Unless otherwise noted, all materials on this blog are (c) 2009 by Madeleine Vedel
Driving into Avignon yesterday, I was struck by the garden in the middle of the traffic barrier. Daffodils, tulips and... Dandelions. What? In a groomed, planted, surveyed, controlled, man-manipulated traffic median, dandelions sprinkled throughout? Weren't these the bane of a lawn, the evil intruder?
I love to forage, to taste what I can find in the wild. This spring I've been out for wild leeks, though not yet for wild asparagus (a drive away). I'd always heard that dandelion greens were edible, but I'd not yet harvested them. I'm a bit late getting going for this year's season it seems, as the information I was able to find on the subject (see my list of interesting links) recommends harvesting before the plant buds, and certainly before it flowers. Harvesting the leaves that is, and particularly if you find bitter flavors unpleasant. However, all is not lost as the flower is also edible, in salads, teas, jams and wine, and should I be particularly industrious, so is the root.
Rebecca Wood (see link below) recommends that we, "collect dandelion leaves in early spring before the flowers appear. Harvest again in late fall. After a frost, their protective bitterness disappears. Dandelions growing in rich, moist soil, with the broadest leaves and largest roots, are the best. Select the youngest individuals, and avoid all plants with flowers. Some people eat the greens from spring to fall, when they're very bitter. Others boil out the summer bitterness (and water-soluble vitamins) out in two changes of water. It’s all a matter of preference."
If it isn't too late yet in your neighborhood to harvest the greens, then you can revel in salads and stir-fries from these leaves rich in beta-carotene, iron and calcium, as well as the vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12, C, E, P, and D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc. I was inspired to go out to to my backyard and snip the most delicate looking of the dandelion leaves I saw. I simply rinsed them and tossed them into the salad. And now, I just might have the energy to do an hour and a half of yoga. I'll try the flowers tomorrow...
On an historical note, Dandelions are native to Europe, North American and Asia. They've spread extensively, and can now be found nearly worldwide. They've been a traditional early spring green for many, and still are for those in the know. Immigrants coming to the States would often be seen scrounging about public parks and open spaces, much to the dismay of the more established classes. Only now it seems, with a renaissance of foraging and kitchen gardens, natural foods and wild foods, are we coming back to an appreciation of this vegetable, and in some cases, paying dearly for it at an outdoor market or in a chic suburban store.
I'm curious about the qualities of the root when roasted and infused. According to Wild Man Steve Brill, Dandelion root in decoction is a traditional tonic used to strengthen the entire body, especially the liver and gallbladder, where it promotes the flow of bile, reduces inflammation of the bile duct, and helps get rid of gall stones. Perhaps next week I'll have the energy to go out and dig up some roots in my otherwise lovely (and very over-grown) lawn? Or alternatively, at the foot of my rose bushes...
Wikipedia has a small blurb on Dandelion coffee, a popular and cheap coffee substitute a century and more ago. "Dandelion coffee was mentioned in a Harpers New Monthly Magazine story in 1886. In 1919, dandelion root was noted as a source of cheap coffee. It has also been part of edible plant classes dating back at least to the 1970s. After harvesting, the dandelion roots are dried, chopped, and roasted. They are then ground into granules which are steeped in boiling water to produce dandelion coffee.
Having learned all this, I may be a bit more encouraging as my children blow those seed heads into the breeze.
However you decide to try this most remarkable if ever so common plant, enjoy!