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What Weeds? Springtime Is the Right Time for Dandelion Dishes

Hopefully this bounty of information will change your mind about the humble dandelion that may right now be unfurling its toothed leaves in the middle of your immaculate lawn! That tenacious weed happens to be an incredibly nutritious and tasty food. The following is an excerpt from Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers, and Lovers of Natural Foods by Dianne Onstad.

Dandelion

(Taraxacum officinale)

The derivation of the name Taraxacum is clouded by several points of view. Some botanists claim that it derives from the Persian tark hashgun, for the wild endive. Others believe that it was taken from an Arabian alteration of a Greek word meaning “edible.” The more common theory is that the name is taken from the Greek taraxos, meaning “disorder,” and akos, meaning “remedy,” because of the plant’s ability to correct a multitude of disorders. Officinale means “of the workshop,” alluding to apothecaries’ shops and signifying that the plant was once part of the official pharmacopoeia of Rome. The English name dandelion comes from the French term dent de lion, quite literally “lion’s tooth,” which describes the look of the plant’s jagged leaves.

General Information

Dandelions probably originated in Asia Minor but spread throughout the known world long before written history. They were first mentioned in the writings of Arabian physicians in the tenth and eleventh centuries. European settlers deliberately introduced the plant to North America. Perhaps the world’s most famous weed, this ubiquitous plant makes its appearance in nearly every country around the world and is the winner of a rogue’s reputation, for it grows indiscriminately in lawns, pastures, fields, and gardens. The lowly dandelion is an extremely hardy plant, one that some believe will be among the few to survive all the herbicides we have dumped on this planet. Although lawn owners so feverishly dig it up, the dandelion actually heals the earth by transporting minerals (especially calcium) upward from deep layers, even from underneath hardpan. The dandelion’s beautiful golden flower head is made up of tiny blossoms that soon turn to fluffy parachutes tipped by dark seeds—thirty-five thousand of them to the ounce. All parts of this jagged-leaved plant are quite edible, and there is now even a cultivated variety, which produces greens with a milder flavor than the wild. Early spring and fall (after the first frosts of autumn) are the best times to “harvest” dandelions; the plants in summer have matured to the point of being tough and bitter. The dandelion is an important plant for bees and the production of honey, because the flowers open early in the year, even in a cool spring, and furnish considerable quantities of nectar and pollen, while successive blooms continue throughout the year until the late autumn. The plant is highly sensitive: in fine weather the flowers follow the sun, turning toward the warmth, but long before dusk the flowers close up against the dew of the night; they will also close up at the threat of rain during the day.

Culinary Uses

Wild dandelions have more flavor than cultivated ones because they are richer in vitamins and mineral salts. All parts of the dandelion are edible, but be sure to pick early, as the plant gets quite bitter as it matures. Tender young leaves can be chopped and added raw to salads or steamed and seasoned with onion, vinegar, lemon, or herbs, to be served like spinach. Unopened buds are excellent nutlike morsels, delicious in salads and as a tea for tonic and indigestion. Fried in butter, they taste much like mushrooms. Dandelion root has a stronger flavor than the highly cultivated vegetables most of us are accustomed to, with a marked taste that is both slightly sweet and bitter. Young roots are good chopped and added to salads, peeled and sautéed to be served as a tasty vegetable, or dried, roasted, and ground to be used as a caffeine-free coffee substitute. A kind of beer can be made from the leaves, and from the crushed flower heads a light golden dandelion wine is made that has a taste suggestive of sherry and a reputation as an excellent tonic for the blood.

Health Benefits

Cholagogue, diuretic, laxative, stomachic, tonic. One of the oldest and most versatile of the healing herbs, dandelion is regarded as a blood cleanser, tonic, and digestive aid because of its content of mucilages, which soothe the digestive tract, absorb toxins from ingested food, and regulate intestinal bacteria. Considered one of the finest liver remedies, both as a food and as a medicine, the root has bitter principles that enhance the flow of bile, improving such conditions as liver congestion, bile duct inflammation, hepatitis, gallstones, and jaundice. Its action in increasing bile flow is twofold: it has a direct effect on the liver, causing an increase in bile production and flow to the gallbladder (choleretic effect), and it has a direct effect on the gallbladder, causing contraction and release of stored bile (cholagogue effect). In the spring the root contains levulose, a sugar easily assimilated by diabetics; by autumn this sugar has changed to inulin, an easily assimilated starch. Dandelion leaves are many times richer in vitamin C, potassium (which makes them bitter), and calcium than leaf lettuce or even spinach. The young greens are also an excellent liver cleanser, stimulate the activity of the pancreas and spleen, and detoxify any poisons throughout the body. Because of its cleansing abilities, dandelion has a beneficial effect on any skin disorders, jaundice, menstrual troubles, and blood pressure irregularities.

Dandelion juice is an excellent tonic used to counteract hyperacidity and normalize the alkalinity of the system; it is beneficial for the teeth and gums. Juice from the broken stems of spring or summer dandelions is reputed to cure warts (autumn and winter juice will not work). Touch the wart with the milky juice and leave on to dry; repeat frequently. In a few days the wart will turn black and fall off. The tea is used as a remedy for fatigue, as a diuretic and a tonic, to promote bowel regularity, and to nourish the liver.


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