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“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Obey! Consume! Conform!
Those three words – a tagline for John Carpenter’s 1988 They Live! – came to mind as I sat in my backyard for the first time since taking possession of the Denfeld neighborhood home in January, and surveyed the rich field of sunny dandelions that dominated my yard.
Then I peeked at the anally manicured lawns of the still anonymous neighbors on either side of me and the final word of that tagline echoed in my skull – CONFORM! CONFORM! CONFORM! Cut off the heads of every last dandelion, damn you!
My lawn – back and front – shimmers with sunny dandelions. I do not want to be their executioner, lopping off their lovely heads with my deadly brand-new 20-inch Greenworks reel lawnmower.
But I know my neighbors would not approve if I allowed my lawn to become a dandelion garden, so I guess I must conform and lop off all those beautiful heads.
But it makes me wonder when this gorgeous, ubiquitous and obviously very tough wildflower became the despised outcast it is today?
Why do we hate the dandelion?
Maybe if we got past the notion that it’s a weed, and looked at it as a flower first. It is as much a flower as an aster, daisy or sunflower – they’re all from the same family, Asteraceae.
The name dandelion is a mispronunciation of the French name “dent de lion,” which translates to “tooth of the lion,” referring to the toothy look of the dandelion’s serrated leaves.
For centuries herbalists have included dandelions as a common, nutritional herb, providing protein, calcium, iron and Vitamins A and C. The leaves in particular are a known diuretic.
The leaves, flowers and roots have all been used by herbalists and chefs. Leaves can be eaten as any green. They are bitter but there are many ways to tame and/or disguise the bitterness.
The flowers can also be eaten and are most commonly used to make dandelion wine.
The roots can be dried and roasted to make a coffee-like beverage.
Europeans used the plant to treat fevers, boils, eye problems, diarrhea, fluid retention, liver congestion, heartburn and skin ailments. Dandelion was used in China, India and Russia to treat breast problems, liver diseases, appendicitis and digestive problems.
In the 17th century when dandelions were brought to the New World, they were mainly used by the Puritans as a source of medicine.
A brief internet search found all kinds of reasons why we should respect the humble dandelion, including a number of highly reputable health care organizations. A piece written by dietitian Nancy Geib at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic wasespecially interesting. She writes that dandelions are “probably the most nutritionally dense green you can eat – outstripping even kale or spinach.”
While she notes that scientists do not focus enough attention on the study of wild herbs and plants, she said research has pointed to a number of health benefits to be derived from dandelions.
• Roots, leaves and flowers contain several types of antioxidants.
• Lab studies have found that compounds in dandelions can fight inflammation.
• Dandelions are rich in potassium, making them a natural diuretic and a help in controlling high blood pressure and weight loss.
• Animals studies suggest that compounds in dandelions might reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Geib also suggests ways to ingest dandelions.
• Greens: Dandelion leaves are on the bitter side, but they have a spicy kick similar to arugula. Try tossing some fresh, washed leaves into a salad. To take the edge off the bitterness, you can also cook them. Soak the leaves in cold, salted water for 10 or 15 minutes, then cook them in boiling water until tender (no more than five minutes). Finish by sautéing the boiled greens with some olive oil, onion or garlic. Top with Parmesan cheese.
• Flowers: Dandelions’ sunny blossoms give color to a salad. Use them fresh or dried to make dandelion tea – or brew dandelion wine. You can try infusing them into oil or vinegar, too, Geib suggests. (Dandelion-infused oil can also be used to make a salve that’s great for muscle aches.)
• Roots: Roasted dandelion roots are used in a tasty drink similar to coffee. You can find dandelion-based coffee substitutes at health food stores.
Here are a couple of recipes to try
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 garlic cloves minced
2 cups chopped fresh dandelion leaves loosely packed
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
This dandelion pesto recipe is fairly standard, with dandelion leaves replacing basil, which is supposed to be great for digestion and for the liver.
The addition of lemon zest and juice tempers the bitterness of the dandelion greens, and the turmeric and black pepper gives the pesto anti-inflammatory properties.
Place the dandelion greens, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and spices into a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. If it’s too thick, slowly add a bit more olive oil.
Add the Parmesan and continue to blend until the mixture has a smooth consistency.
Refrigerate, and eat within 3 days. You can also freeze the pesto into ice cube trays for later use.
Simple Dandelion Greens
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces dandelion greens
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Pour the oil into a frying pan, and heat it on medium-high.
When the oil is hot, add the dandelion greens, and sauté them for 3 minutes.
Sprinkle the greens with the garlic powder, black pepper, and salt.
Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Transfer the greens to a serving dish, and top them with shredded Parmesan cheese.
Nutrition Info: One cup of chopped, raw dandelion greens (about 55g) has 25 calories, 1.5g protein, 0.4g of fat, 5.1g of carbohydrates, 1.9g fiber and 0.4g sugar. Dandelion greens are an excellent source of vitamin A, folate, vitamin K, and vitamin C (in its raw form), and a good source of calcium and potassium.