BUENA VISTA — Most of us regard it as a weed or a nuisance on our lawn. But the dandelion is also cultivated as a niche food in the Garden State, used in everything from salad and ravioli to wine.

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Some suggest that growing and eating dandelions is an older generational thing. But township restaurant owner Tom Merighi Jr. disagrees.

"It is so hot right now to have the local ingredients and the farm-to-table ingredients. And certainly, dandelion provides that."

He says the dandelion is also, "part of our heritage here in Vineland."

Merighi says they use it in mashed potatoes, they sauté it with chicken or veal. Cooks use several different varieties. He says the locally-grown dandelion has a leaf that looks like the weed in your yard.

"It is described as a bitter taste, it can be. I would liken it to maybe arugula?"

The salad is the traditional dish that most people know.

"It is raw dandelions, with a crumbled hard-cooked egg and bacon bits, and maybe red onion, and you put a nice vinaigrette on there, and it is just a delicious, healthy salad. We use dandelions in many, many different ways — any way that you use any other green."

And then there is dandelion wine. Merighi says dandelion wine is a strong drink, but, "it is very strong. But by the third or fourth sip, it definitely mellows out a little bit."

At least one farm in the Vineland area dedicates five acres to growing dandelions. Several other surrounding communities also farm dandelions. It is also grown in Florida and Texas.

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