The lowly dandelion reminds us both of our childhood days (remember blowing the fluffy seeds away) and of the unwelcome weed in our lawns. Many of us spend quite a bit of time trying to get rid of the hardy little flowers. Yet, for a brief time in the spring, you might want to sample them in a salad or in the Amish country specialty, dandelion gravy.
Dandelions for your health
The Common dandelion is an introduced plant in North America. In the mid-1600s, European settlers brought the common dandelion (scientific name, Taraxacum officinale) to eastern America and cultivated it in their gardens for food and medicine. Since then it has spread across the continent as a weed.
The plant spread widely because of its adaptability to various climates, but also because they clone themselves. Dandelions don’t need to cross-pollination to set seeds – they develop seeds completely on their own, which explains why they seem to multiply in your yard overnight.
If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em!
While we won’t vouch for the accuracy of these statements, our thrifty Amish and Mennonite ancestors did accept their nutritional value in a pioneer diet.
According to the website essortment.com,
· A cup of raw dandelion greens has the same calcium as ½ of a glass of milk. It also has 14,000 i.u. of Vitamin A, plus 19 milligrams of thiamin, 26 mg. of riboflavin and 35 mg. of ascorbic acid, your body changes it into vitamin C. That’s more than most multi-vitamins.
· Some herbalists say the milky substance from the stem treats warts. Apply once a day for up to 5 days. Hey, it may not work, but the bugs will love you. But, be careful. It can cause an allergic rash in some people.
· The Chinese use dandelion root for relieving Tonsillitis. They slowly cook one ounce of the root, chopped, in two cups of water until only half of the liquid remains. After it cools, they sip this syrup, sometimes sweetening it with juice.
· The French grow Dandelions to eat much like we grow lettuce in our gardens.
According to MotherEarth News:
Dandelions have long been used as a liver tonic and diuretic. In addition, the roots contain inulin and levulin, starchlike substances that may help balance blood sugar, as well as bitter taraxacin, which stimulates digestion. Dandelion roots can be harvested during any frost-free period of the year and eaten raw, steamed, or even dried, roasted and ground into a coffee substitute. The flowers are best known for their use in dandelion wine, but they also can be added to a salad, made into jellies or dipped in batter to make dandelion fritters.
How to harvest
Always harvest dandelions from a yard that is free of chemical herbicides, fertilizers and other lawn sprays. Pick the leaves as soon as they appear. In fact, the earlier the better, for the younger the leaves, the less likely they are to taste overly sharp. If your dandelions grow too large, the only alternative is the lawnmower.
Fresh-picked dandelion greens are frail; they wilt quickly and should be cleaned in very cold water and dried thoroughly (a salad spinner comes in very handy here). Place the clean, dry greens on paper towels in a plastic bag or bowl, and keep them covered and chilled until you’re ready to use them.
Dandelion gravy is a truly unique recipe in Amish country and there are several ways to prepare it. In some recipes, it’s really more about the gravy and less about the dandelions.
At Der Dutchman Restaurant in Walnut Creek, Ohio, dandelion gravy is served as an occasional lunch special and only made in spring when the dandelion greens are the most tender. Courtesy of Verna Yoder and Mary Raber, longtime cooks at Der Dutchman, here’s a general recipe for preparing the gravy:
1. Make a gravy by browning butter then adding flour and milk. Stir until smooth.
2. To this mixture, add chopped hardboiled eggs, chopped bacon, salt and vinegar to taste. If you prefer, you may leave out the vinegar.
3. Last, add fresh clean dandelion greens and stir until just wilted.
4. Serve over boiled potatoes (mashed slightly with a fork) or mashed potatoes.