Can I use the API to download the non-numeric metadata for a dataset?

Yes.  You can access the metadata for any dataset using the following calls:

# results in JSON format:
https://www.quandl.com/api/v3/datasets/NSE/OIL/metadata.json?api_key=YOURAPIKEY
# results in XML format: 
https://www.quandl.com/api/v3/datasets/NSE/OIL/metadata.xml?api_key=YOURAPIKEY
# results in CSV format:
https://www.quandl.com/api/v3/datasets/NSE/OIL/metadata.csv?api_key=YOURAPIKEY
Metadata fields currently available include: dataset_code, database_code, name, description, refreshed_at, newest_available_date, oldest_available_date, column_names, frequency, type, premium.  

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