Winnie lived down the river from our place at Croy Gulch. She was as wise as she was welcoming and my connection to her was strong as I was named after her daughter, Serena. She was the first teacher I ever knew, a mentor of sorts to my mom, and my first example of a woman sharing everything she knew to help another. There were blackberries to be picked and icknish to gather and I learned from her the joys of foraging – a way of life for her as a Klamath River Indian. Most importantly, what I gained from Winnie was a connection to the earth and an appreciation for what it provides. Sadly, it seems as though many of the earth’s gifts are overlooked these days. Take the dandelion, for example.
At some point along the way, the dandelion became the villain of the suburban American landscape and a blight in the quest for the absolutely perfect lawn. Oh dear. Truth is, the dandelion is one of the most nutritious plants that exists and the entire plant, from the flower to the root is edible. The leaves are richer in beta-carotene than carrots and contain more vitamins than most greens, the flower contains anti-oxidants, and the root works as a blood purifier, clearing the toxins from the body and is a significant aid in liver and colon health. I really could go on all day about the health benefits of the dandelion, but really, if you’re interested, I encourage you to visit your local library to find books with brilliant information on this amazing plant, of which there are more than 300 varieties and can be found in most parts of the world.
For me, the greens are the most palatable and are somewhat similar to arugula. They’re tasty fresh or cooked. The flower and root on the other hand are pretty bitter in my opinion and require some preparation in order to be enjoyed. But I’ll talk about that more in the next few days.
Dandelion leaves vary, depending on the variety. They range in size from tiny, as seen here, to very large. But what they share in common are the jagged edges and smooth, non-hairy backed leaves. If you find a dandelion with hairy leaves, it’s actually not a dandelion, but a look-alike.
And of course, let’s not overlook the obvious. Dandelions are such a sweet and happy little flower, and if nothing else, you can enjoy them for just that. The flowers are an incredibly important food source for honey bees in the spring, before most other flowers are blooming. This week, I’m celebrating the common dandelion. Underrated, unappreciated, and most often unloved. But why? I do hope you’ll give them a chance…
I’ll be talking all about dandelions and great ways to utilize this plant – some healthy and useful and some just for fun. Here are some basic things to know about dandelions:
- Dandelions are not toxic, nor are their look-a-like, the “Cat’s Ear”.
- You should NEVER harvest dandelions for consumption from any area that has been fertilized or treated with chemicals, such as most suburban lawns or parks. They should be gathered from wild areas, free of pesticides and chemicals.
- Just as the greens you grow in your garden, the first picking of dandelion leaves is the most tasty. If you pick regrowth from the same plant, the leaves will be increasingly bitter.
The icknish plant I mentioned is found in the wilds of Northern California and is vaguely similar to celery.
My favorite in-print book for foraging is Wild Edibles by Sergei Boutenko.
I just finished reading the book, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan. A story of the life and photographs of Edward Curtis. Although it has nothing at all to do with dandelions, it’s an interesting story of the life of a Seattle photographer who dedicated his life to capturing the story of the American Indian, through film, primitive recordings, and language, and tradition documentation. Although it was sort of a slow read for me, it was another interesting perspective on the life of early Native Americans which has always been really fascinating to me.
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