms, the plant draws on energy it stored in its roots. For bigger roots, look for plants that don't have flowers yet. Dandelions begin producing blossoms in the spring, and this sometimes extends into summer.
Harvesting the Roots
Use a gardening fork to loosen the soil around the dandelion plant's base and pull the plant out of the ground. If you find this difficult, moisten the soil, as moist soil makes it easier to uproot the dandelion. Rinse the roots thoroughly under running water to get rid of debris and dirt.
Preparing and Storing the Roots
Cut off the top growth of the dandelion plant, leaving behind just the base of the plant and its roots. Lay the roots on a screen or on a layer of newspapers in a warm spot, such as on a sunny windowsill. The roots should be fully dried after a couple of weeks. Bend a root to test it. If the root snaps easily, it is fully dried. Store the roots in airtight jars for up to six months.
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