NATURAL FOODIE

April 21, 2010

Avery Yale Kamila: Time to seek and enjoy – not destroy – dandelions

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Don't let the marketers fool you. Dandelions are a superfood, not a super-weed.

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When harvesting dandelion greens, it's best to look for plants, unlike this one, that have yet to bloom.

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Dandelion salad, topped by a pansy and a dressing with extra vinegar to balance the greens’ bitterness, is a healthy spring choice.

Photos by Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer

PLANTS FOR HEALTH
WHAT:
Herbalist Deb Soule shows how to identify, harvest and create medicine from dandelion leaf and root, burdock root, nettle leaf, yellow dock root, chickweed, violet leaf and lovage.
WHEN: 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. May 15
WHERE: Avena Botanicals Herbal Apothecary & Gardens, 219 Mill St., Rockport
HOW MUCH: $65; bring a bag lunch
CONTACT: 594-0694

The pushers of chemical-weapons-in-a-spray-bottle want us to see the dandelion's bright yellow blooms and signature jagged leaves and think "seek and destroy."

But what those of us hip to the culinary scene really think is "seek and enjoy."

For thousands of years, the dandelion plant has been revered for its medicinal and culinary attributes. People around the globe and throughout history -- from the ancient Romans to the modern Chinese -- have benefited from dandelions' nutritional and healing qualities.

The plant is packed full of vitamins and minerals and is a traditional remedy for infections and inflammation, a natural diuretic and a tonic for the kidneys and liver.

Its springtime arrival has long meant a delicious way to detox from winter's excesses.

With an early spring upon us, now is the time to seize the culinary potential of dandelions. Both the greens and the root can be eaten.

With the greens, look for young leaves on plants that have yet to bloom. This often means seeking out a shady patch of grass, since the dandelions growing in full sun may have already bloomed.

Your lawn is the perfect place to begin your hunt. If you don't have a lawn, ask a neighbor or friend if you can forage on their land.

Stay away from grassy patches used as a doggie bathroom or sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals.

Today's modern forager can even find fresh dandelion greens at an increasing number of Maine's finer grocery shops and markets.

I've used fresh dandelion greens in salads, sandwiches, soups and stir-fries. I've also tossed a few leaves onto pizza with good results. The leaves contain a welcome bitterness that adds complexity to salads and contrast to sweet and sour stir-fries.

I've never cooked with the root, which is more frequently employed for its medicinal rather than culinary uses. However, according to the numerous herbal reference books in my library, common culinary uses include grating the root for use in salads and drying and roasting it for a coffee substitute.

Home wine makers have long been fond of dandelion, and a handful of brewers and soft-drink makers still include dandelion in their recipes.

There's really no way to go wrong when cooking with dandelion greens. Some people even go old school and boil them. Not being much of a boiler myself, I tend to go the raw route.

Here's a quick and easy salad recipe that uses more vinegar than normal in the dressing to balance the greens' bitterness.

It's a perfect side to any seasonal meal, and the ultimate springtime cleanser.

SIMPLE DANDELION SALAD

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon sea salt

4 cups fresh dandelion greens, rinsed and torn into bite-sized pieces

Whisk together vinegar and salt until dissolved. Add the olive oil and shake until mixed. Pour over dandelion greens. Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt and serve.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: akamila@pressherald.com

 

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