Dandelion, the scourge of suburban lawn tenders, belongs in the spring and summer cuisine. Learn to use it, and this free and easy plant begins to earn its keep.

Not only is every part of the dandelion safe to eat, Renaissance herbalists named it "the official remedy for disorders" -- taraxacum officinale.

The dandelion's primary claim to herbal fame arises in its springtime leaves, accessible little gold mines of calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. Country folk put dandelion leaves into tonic teas and cooked salads for an extra boost of springtime green.

When the leaves plump up in response to rain and sunshine, the crown of each dandelion plant grows tasty too. Just where the rosette of leaves joins and descends in a single taproot, one can slice a little bundle of salad, naturally blanched like the finest endive.

Some dandelion parts are bitter, particularly once the plant starts to flower. But the bitterness dwells primarily in the leaves and flower stalks; the flower buds and heads themselves taste rather sweet.

Even those who abhor the idea of eating dandelions will delight in dandelion wine. It's made from fully opened flowers, traditionally supplemented with citrus fruit for flavor. Age dandelion wine over several summers, and it ripens elegantly, its color and flavor comparable to a fine sherry.

City pickets beware: although dandelions and many other edible wild things poke through cracks in downtown sidewalks, the air that surrounds them may be laden with lead from auto exhaust fumes.

This need not curtail all gathering in the city. It means, however, that city dwellers should pick at least 30 feet away from heavily traveled four-lane highways and at least 10 feet away from two-lane highways. They should always rinse the leaves and flowers they pick for eating, and should steam plants gathered in city air for five minutes before following recipes. Studies show that lead accumulates on the leaves, not in them, so that rinsing and steaming gathered plants reduces the residue to safe levels.

And out in the suburbs, where dandelions get all the backyard space and clean air they could ask for, you can start gathering them as soon as their leaves start to cluster, and gather them all summer long.Now you can pull dandelions from your well-trimmed lawn with a purpose. By ready to cook them right away, however; dandelions tend to wilt within a few hours. Avocats aux dents-de-lion (Enough marinade for 2 avocado halves) 3 tablespoons olive oil 4 tablespoons wine vinegar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard 1 crushed garlic clove Dash pepper 12 to 15 dandelion crowns 1 medium onion, minced 1 ripe avocado Lettuce and dandelion leaves for serving

Mix together oil, vinegar, salt, mustard, garlic and pepper. Clean and thinly slice 12 to 15 dandelion crowns. Soak crowns and onion in marinade overnight. Slice a ripe avocado in half. Serve in skin on bed of lettuce and dandelion leaves. Spoon marinated crowns, onions and ample marinade into each avocado. DANDELION BUDS & MUSHROOMS 1/2 cup dandelion buds (the smaller the better) 2 tablespoons butter 1 cup thinly slice mushrooms 2 tablespoons soy sauce 1/2 teaspoon sage

Find the dandelion buds deep down within the growing center of each plant. Snip off all stalks.Melt butter in skillet or wok. Quickly stir-fry dandelion buds and mushrooms. Sprinkle with soy sauce and sage for the last minute of cooking. Serve immediately, as a side dish for a hot meal. DANDELION FLOWERS FRITTATA 1 egg beaten 1/4 cup milk 1 cup unbleached flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon soda Fully blooming dandelion flowers Oil or butter for frying

Make batter of egg, milk, flour, salt and soda. Add up to 1/2 cup water as needed for proper consistency. Trim off all stalk, but leave green leafy flower cap (sepals) on flowers. Immediately coat with batter and fry over medium heat in oil or butter. Set in frying pan flower side down, then turn briefly and cook till golden brown. DANDELION WINE 1/2 gallon fully blooming dandelion flowers 1 lemon 1 large orange 1 grapefruit 1/2 cup raisins 2 to 3 pounds sugar 1 tablespoon dry baking yeast (or wine yeast, if available)

Snip all of the stem from flowers. Peel only the grapefruit. Slice citrus fruits. In a crock or an enamel or stainless steel pot, cover flowers and fruit with boiling hot water, about a gallon. Stir in a cup of sugar. Let mixture cool to lukewarm, then stir in dry yeast. Cover container well and stir daily for a week.

Strain out fruits and flowers, wringing them through cheesecloth to salvage liquid. Strain through fine mesh cloth once more, back into crock. Thoroughly stir in remaining sugar, depending on your taste and remembering that the somewhat bitter flowers may need some sweetening. Let sit in covered crock 5 more days, then siphon into sterile bottles with screw-on tops. Leave the tops cracked open until fermentation ceases -- about 3 weeks. You will no longer hear bubbling arising from the bottle. Close tightly and let ripen at least until Christmas.