Monday, April 13, 2009

The Dandelion

The Dandelion, 4 x4, ink fresco

The Dandelion, taraxacum officinale, is one of the first immigrants to North America along with the European colonists, had an established and long history in Europe where it was used medicinally, as a source of dye, and as a culinary herb.

As a medicinal herb, it has a reputation in for its effect in treating diabetes, liver ailments, and curing anemia.

The Dandelion was and still can be used to dye wool. The leaves create a yellow dye, while the whole plant creates a magenta color.

But, perhaps the place that most of us can take advantage of the Dandelion is in the kitchen. In the spring, before it flowers, the leaves can be eaten like a salad green. The flavor is a mild bitter-sweet, not unlike escarole. The raw leaves are a healthy low-carbohydrate food, more nutritious than spinach. The USDA Bulletin #8, "Composition of Foods" (Haytowitz and Matthews, 1984) lists Dandelion greens as the fourth in the top of the most nutritional greens. You can eat the leaves later in the season, but they will need to be blanched and cooked to remove the stronger bitter flavor that develops. If you wait until the autumn, after the first frost, the bitterness will have dissipated again. The photo here is of my spring harvest, which soon became part of a delicious mixed green salad. My family, who are not particularly daring in their food choices, all enjoyed the added flavor that Dandelion contributed to the salad.
a plate of freshly picked dandelion greens
Additionally, the root can be roasted and used as a caffeine-free coffee substitute. The flowers can be used to make a wine, or stir-fried as a vegetable. They are particularly tasty dipped in a light batter and fried like tempura.

So, before you start spraying noxious chemicals on your lawn, consider the source of nutritious food you might have right outside your door! Dandelions are high in iron and in vitamins A and C. At a time when grocery costs continue to rise, why go to the store to purchase foods with less nutritional value, when you have a free food source right in your own yard? (NOTE: avoid harvesting near roads, since road salt and and other toxic chemical may be present.) Don't be afraid to experiment, there is nothing toxic about the plant, so no matter what you do it cannot harm you, and you just may appreciate a great use for what was once considered an annoying weed.

Please do share your ideas and uses of the Dandelion by posting in the comments below!

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Sans Souci Studios said...


Dandelions also provide endless materials for crowns and garlands for five year old girls, too!!

Antony Galbraith said...

Thanks for mentioning this! I completely forgot about the crafts and fun games that dandelions provide. I remember playing pop the head off the dandelion, the goal was to see who could pop the flower head off the furthest with a flick of the thumb.
If anyone has other useful ideas for Dandelions, please post them here!

Pet said...

Out here on the prairie the dandelions always know if another frost is coming, so you don't plant until you see their little heads.

It changes every year, but somehow they know....

Antony Galbraith said...

Yes, that is called planting phenology. (Which is using indicator plants to determine when certain weather conditions will prevail and when certain insects (the kind you don't want in your garden) will be active.) I use it for planting my herbs. There is so much we can know about weather, and what's to come, just by watching the plants and animals right around us! It is like a secret code, but only secret because so many have chosen to ignore it.

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