Bountiful Roots, Greens, and Blossoms
by Sandra Brandt
Like many modern suburban dwellers, I confess to feeling ambivalent about the plants in my yard that don’t fall into generally accepted categories of lawn grass, cultivated flowers, shrubs, and trees. In other words, what are generally referred to as “weeds.” I don’t want to scandalize the neighbourhood by letting them run wild; neither do I want to dowse them with poisonous chemicals which saturate the soil, run off into the water system, and generally cause havoc in the environment. My most recent approach has been to set aside an hour or so about once a week to cull dandelions and other undesirables in a methodical yet meditative fashion, endeavouring to appreciate their strength and beauty and giving thanks for their role as companion plants to grasses and other shallow rooting plants that benefit from the weeds’ ability to add minerals and nitrogen to the soil and to bring nutrients closer to the surface from which the lawn can benefit.
As I write this in late winter, my new resolution for the coming spring and summer season is to cultivate an enjoyment and appetite for weeds, particularly dandelions, as food. Hopefully, by the time this is published in late spring, I will be happily munching on free food in the form of bountiful roots, greens, and blossoms, perhaps accompanied by a lovely cup of wild and weedy tea.
Dandelions are generally only considered a noxious nuisance in North America; other continents actually cultivate this plentiful, sunny-looking, nutritious plant. Apparently, the plant was originally imported to this continent by Europeans to provide food for bees and it has adapted well to the many spacious lawns and meadows.
Packed with vitamins and minerals, the dandelion plant, especially the leaves, also contains a bitter component that is associated with its many medicinal uses, such as strengthening the gall bladder and liver, improving digestion, and as a diuretic to improve kidney function. (Some precautions are advised for those with health conditions in these areas. Please research before using dandelion for medical purposes.) Susun Weed, in her book Healing Wise, recommends dandelion blossoms steeped as tea to help relieve headaches, menstrual cramps, backaches, stomach aches, and even depression. Even the milky sap inside the plant has noted use as a healing salve and is also supposed to be good for warts, moles, and other skin irregularities. The sap also contains small amounts of latex; modern cultivation methods are being used to increase the latex content to be used as a new source material for rubber production.
When foraging for dandelions, or any edible weeds, be sure to choose areas that haven’t been chemically treated. The leaves are nicest and tastiest picked in early spring, as young as possible, so keep an eye out for them before the flowers appear, for use in combination with all your other favourite salad fixings. Combined with fresh basil, they also yield a hearty version of pesto sauce. Like other fresh greens, they can also be steamed, sautéed, stir fried, or otherwise cooked. More mature leaves can also be eaten in cooked form; however, they are best blanched once or even twice, in separate batches of water, to reduce the more pronounced bitter flavour. The leaves can also be used alone or in combination with other garden herbs such as mint or lemon balm to make hot or iced tea.
To use the flowers for culinary purposes, keep only the petals, carefully removing all other parts of the plant. They can also be used in salad, cooked vegetable combinations, such as stir fries and casseroles, and they can be dipped in batter and fried to make fritters. The blossom is also the prime ingredient in the famous dandelion wine, which is worth trying for those who like to experiment with making specialty wines.
The roots are at their best in late fall and can be used as a winter vegetable, especially sautéed and combined with sweeter vegetables like carrots and parsnips, or in soups. They are also roasted and used to make “dandelion coffee,” a dark bitter beverage that can be very satisfying but contains no caffeine.
After foraging for recipes, here are a few of the ones I plan to try. Here’s to a weed-eating summer!
You’ll need about 2 quarts of flowers to make a gallon of lemonade in this dandelion recipe.
Bring the flowers inside and place them in a gallon jar.
Fill the jar with room temperature water and add the juice of 4 lemons.
Add fresh honey to taste, and chill.
You can strain the flowers out after a few hours or just leave them to fall into the glasses when you serve the lemonade.
Cream of Dandelion Soup (traditional French recipe)
2 lbs (about 6 cups) dandelion greens, trimmed and washed
1 tbsp butter or olive oil
4 cups vegetable stock
2 large leeks, white and light parts only, cleaned and sliced
1 carrot, cleaned and diced
2 1/2 cups milk
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Dandelion buds and/or flower petals
- If using more mature or very bitter tasting greens, blanch them in a pot of boiling salted water, then drain and squeeze out the excess water, chop and set aside.
- Heat butter or oil in a large pot over medium high heat, add greens, carrot, and leeks and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes.
- Add stock and simmer for about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and whisk in milk, cook stirring frequently, until slightly thickened.
- Puree mix in a tightly-covered blender until smooth, taking care with the hot liquid. Season with salt and pepper, and add Dijon if you like.
- Serve in bowls and garnish with flowers or buds.
Nothing beats the delightful taste of wildcrafted dandelion vinegar; mixed in a salad dressing it really zings up your wild green salads. Make this dandelion vinegar recipe early in the spring before the dandelions have started developing.
1 large jar with lid
As many dandelions (root and leaves)
as will fit in the jar
Organic cider vinegar
- Thoroughly wash the dandelion leaves, and scrub the dandelion roots, then chop both into medium size pieces.
- Stuff a large jar with as much dandelion as you can get in or have on hand.
- Next simply pour cold organic cider vinegar until the dandelions are covered.
- Shake well, and leave in a cupboard for six weeks. You can leave it longer if you wish, then strain through an unbleached coffee filter into clean, sterilized jars.
- Prior to decocting the dandelion root, roast the dried chopped root in a cast iron pan until it is fragrant and has changed colour from being off-white to light and dark brown.
- For each 8 oz of water you are making, use 1–2 tsp of the roasted root.
- Add the root to simmering water and continue to simmer while covered for 7–15 minutes.
The resulting brew will be darkly coloured.
I enjoy my dandelion coffee with cream, and many people enjoy adding honey as well.
Sauteed Dandelions with Olive Oil, Lemon, and Garlic
This is hands down my favourite way to eat dandelion greens. The recipe works best with young to medium-age (and sized) dandelion greens.
washed dandelion greens (as many as you want to eat—I usually cook several large handfuls at once)
high quality salt (I use either Himalayan pink or black lava, both of which are very flavourful)
- Heat a good dollop of olive oil, and a bit of the garlic, in a non-stick skillet.
- Once the garlic has become flavourful, add your dandelion greens. Cook them on medium-high until they’re nicely wilted, just like you’d cook spinach. This will take 3-5 minutes. It’s important not to overcook the greens because you’ll lose nutrients the longer they stay on the stove.
- Once they’re done, sprinkle just a bit of high quality salt on the greens, spritz with fresh lemon juice, and you’re good to go! They’re wonderful to eat plain like this, as a side, and they’re also delicious on pasta.
You can also add Parmesan cheese, red pepper, capers, chopped onion, or any other ingredients that strike your fancy.
Sautéing dandelion greens is a great way to cook them because they keep a lot of their nutrients with this method.
Susun Weed, Healing Wise, 1989, Ash Tree Publishing
Sandra Brandt has had a lifelong interest in whole natural foods. She lives in Regina, where she gives cooking classes, presentations, and dietary consultations. She can be reached by email: email@example.com. Also see the colour display ad on page 9 of the 20.1 May/June issue of the WHOLifE Journal.