#574 – Budget Tip: Dandelions as a Food Source

auntie stress dandelions

It's a perennial event; dandelions pushing their way into the garden to claim real estate from the daffodils, tulips and grape hyacinths. Rather than curse them, I've decided to recognize them for what they are - a beneficial adjunct to a healthy diet. In fact, some of the health food grocery stores sell dandelion alongside other greens. But why pay for them when they're free? When you read about the many uses for dandelions, you'll see why it's a budget tip.

I turned to Mrs.Localvore for advice on making use of this weed which was actually originally an import. Taraxacum officinale was brought to North America by European settlers in the 1600s to satisfy the palates of the immigrants. They used this bitter plant for its tonifying and medicinal effects.

All About Dandelions

If you are interested in using plants to balance your health, here are some important suggestions from Diana Munday, aka Mrs. Localvore, who can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Here's Diana:

"Know what you are picking. If you are uncertain, check with a professional before consuming any foraged plant.

Identification is important, as there are several lookalikes, including sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) and cat's ear (Hypochaeris radicata). While both are edible, they require different cooking techniques. Wild lettuce is often confused with dandelion in its early stages and is drastically different in it's uses. It can have more serious contraindications.

It is quite easy to identify dandelions. Look for a basal rosette pattern of hairless leaves with each leaf having an oval to spatulate shape, 2 to 6 inches long in length. The margins (edges) of the leaves can vary widely in regards to depth of indentation. Single, erect hollow, leafless stem that can range in height from 2 to 6 inches in height in which a single bright yellow flower that can be 1/4 to 2 inches in diameter. The fruit (seeds) follow the flower and is easily recognizable as the iconic and delightful puffball.

Your yard is a good place to forage. That way, you can be assured that it is pesticide and/or herbicide-free.

Please avoid picking from parks as that is part of our fragile ecosystem. It is important to note that some parks and fields may also have been sprayed with chemicals. Often, it is not publicly posted.

Avoid picking near power lines and railway tracks. Herbicide use is very heavy in these areas. These companies and organizations wish to eradicate foliage growth to keep things working as they should.

Be sure to ask permission before you wander onto someone's property to forage.

Foraging is a great way to meet people! You'll have a ready-made conversation starter when you explain that you want to pick some "weeds!" They may even share stories about how their grandparents would regularly forage."

For example, I remember going to the back of our farm with Baba (grandmother) to pick mushrooms. As a Ukrainian immigrant to Canada, how she knew that they were safe to eat is beyond me. Needless to say, we always enjoyed her mushroom gravy. There are so many things I could have learned from her, but now that knowledge is lost.

"Foraging is a great family activity. It's a good way to learn botany; a skill that is useful beyond just finding wild edibles."

It's also a wonderful way to get exercise, while minimizing the allure of screen time.

"Dandelions are one of the first plants to flower in the spring. Their sunny, yellow head heralds the beginning of renewal. It is an important food source for many pollinators. Hummingbirds line their nests with the fluff and they are a source of entertainment and wishes for kids of all ages."

How To Use Dandelions

Like me, you may remember sitting in the field, making dandelion necklaces. But dandelions are good for so much more than making jewelry and "mock cabbage rolls" - yes, you can tell I grew up in an ethnic family. If you're wondering what to do with dandelions, besides hack them out of your lawn, Diana suggests the following:

"All parts of the dandelion can be used. The young leaves are delicious in salads and stir-frys.If you like kale chips, try dandelion leaf chips. Older, larger leaves can be used as well, but in general, will be more bitter. The leaves can also be dried and used for tea and even ground up and used in smoothies.The flowers are delicious in fritters (the stem can be a convenient handle), cookies and breads. Dandelion jelly and wine is a well-loved ritual in some families.

Remove the green bract of the flower when you harvest dandelions, as the bract is very bitter. Removing the bract will also prevent the flower heads from turning into an unpalatable fluffy sphere overnight. If this does happen to your dandelions, you can always infuse them in an oil to make a wonderful massage rub or salve.

The roots are best picked in the fall. That's when the plant's energy "hibernates" over winter. Chop, dry, then grind the roots and use this as a coffee substitute that is delicious with milk and honey. You can also clean and cook the roots like you would a parsnip.

Foraging is a great family activity. It's a good way to learn botany; a skill that is useful beyond just finding wild edibles."

Along with Amy Jefferson, Diana will be doing a series of plant meditations and talks. Their goal is to bring a holistic and non-toxic approach to living. Tune in on Amy's Instagram account today, Wednesday, May 6 at 7pm PST.

I think that one of the many things that COVID-19 is teaching us is that we need to find new ways of doing things. If that means making friends with dandelions so that we can enjoy them for their benefits, then so be it.

During this pandemic, we've had to learn to change our expectations. Letting go of the need for a perfectly manicured lawn may just be one of those changes. If you can't quite stoop to that way of thinking, perhaps you may wish to dedicate an area in your yard for dandelions.

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