Monday, May 3, 2010

Harvest Monday - Dandelion power

One mother of a dandelion... many dandelions hiding out in the lungwort.

Yeah, I knew that you knew that we all know that dandelions are edible but have you ever eaten one? Lately, the turf has contracted a rash of brash yellow and people are complaining or delighting depending on their perception of this most amazing weed.

I get that even if you have fond memories of blowing those dancing ballerinas in the air as a child that you may not want your green concrete to consist primarily of Taraxacum officinale. Perhaps you would like other species to share some space like ox-eye daisy, violets, plaintain, chickweed or even grass. With that in mind:

How to Use Dandelions
How to Abuse Dandelions

And some other things I harvested: rhubarb, mint, garlic chives... my youngest was going to show off the rhubarb but she got distracted by a pill bug.

How to Use Dandelions

Dandelion greens are very good for you and they taste it too. To temper its bitter tendencies, eat the first flush of growth in the spring or blanche it like endive by turning a pot upside down on top of its crown for a week or so until tender, pale leaves pop up. Or do it like cauliflower and tie the leaves together to blanche the heart. This will lower the good greenness content but its better than finding it inedible. Some people add it to green juice or other leaf mixes in small quantities. Boiling it in a change of water will also lower the bitterness but also the nutrition value. As is generally the case with greens, they are better - ie, less tough and bitter - before the flowers arrive. Then you can pick the flowers to sprinkle in dishes or batter and fry as tempura. A local wild plant enthusaist, Martha Webber, apparently makes Dandelion Jam. Of course, it probably hasn't escaped you that there is such a thing as dandelion wine.

The pill bug. Notice her contented smile? She terrorizes them by overturning rocks and logs and then getting them to go visit pill bugs under other rocks and logs. Yes, I know the image doesn't match the text but I figured I'd try and merge two posts into one for effeciency (and confusion) sake.

The root can be dug and roasted until brittle to grind as a coffee substitute. You can also cook it as a vegetable like parsnip though I have never tried this. I'd love to hear experiences. You can store the roots with chicory and others in your cellar (or back of your fridge) to force in the winter. Bury the roots in moist sand with the crown sticking out. Either place on a window sill for bitter bite, or place in the dark to grow what looks like a curled cousin of Belgian endive.

How to Abuse Dandelions

Rather like using them, this requires a bit of harvesting though you may choose to put them in a plastic bag and let them bake dead before adding them to the compost to enrich your soil. You could probably also stew them in water to make an enriching tea for your plants rather like comfrey tea. In your enthusiasm, don't feel the need to be too thorough about their removal as they are an early food source for bees and other beneficials. That said, the likelihood of eradication is slim so pull away.

The dandelion blossoms were added to a veggie quiche along with these microgreens - thinnings of self sown 'Red Ursa' kale, 'Osaka' mustard, and 'Magenta Mountain' orach.

Here's how to lower the population of dandelion in your green concrete. Wait for a day where your soil is at its most diggable. Get a good dandelion digger and a shovel. Make sure you have a strong back. Dig out as much root as possible. Curse that it snapped. It will almost always do so unless it is very small. After you have aerated your lawn in this manner, top dress the area with compost or other good 'soil' and reseed with a mixture of grass and clover.

If you haven't gotten around to doing this, then snap off the flowers whenever you see them to prevent them from seeding. The healthier your grass, the less likely it will be overrun with weeds but I'm not promising anything.

Another alternative is to cover over the whole area and plant an edible garden. Maybe one with a few dandelions...


Wild Man Steve Brill talks about how to cook up dandelions


michelle said...

Using and abusing dandelions, very fun post. :) Fortunately, I don't have any green concrete so that's one of the few weeds that I don't do battle with.

Craig said...

I'm taking Martha's Wild edible course right now, and can confirm that her Jam is delicious.

I love the dandelion, and usually try to sneak it into some homemade pasta made with wild greens(nettles, plantain, whatever is growing). They give it a brilliant colour, as well as a nice green taste.

Sally said...

I need to show this post to my daughter. She loves dandelions and is always proposing ways of cooking and eating them. We don't have enough sun on our "green concrete" but it appears that our city (Boston) has less money for pesticides so I'm seeing more and more along the bike path.
Your little girl is cute.

Angela said...

I don't have dandelions either, but still, I've enjoyed your post a lot.
Very informative, specially for those of us who have a little bit of a hard time the bitterness in dandelions.

Anonymous said...

I have never eaten dandelion, but I have heard that it’s edible.
We have them around the garden, but I like them and not planning on removing them (or abusing them in any way). For me, they are a decoration as any other wild flower.

Robert said...

When I was in Cornwall, we had a septic tank put in under the lawn. The hole was 8 feet deep, and dandelion roots at the bottom were as thick as they were at the top. That being said, we were on the edge of an old clay pit. I have a high water table under the allotment, and the roots are fairly short, so I think they probably go down to the water table, wherever they find it.

I leave them alone; they keep the bees going this time of year.

Daphne said...

I do love my dandelions, but not to eat. Though I've never tried dandelion jam or wine.

Alexis said...

I have tried the greens in the past and just found them FAR too bitter. We do eat the flowers, however. They taste slightly sweet and go well with garlic. I've even put them in with hamburger helper when we couldn't afford better food.

Ottawa Gardener said...

I find them terribly bitter too as full fledged greens. The blanched greens are excellent however as I don't mind a touch of bitter. The flowers, like you said, are a great food and good for you too. I do try to sneak in a few of the full strength greens in green pastes.

Ottawa Gardener said...

Robert: 8 feet!! O.M.G.

Craig: I've been on a couple walks with her and she's very knoweldgeable and personable. I enjoyed myself and learned some stuff too! That's a great idea about the pasta.

Sally: We have a pesticide ban in our city finally so now I can share the ants with my neighbours. Ant refugee camp is finally closed!

Vrt: I agree they are very pretty.

Michelle: Lucky you. Green concrete is so boring. I can't believe I actually had to plant some to sell the house.

Angela: I'm with you on the bitterness

Daphne: I think my new project is making more dandelion stuff. Maybe even the infamous wine. Might as well use what you're given right?

David in Kansas said...

I let them grow and let them die on their own, unless I mow them. Fun post!

Mac said...

Very informative, I didn't know you can do so much with dandelions, the first time I saw dandelion wine for sale was in Amana Iowa.
Shepard's purse is quite similar to dandelion, have you eaten them?