Can You Eat the Dandelions in Your Backyard Safely?

You have the same battle every spring. Instead of pulling dandelions, maybe there’s another way to utilize the plant? So, can you eat dandelions in your backyard?

The short answer to this question is yes… in most cases. And you’ll be surprised at the myriad of foods and beverages you can prepare using this common, often maligned weed.

We’ll bet that you think a lot differently about dandelions once you’ve finished this article.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

The History of Dandelions in North America

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) weren’t always here in the United States and North America. Its story provides some valuable clues about its value as a food source to help answer the question of if you can eat dandelions in your backyard.

It turns out that European settlers brought the plant to America intentionally. They had cultivated it and ate the plant back in the old country as did the Romans, Egyptians, and ancient Greeks.

It wasn’t just its tasty flavor that made it a welcome addition to meals. The old ones believed that dandelions had medicinal and spiritual value.

Herbalists used the plant to treat a myriad of health conditions from depression to fevers to baldness. While we can’t speak to any medicinal purposes, there is a kernel of truth in these beliefs.

Raw dandelion greens pack a hefty nutritious punch. They have more vitamin A, iron, and fiber than spinach. Adding them to your diet is an excellent way to improve your nutritional intake.

Dandelions also rock when it comes to vitamin C. Deficiencies of this nutrient were common back in the days before proper food storage. During the winter, people weren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables to ensure that they had enough of this nutrient for their bodies to function properly.

The thing with vitamin C is that it is water-soluble. That means that your body doesn’t store it, making it necessary to get it every day.

That led to medical disorders such as scurvy and periodontitis. When the herbalists recommended that inflicted individuals eat dandelions, it became a miracle cure. The fact that the human body responds quickly to getting enough vitamin C in their diets only guaranteed its place in medical plant folklore.

The rest, as they say, is history.

That was then, but this is now. So, can you eat dandelions in your backyard today without getting sick? It depends on a few things.

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The Big “If” About Eating the Dandelions in Your Backyard

The operative phrase is “your backyard.” That’s because you know and can control what happens in your yard. The primary concern is contaminants.

That includes things such as:

  • Pesticides
  • Road salt and surface runoff
  • Animal access

The history of dandelions points to it being safe to eat. And in theory, it is. The question remains about other factors that could tip the scale the other way.

Pesticides That Affect the Safety of Dandelions

Pesticides are the obvious ones. Somehow a lawn filled with bright, yellow flowers doesn’t give a lot of people that warm, fuzzy feeling. Technically, dandelions are classified as weeds or as we would say misplaced plants.

To follow that statement further, let’s talk about the differences between weeds, noxious plants, and invasive species.

Noxious plants represent a threat to property owners and native habitats because they can adversely affect its recreational, economic, or environmental value. The classification includes species such as:

  • Purple loosestrife
  • Garlic mustard
  • Ragweed
  • Field bindweed

Invasive plants, like noxious varieties, are the ones that can take over an entire area quickly, making it a monoculture of only one plant. That can hurt wildlife that depends on the other species that the aggressive one crowded out of the habitat.

Some examples include certain species of goldenrod, reed canary grass, and yes, even dandelions.

Our point is that more often than not, people are trying to get rid of dandelions and sometimes resorting to the use of pesticides versus the back-breaking work weeding. Even if you don’t use these products in your yard, drift from the herbicides that your neighbor is using could contaminate your plants.

That’s why you should never apply spray pesticides when the wind speeds are greater than 10 mph. Besides, may end up poisoning other plants in your garden.

The situation is different from buying produce at your local grocery store. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has your back when it comes to the safety of your fruits and vegetables. Your neighbor’s garden, not so much.

By the time your store-brought food makes it to your kitchen, the remaining pesticide levels are well below anything that could hurt you.

That said, washing your dandelions under running water will reduce residues on your plants. What may come in contact with them is likely minuscule, anyway. We always recommend taking this precaution no matter where we get our produce.

Road Salt and Surface Runoff

This part of the question is a bit tougher to answer. Road salt may affect the soil, but its effects are probably short-lived because salts dissolve. The other factor is harder to dismiss in some cases.

It all depends on the lay of your land. If you’re at the bottom of a hill, yes, the backwash from all the crud on the roads is going to make it to your backyard and your dandelions. And it will happen every time it rains.

That’s a problem.

If that isn’t an issue with your property, you can probably rest assured that the only moisture they’re getting is from rain and snow coming from the sky.

Animals Access

This one is problematic if you can’t control pets or other animals from using your yard as their sandbox. But you are washing your dandelions, right?

Perhaps your biggest concern if you’re harvesting them for your consumption is to make sure that the neighborhood’s rabbits don’t find them first. Making your yard pest-proof isn’t difficult with some simple measures.

With all of that said, you can probably feel confident that the dandelions are safe to eat if you have a reasonable assurance of controlling the factors that can render them otherwise.

But, there’s one more point we have to address.

One Additional Caution

We know that all plants are edible once. But a risk always exists when trying new foodstuffs, especially if you haven’t eaten anything similar.

Dandelions are part of a large group of plants in the Aster family. It includes familiar species like daisies, marigolds, and coneflowers. If you’ve had lettuce in a salad or on a sandwich, you’ve eaten a member of this group. 

We bring up this topic and its role in allergies. There are documented cases of contact dermatitis from the latex in stems of dandelions. That’s the white liquid you’ll see oozing of the plants.

Now, it’s one thing to have an itchy rash on your hand but quite another to have it happen in your throat. If you have any kind of reaction, it’s probably best to give the dandelions a pass. And no, it isn’t catchy.

What Parts of Dandelions are Edible?

You can eat all the parts of the dandelion plant, although we’d suggest nixing the stems because of the bitter-tasting latex inside of them. It acts as a deterrent against pests and also helps the plants heal from injuries.

Dandelions are an amazingly versatile plant when it comes to the array of things with which you can do with it. Let’s start with the leaves.

Dandelion Greens

As we discussed earlier, dandelions are highly nutritious. They have a slightly bitter taste, not unlike arugula. They make a fun addition to a salad of mixed greens with varying flavor profiles.

We think that the toothed appearance of the leaves makes them attractive from a plating perspective, too. You can use them in place of other greens in just about any recipe calling for delicate, leafy vegetables.

You can also saute them with some olive oil and garlic. Handle them as you would spinach. The leaves are thin and will wilt quickly when heated.

Dandelion greens are tasty in soups, casseroles, and any recipe where you want to add a splash of color.

Dandelion Flowers

You can cook the flowers, too. One of our favorite ways to enjoy them is to batter and fry them. You can dip them in eggs and dredge them in a flour-breadcrumb mixture and cook them until they turn golden brown.

We like to add some spices to the breading such as thyme, rosemary, and white pepper. Serve them hot with your fave dipping sauce. The flowers have a delicate, sweet taste that we’re sure you’ll enjoy.

Of course, that’s not the only way to enjoy the blossoms. If you have a yard full of plants, you can make dandelion wine. Did anyone say, Ray Bradbury?

There are probably as many recipes as people drinking this delightful beverage. You’re going to need a lot of petals to make a gallon of wine. We’re talking 6 or more cups. Only use the petals and not any of the green stems to keep the flavor sweet.

You can add to the complexity of the final product by adding fruits like oranges or lemons or even other edible flowers like violets, roses, and daylilies. You’ll also need wine yeast and a container to ferment the juice.

Another option is to dry the flower petals in a dehydrator and make a delightful tea. With no caffeine, it’s the perfect way to wind down at the end of the day. Its flavor is similar to chamomile.

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Dandelion Roots

This use surprised us when we first read about it since it’s not an obvious one. We can say from experience that the results are delicious.

It takes more work than the previous recipes because you have to do a lot of digging to get enough roots to make a decent-sized batch. After washing them, you can roast them in the oven until dry and toasty brown color.

Grind up the dried roots in a coffee grinder and use them instead of the stuff in the bag for a decaffeinated beverage, not unlike chicory. Chicory, by the way, is in the same plant family as dandelions too and has a similar taste.

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Collecting Dandelions for Cooking and Eating

Fortunately, dandelions are unique-looking plants with little risk of misidentification. Some of the ones you may find that are similar to catsear are also edible.

You can begin harvesting them as soon as you see their distinctive leaves emerge before the flowers bloom. The base of the taproot or the crown is edible too. It tastes like a yummy artichoke heart, which is another member of the same family.

We think that spring is the best time to enjoy dandelion greens. The flavors are sweet and delicate this time of year. The leaves tend to get stringy and bitter further into the growing season.

Pick the flowers as soon as they bloom before the bees and other pollinators find them. They are the sweetest at this time when they are chock-full of nectar.

You can wait on the roots until later in the year. That way, you’ll get more bang for your effort with larger taproots for making dandelion coffee.

Dandelions hang around usually from March to September, depending on where you live. That’ll give you plenty of time to harvest and enjoy them.

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Tips for Harvesting Dandelions

Collecting dandelions isn’t hard, but it’s often time-consuming if you need larger quantities for recipes like wine. To make the harvest care-free, we have the following suggestions:

  • Wear long pants no matter how warm it is.
  • Apply insect repellent since ticks are active at the same time of the year too
  • Collect more than you think you’ll need to make up for the ones you’ll probably end up tossing.
  • Scan the ground around you for other plants like poison ivy or nettles before you start picking so that you don’t find out the hard way.
  • Wait until the morning dew has dried before harvesting the flowers and greens.
  • If possible, pick from different sections of your backyard to ensure another harvest from the seeds of the leftover plants.
  • Be 110-percent sure of your identification before eating any plants.

While we’ve touched on the primary safety factors, we’d be remiss not to add a disclaimer. 

Dandelions, like any plant, contain different concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and other compounds, depending on where they grow. Don’t eat too much of what you pick at any given time.

As Paracelsus, the father of toxicology once said, “Only the dose makes the poison.” Sample a small bite of the dandelions first before preparing any dishes to make sure that you don’t have a reaction.

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Finals Thoughts: Eating Backyard Dandelions

There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from living off your land and harvesting your food and preparing it. The fact that you can make so many tasty recipes from a weed that is the scorn of others makes it feel like you’ve stumbled upon an amazing secret.

You have. And doesn’t it feel great to be in the know?

If you have any reservations about can I eat the dandelions in my backyard, you can set them aside as long as you’ve taken the necessary precautions. Bon appetit!