When life gives you dandelions, make dandelion wine...or dandelion salad, stir-fry, omelet or soup. That's something I learned from my maternal grandmother, when she would pour a little of her honey-gold wine into a shot glass and invite me to take a sip. Sweet and flowery, her dandelion wine was an edible hint of the heady glamour of adulthood--it made me feel grown-up, mature. These days, whenever I get out the dandelion weeder to clear my lawn of its dogged "weeds," I'm reminded of Grandma's unspoken lesson: If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em.
If your lawn is pesticide-free (and I hope it is), you can start plucking dandelions out by the root as soon as their saw-toothed leaves are visible. In fact, the earlier the better, for the younger the leaves, the less likely they are to taste overly sharp. But don't except outright sweetness from dandelion greens--their light bitterness is one part of their appeal. (Their nutritiousness is another.)
Wild dandelions, native to Europe and Asia, have been used for food and medicine for ages. Today's cultivated varieties are generally larger and less powerful-tasting than wild dandelions, and are showing up for sale more and more often at farmers' markets and grocery stores. Fresh-picked dandelion greens are frail; they wilt quickly and should be cleaned in very cold water and dried thoroughly (a salad spinner comes in very handy here). Place the clean, dry greens on paper towels in a plastic bag or bowl, and keep them covered and chilled until you're ready to use them.