Don't weed them – Eat them

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

How to use and benefit from Dandelions

Dandelion-clipart1We are now entering the season where people will start to do battle again with the weeds in the garden beginning, no doubt, with the humble Dandelion. But if these maligned yellow-blossomed plants pop up in a yard or garden, there is a much better way to “control” the problem and that is by eating them. But, even though they are edible, do leave the flowers as they are some of the first nigh-nectar flowers the bees will need after winter.

Every part of the Dandelion is edible – leaves, roots, stems, and flowers. And the plants are nutritional powerhouses. The greens are rich in beta-carotene, fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, B vitamins, and protein. Their nutrition profile compares favorably to kale and spinach and trounces iceberg lettuce, the most widely eaten salad green in the United States.

It may sound strange to forage in the backyard for dinner, but wild greens were once a dietary staple around the world. Many cultures still eat them regularly. Apparently many people in France deliberately grow Dandelion in their gardens as a greens while we in the UK, the USA, and some other places, try our very best to eradicate this beneficial weed.

Some North Americans have caught on to Dandelion's “superfood” status. High-end farmers' markets and boutique grocery stores often sell them in small, expensive bundles. But thrifty consumers can gather Dandelions from lawns and urban meadows for free. However, not all Dandelion greens are equal. It pays to know when and how to safely pick them.

On the other hand why not harvest those in your own garden and why not, like many French gardeners do, grow them deliberately. I have been doing that for years now. I tend to remove them, as far as possible will all of the roots from where I may not want them to planters where I want them to grow.

I get great pleasure out of people – I work in a public park and garden – asking when I am weeding: “As a professional gardener...” and I already know that nine times our of ten the continuation of question will be “...what do you suggest I'd do with the Dandelions in my garden?” To which I, invariably, reply “eat them!” The looks on the faces, generally, are priceless.

Once I said that and got the usual “but aren't the poisonous, seeing they have milky sap”, etc. when a French lady stood nearby who then, when the questioner had gone, commented that she did no understand the Brits as regards to their obsession as to getting rid off Dandelions as the French grew them on purpose and used them.

The entire plant is, by the way, edible, from leaves, over stems to flowers and roots. The French use the leaves in place of rocket salad leaves or the older ones sauteed with garlic as a side dish. The Greek dish “Hortes”, meaning simply “greens” is made of Dandelion and some other wild leaves, including stinging nettle.

How to harvest Dandelion greens: First, be sure to identify Dandelion correctly, because it has a few doppelgangers. Look for smooth leaves shaped like jagged teeth. The plant's name comes from the French dent-de-lion or “tooth of lion”, that's why the German name is “Loewenzahn”. Dandelions' thick stems are hollow and filled with milky sap. Catsears – Dandelions' most ubiquitous look-alike – are often called False Dandelions. They are distinguished by hairy leaves with round lobes and wiry, branched stems. Catsears are edible, but the leaves are not as palatable as those of the Dandelion. Also it must be remembered that not every Dandelion looks alike in the shape of their leaves. Some are wider and bigger, some thinner and smaller.

When harvesting Dandelion leaves pick them from lawns, or other areas, free of pesticides or herbicides only. Avoid areas near building foundations, streets, and driveways, where the soil's lead levels tend to be highest. And always wash the greens well. Alternatively, or in addition, you could, like many French gardeners do, plant Dandelions on purpose.

For the most tender and least bitter greens, herbalists advise foragers to harvest before the plant flowers. However, it can be tricky to find the leaves before the blossom appears. Raw Dandelion greens will probably taste bitter to most people, regardless of when they are harvested. The key is to look for tender leaves and learn how to prepare them based on taste preferences.

The bitterness, however, is no reason to lose out on the benefits of this nutritious plant. There are plenty of tactics to tame the bitterness of Dandelion greens. Moreover, food preferences are malleable and based on exposure. In addition, many health experts believe bitterness is an important, often- neglected key to optimum wellness.

Bitter foods for better health: Bitter compounds are plants' way of protecting themselves from being eaten by mammals. Bitter plants are more likely to be dangerous to humans, so we are acutely sensitized to the taste. However, bitter plants are also more likely to be highly nutritious, because hytonutrients have a bitter, sour, or astringent taste. It is no coincidence that kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and other phytonutrient-rich foods are bitter.

Unfortunately because of consumer preference the food industry has largely bred bitterness out of our food. As a result, we lose out on more than just nutrition. Bitterness is important for liver health. It stimulates the liver to produce bile, which aids digestion and nutrient availability. Bitter foods also modulate hunger.

Eating Dandelion is an excellent way to benefit from bitterness, and Dandelion's curative powers go beyond its bitter taste. It has been used as a medicine for thousands of years for numerous conditions. In fact, its Latin name Taraxacum officinale means the “official remedy for disorders.” What kind of “disorders” is not specified.

Dandelion cures: Native Americans boiled Dandelion and drank the water to treat kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn, and stomach troubles. The Chinese use the plant to treat breast and stomach issues and appendicitis. In Europe, it has been used for fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, and diarrhea.

Modern scientific studies are scant, but research has confirmed Dandelions as a folk-remedy diuretic. It is prescribed for edema in Germany and may be safer than other remedies because it replenishes potassium. Preliminary animal studies suggest that Dandelion may help normalize blood sugar and fight inflammation.

Recipes for the use of Dandelions can be found in large numbers in certain books and, nowadays, all over the Internet. My personal favorite is the way we used to eat Dandelion leaves as children, in a sandwich just with butter, salt and pepper. Or, if really decadent, then a good mayonnaise is substituted for the butter. Another is sauteed as greens, with garlic in oil and spices.

Here a link to a more sophisticated recipe using Dandelion greens:

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