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Foraging Dandelions

© Kat Morgenstern 2003

dandilionbot (84K)Everybody knows Dandelions! They are such a truly plentiful spring delight that there is hardly a lawn where they cannot be found. But, sad to say, familiarity breeds contempt. Just because it wants to bless us with its abundance, people have started to contemptuously call it 'a weed'; worse still, they launch chemical warfare on them in an effort to eradicate them from their boring suburban lawns. Fools! They should praise the Dandelion and be grateful for its gifts, for it is surely one of the most beneficial plants available - what a blessing that it is so resilient and grows so abundantly!

It is also one of the first plants that come to life in the early days of spring, dotting the grass with their bright yellow flowers heads, which is one of the many reasons why foragers greet it with such joy.

Every part of this plant is useful for both food and medicine. Even the seeds have their uses, as every child knows: not only do they tell the future, but on their little helicopter wings one can blow one's wishes and prayers to the wind.

The old herbalists saw the signature of Jupiter in this herb. Just considering its abundant nature one can see their point, for Jupiter is larger than life and does nothing by small measure. But the old herbalists also considered the essential nature of an herb when they assigned the planetary ruler: bitter herbs, especially yellow ones, were often ascribed to Jupiter, and often, as in this case, such herbs had an affinity with the liver, the part of the body, which according to the ancients, is also ruled by Jupiter. Liver herbs are almost always bitter, as the bitter principles stimulate the action of the liver, breaking down fats and cleansing the body of toxins. The liver also has an important part to play in hormone regulation and liver herbs can have a significant impact on one's general sense of well-being, combating such common conditions as the 'winter blahs' and other hormonal ups and downs, as those associated with the female menstrual cycle or the menopause. Here too, the nature of the plant fits its Jupiterian signature, for Jupiter is the eternal optimist and Dandelion, as one of the earliest spring flowers, with its cheery, bright yellow blossom can cheer that winter blues away just by looking at it, let alone eating it!

Dandelion3.JPG (12K)This is one of the reasons why Dandelion was such a welcome spring cleansing herb: during the winter we tend to be sedentary, eat too much and move too little, indulge in heavy, fatty foods and eat too few greens - this was particularly true in the old days, when what was available was seasonally limited and there were no such things as greenhouse grown vegetables. So, traditionally, during the time of lent, people would fast or do a spring cleanse to shake off the winter sluggishness and get their bodies ready for the spring. Dandelion is one of the best herbs to support such a spring cleansing diet. It acts on both the liver and the kidneys, helping to 'purify ' the blood and flush out the uric acid crystals that accumulate in the tissues from eating a diet too rich in animal proteins.

Dandelion roots are particularly beneficial on the liver, while the leaves have a more pronounced effect on the kidneys. The French name for this herb 'pis en lit' (piss in the bed) testifies to its effect on the urinary system. The unique benefit of Dandelion's diuretic action is the fact that it does not deplete potassium, as many other diuretics do. On the contrary, it adds potassium to the body. Potassium of course, is not the only nutrient this wonderful plant has to offer: it is also rich in a host of other vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C and A, calcium, iron, manganese and phosphorus. It also contains choline, the substance that helps the liver to metabolise fat. Thus, Dandelion is truly one of the most healthful plants one can possibly add to one's diet and it can be used freely without fear of any ill effects (except perhaps bed wetting).

Dandelion SeedheadNow, for the foraging gourmet, the medicinal uses of this plant are all very well, but better still are the myriad ways in which this wonderful herb can be prepared as culinary delicacies:

Happily, for the forager, all parts of the Dandelion are edible and this is one plant where collecting the roots actually does not have a lasting harmful effect, as in fact, it encourages it to grow. Every small bit of Dandelion root left in the soil will grow more Dandelions.

For culinary purposes it is best to collect older roots as the younger ones are just too small. Dandelion roots are bitter, which is one of the reasons why they make such a good coffee substitute. To make Dandelion coffee, gather the roots either early in the spring or late autumn (they tend to be sweeter in the autumn), scrub them well to clean off all the dirt and let them dry before roasting them in the oven at a low temperature. People have different methods for doing this, some prefer to grind the roots first and then roasting them, others roast them whole. I prefer the whole root method as I feel that greater surface exposure during the roasting also looses more of the nutritional benefits. The roasting takes about 4 hours. To tell if they are ready, try to break a root. When it is ready it will break with a snap and the interior will be dark brown. Now you can grind it and store it in a jar. Take about a teaspoon per cup of water to make a cup of Dandelion coffee and serve black or with milk and sugar, like regular coffee.

Coffee is not the only thing that can be made with Dandelion roots; they can also be sliced and cooked in stir-fries or added to fillings or vegetable sides.

The very early Dandelion rosettes can be prepared as what in certain parts is known as 'yard squid':
Cut the Dandelion rosettes just below the ground with enough of the root to hold the leaves in place. Wash well, making sure all the grit and dirt are removed. To reduce the bitterness one can simmer them in saltwater for about five minutes. Dip in a thin egg/milk mixture and roll them in coarse corn flour or bread crumbs, or a mixture of both, and fry them in oil. Culinary adventurers might like to season the crumbs/flour as well. Meat eaters can add bits of fried bacon or minced meat. Vegetarians can add toasted sunflower seeds sprinkled with Tamari or Soya sauce if desired.

The young tender, leaves make excellent salad greens. They are best mixed with other spring greens, but those who don't mind a slight bitter tang can try a Dandelion Salad all by itself. Dandelion complements boiled eggs and cress-type herbs especially well. As a dressing try fruity vinaigrette (e.g. with raspberry vinegar) or a sweet and sour dressing made with yoghurt, lemon juice, pepper, salt, garlic and a little sugar (and chillies for those who like it hot).

The leaves can also be cooked as a side green: Simmer in saltwater for five minutes, remove from the heat and stir in butter or crème fraiche and seasonings.

Some people like to make it the consistency of a fine spinach, chopping the leaves really fine or putting them through the food processor, perhaps along with other herbs that may also be available, e.g. nettles or garlic mustard for example. Sautée an onion, stir in the minced herbs, season with garlic, salt, pepper or chillies, cook for about 7 minutes, take off the heat and stir in some crème or crème fraîche for a more delicate flavour.

The tiny, tightly packed, unopened flower buds that are still hiding in the rosette can be marinated and used as capers. Prepare a cooked marinade with 1l vinegar, 50g sugar, 50g salt, pepper and spices (e.g. Bay leaf, thyme, coriander seed, chillies, whatever else takes your fancy), pour enough of the marinade over the Dandelion flower buds to cover them and simmer for 5 - 10 minutes. Store the rest of the marinade for another time. Fill the marinated flower buds into a sterilized jar and store in the fridge.

Alternatively you can just sautée the little buds very briefly and serve with melted butter, salt and pepper. You need a lot of them though, to make this more than a 'one teaspoon experience'.

Once the flowers develop, many people stop eating Dandelion leaves, as these tend to become too bitter. Personally I don't find this a problem, so long as one picks the young tender leaves, and not the old ones. At any rate, the flowering signals a new season's arrival, for the flowers too can be prepared as delicious treats. One of my favourites is deep fried Dandelion flower heads: Prepare a light batter with egg, water or milk and a little flour, season to taste. (e.g. coriander seed or cinnamon work well). Dip each fully opened flower head in the batter and deep fry quickly. Serve with Maple syrup and lemon juice. Yum!

Dandelion flower heads are also an essential ingredient for delicious spring wines. There are numerous wonderful recipes - far too many to mention here. Here are just a couple:

Gather 1 gallon of Dandelion flowers on a dry, sunny day. Put these in a 2 gallon crock pot and pour 1 gallon of boiling water over them. Cover the jar and allow the flowers to steep for three days. Strain through a jelly cloth so you can squeeze all the liquid from the flowers. Put the liquid in a kettle; add 1 small ginger root, the thinly pared peels and juice of 3 oranges and 1 lemon. Stir in 3 pounds of sugar and allow it to cool until barely lukewarm. Spread ½ cake of yeast on a piece of toasted rye bread and float on top. Cover the crock with a cloth and keep in a warm room for 6 days. Then, strain off the wine into a gallon jug, corking it loosely with a wad of cotton. Keep in a dark place for 3 weeks, then carefully decant into a bottle and cap or cork tightly. Don't touch it until Christmas or later.

from 'Stalking the wild Asparagus', Euell Gibbons

For a Dandelion Desert Wine, try this recipe:

On a warm, sunny day gather a large bag (shopping bag)of fully opened Dandelion flower heads. Place into a large pot, pour 4 liters of water over them and add the zest of one organic, untreated lemon as well as the zest of one organic, untreated orange. Simmer gently for about 20 min. Allow to cool to body temperature and strain. Add five chunks of fresh yeast dissolved in a little warm water. Add other flavouring items according to taste, perhaps an orange, some cloves, cinnamon or ginger...and 2 kilos of sugar (rock sugar or unrefined cane sugar is best). Leave to ferment for about 6 days. Fill into bottles with the kind of stoppers you would use for making elderflower champagne. They need to fit tight so that there is no danger of explosion. Flip lids, as can be found on old fashioned beer and lemonade bottles work great. Allow the wine to mature for a few weeks until the liquid is crystal clear. Only then give into the temptation to try it.

Adapted from 'Holunder, Dost und Gänseblümchen', Heide Haßkerl

For those who like it sweet, you can try making Dandelion flower syrup:

  • 200 Dandelion flower heads
  • 1L Water
  • unrefined cane sugar

Briefly simmer the flowers in the water (no more than 5 minutes), cover and leave to infuse for 24 hours. The next day strain and simmer the resulting liquid over a low heat, constantly stirring and adding sugar until it thickens and turns to a syrup consistency. Don't add too much sugar or simmer this liquid for too long though, otherwise it gets too thick and the sugar will soon crystallize. This recipe can be varied according to taste: try adding a little ginger, orange juice and peel (only organic, untreated) or cinnamon, or perhaps some peppermint.

Bon appetite!

For questions or comments please e-mail kmorgenstern@sacredearth.com

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Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses herbs at their own risk and thus must make themselves fully aware of their potential power. Any information given here is educational and should not replace a visit to the doctor should this be necessary. Neither Sacred Earth nor Kat Morgenstern accepts responsibility for anybody's home experimentation. Links to external sites are included as pointers to further resources - we do not endorse them or are in any way responsible for their content, nor do we thus verify that their content is accurate.