Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Photo Collage - Dandelion

The humble dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a naturalized invader from Europe that is found all over North America and Canada in hayfields, pastures, lawns, parks, empty lots and other disturbed areas. It is  an herbaceous perennial that grows all of its leaves from a basal rosette. Each leaf stalk has a lighter green midrib, and the leaf is often deeply lobed with tips that point back towards the base of the leaf. Flower stalks are hollow tubes, sometimes smooth and sometimes covered with a fine fuzzy wool. Each flower stalk carries a single composite flower head composed of many ray florets, forming the familiar yellow flower that dots the landscape. Shortly after blooming, often the next day, the white, fluffy head of seeds is formed. Each seed is attached to a pappus of fine hairs that works like a parachute to catch winds and disperse the seeds over wide areas. The taproot of dandelion is fleshy and long, becoming woody with age. It is difficult to eradicate dandelions from a lawn because the taproot is difficult to dig up in one piece, often breaking and still managing to grow back. All parts of dandelion exude a white sap when broken or cut.

Dandelion greens are a common food in Italy and France, and we can find them in our local grocery stores alongside the other leafy greens like kale and mustards. There is always a bit of bitterness associated with dandelion greens, but that level of bitterness can vary with climate, time of year, and habitat of the plant. Robert gathers the greens only in the early spring before the dandelions flower, or in the late fall. He gets them from a meadow next to a seasonally flooding river that receives full sun, and quickly boils them to wilt the greens and store them in the freezer for later use, adds them raw to salads, and cooks them in recipes calling for greens. As he will pick about 5 gallons of greens at a time and boil them in a big pot of water, he is then left with a big pot of dandelion tea filled with vitamins, minerals and iron, that he sweetens and chills to drink. When the flowers appear, we pick them in abundance to use the yellow petals in jelly, wine, and added to breads and muffins. Gillian will powder her face with pollen as she munches the flower heads fresh from the field. Robert digs the roots in the autumn to dry slowly in the oven and powder in the coffee grinder, then uses the powder as a coffee substitute. The smell of the roasting roots is similar to chocolate, and the "coffee" is bitter, but really good dressed up with sweetener and cream. Dandelions are versatile, common, and one of our favorite free, organic, and wild foods.

In two weeks, we are taking a little road trip to the Dandelion Festival in Ohio. We are looking forward to sampling some dandelion-filled foods, some music, crafts, and fun for kids. We  ordered the cookbook that Breitenbach Wine Cellars produces in collaboration with the Festival, and it is filled with fun recipes using the greens, flowers and roots.


Mike Krebill said...

Beautiful collage. And an interesting blog. Be sure to take your camera along when you attend the dandelion festival at the Breitenbach winery. This is a big event, drawing 3,000 and more people. Vendors will have all sorts of things to eat. One of my favs is dandelion bratwurst and dandelion petal or dandelion root ice cream. One of the highlights is The Great Dandelion Cookoff. Get a front row seat for that and get permission from the Breitenbach lady in charge to photograph the submissions before the judges start tasting them. The audience is permitted to taste them after the judging is over and the winners are announced. A picture of the winner and his or her first place dish would look great on your blog. The person in charge was nice enough to give me a copy of the judges' booklet, which contained the recipes. I also recommend your getting in touch with Dr. Peter Gail, through He began the event long ago, and once sold booklets of prize-winning dandelion recipes. He may still have some he'd be willing to sell. You are welcome to use my name when asking, as we are good friends. Mike Krebill, Iowa Forager.

Kristina said...

That's where we visit too. That's a nice area. I brought home a newspaper with many recipes in it for dandelion too. Can't wait to see what you make.

Holli said...

Lovely post and photos.

I'm just getting acquainted with foraged medicinals, and have tried my first batch of Dandelion Blossom Tea.

Next I will have to try your jelly recipe!

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