As I wrote this, the first post of a rebirth for the vintage Back to Basics Blog, I could hear the drone of my neighbor’s lawnmower. Just a few weeks before, signs of green of were rare. Then, suddenly, lawns everywhere were getting their first cuts of the year … if the lawnmowers started. For many, this was followed by the spreading of weed killer with the scope set squarely on the broad-leafed varieties, chief among them the dandelions (Taraxacum officinale).
If you think I’ve lost my mind, I’ll just take that as a benchmark of just how out of touch with our planet we’ve become.
Don’t Poison the Dandelions; Eat Them
I am lucky enough to be able to dine out occasionally. On a special occasion, I get to go to a “refined” restaurant. That is where “mixed greens” will usually be served in the first course. Therefore it is safe to say that only the best establishments serve dandelion. You may already be aware of this, but have you realized that a portion of the greens in their fancy salads are the same “weeds” you’ve been taught to kill? Are you aware that these weeds are highly nutritious? And that every single part of them is edible?
That’s all true. Early spring is when the dandelions taste best. That’s because the leaves get bitter with age. The roots, meanwhile, can be cleaned, ground, and used to brew a beverage or sliced to fry at any time of year. The flowers (a.k.a fruits) can be turned to wine. But my favorite parts are the tiny buds, which are found in the center of the rosette in the days before they all bloom. The buds are easily plucked, rinsed, and fried in butter or boiled. Though I’ve never tried it, the blossums too can be dipped in fritter batter, fried and served with syrup or garlic salt. Finally, as for the seed heads, just leave them for those childhood wishes.
There are no poisonous look-alikes in the United States, but eating dandelions still has risks. That’s because the lawns and landscapes in which they grow are often dowsed with chemicals intended to kill them. NEVER EAT DANDELION FROM A CHEMICALLY TREATED LANDSCAPE. This includes synthetic fertilizing treatments. Agricultural crops in the US cannot be certified organic until no “prohibited substances” have been applied to the soil in which they were grown for at least three years. I waited five years before I began eating the dandelions in my yard after what I found among the lawn-care supplies the previous owner had left in the shed.
The real shame of vanity in cases like this — perceptions of beauty predicated on senselessness — is that it deprives us of the ability to feed ourselves with gifts of the earth. If nothing else, since dandelions grow everywhere there is ground, these weeds could deliver some nutrition to a homeless person or two. But instead, like the water in the stream that runs through town, they cannot ingest them, for they have been polluted by economic progress.
Imagine if dandelions were a delicacy. Prospectors would knock on your suburban door with offers to extract them. You’d negotiate your cut of the commodity’s profit. But dandelions are not rare, and thus the income would be endless. There’s no way we could ever expend all those dandelions! Could we? I think that’s what the people once said about the Passenger Pigeons.
My late mom, being Pennsylvania Dutch through and through, used to ask me if I ate dandelion on the exact day of the year that I originally wrote this post: Holy Thursday. She said I should do it for good luck, but another legend says it supposed to “keep fever away for a year.” Whichever, dandelion is known by medical science to be beneficial to the gallbladder, to contain Vitamin A, and more.
Of course this means you have to bend down and dig out the plants, pick them apart from the grass and dirt, and wash them thoroughly. Sounds a little like harvesting from a garden, doesn’t it? Nutrition from earth to gullet on the same day, maybe in the same hour, all for free. That is how Nature intended us to live.
Thank you, dandelions, for growing in my yard.