Backyard foraging: Dandelions are everywhere

What do you eat when you are stuck at home, and don’t want to chance going to the store for fresh vegetables? In these times when many people are afraid to leave their homes there is one plant you can find across North America and many places in the world.

Dandelion boardering the yard.
Dandelion bordering the yard.

Spring is a season of renewal and new beginnings(and new dangers this year).  All of the trees break out in bright green growth as the leaves unfurl from their winter sleep.  Ahh the joys of spring, I can go on and on about it.  It is by far my favorite time of the year.  One of the great things about spring is if you like to forage, or try some of the bounty of nature you can get many delicious greens.

The easiest one for anyone to find is what many people consider an annoying weed.  The common dandelion is the easiest of all edibles to find.  The plant is native to Eurasia, but was brought by settlers as a hardy green to grow and eat.  Dandelions are found on all of the worlds continents and have been gathered since prehistory, but the varieties cultivated for consumption are mainly native to Eurasia. Dandelions are a perennial plant, its leaves will grow back if any part of the tap root is left intact. To make leaves more palatable later in the later parts of the year they are often blanched to remove bitterness.  The bitterness is mostly in the leaves late in the growing season when water starts getting in short supply.  In the spring it is only mildly bitter and makes a great addition to salads.  I am actually thinking of growing them on purpose. Every part of the plant can be used for something.

The flower petals, along with other ingredients, are used to make dandelion wine. This is very very strong, but also very good. I have seen where the flowers can also be used to make a dye, but I have not had a chance to try that. The ground, roasted roots can be used as a caffeine-free dandelion coffee. I add mine to roasted chicory root for a tasty coffee alternative.   Dandelion was also traditionally used to make the traditional British soft drink dandelion and burdock, and is one of the ingredients of root beer. Also, Dandelions were once delicacies eaten by the Victorian gentry mostly in salads and sandwiches. Dandelions leaves contain abundant vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C and K, and are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron and manganese.

They grow everywhere.  Even in the cracks in the walkway
They grow everywhere. Even in the cracks in the walkway

Roasted dandelion root is a simple thing to make if you are interested in trying to do it yourself.  First gather up a dozen or so plants with as much of the root attached as you can get.  The two-year old plant will have a nice large root on it.  Remember to save the leaves and any flowers for a nice salad or to add to a sandwich. Cut the individual roots into 1-inch sections and cover with water. White sap will leach from the roots causing the water to cloud. Agitate the roots with your hands to remove any remaining soil and to remove the sap. Pour off the water and repeat the process until the water is clear. If you skip this step you will have a much more bitter tea.  Process the roots in a food processor until they are coarsely chopped.  Spread a 1/2-inch layer of chopped dandelion roots on a cookie sheet, and set the oven at 250 degrees, leaving the oven door open a crack to allow moisture to evaporate. Roast the dandelion roots for 2 hours or until the roots are the color of coffee grounds. Stir the dandelion roots every 15 to 20 minutes to allow them to dry evenly. Remove from the oven when the roots are the color of ground coffee. Allow to cool and store in glass jars. You can further grind them with a coffee grinder, but if you don’t have one, that’s okay too, as they can be used as is.

Below are some great resource guides if you are interested in more on foraging for weeds and other edibles.

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Oregon wild edibles (Cattail, Salmon berry, and Fireweed)

Luckily in Oregon there is a large assortment of edible plants that are easy to identify. As with anything you are eating for the first time make sure of your identification and only eat a small amount at first to make sure you do not have type of reaction to the new food. The list of edibles for the area is large enough that I am not going to list every thing. I will hit the most prolific ones that we have with the highest nutritional benefits either for a survival emergency or just if you want to try something different then generic store bought vegetables.

Cattails

Cattails

These swampy area plants are probably the most important of the wild edibles. Every part of the plant is edible depending on the time of year you are getting them. In the spring the new shoots can be cut off near the roots and peeled and eaten raw or steamed (some people have been known to pickle them). In the summer you can collect the pollen to use as a flour. The pollen is very high in testosterone just in case you are sensitive to consuming it. In late summer and into fall you can eat the seed heads like you would an ear of corn. The fluff from the ear can be used as stuffing for pillows, fire starter, and burned to keep mosquitoes away. From fall and through winter the roots can cleaned and roasted or pounded and soaked for the high amount of carbohydrates locked inside. If you pound and soak them them you can dry the mix up and get a flour out of them, this and the pollen can be mixed into breads for a unique set of flavor. It makes a good pancake mix.

Salmon berry’s

SalmonberryA good treat along rivers in streams throughout western Oregon.  All of the plant can be eaten.  Young shoots in the spring can be pealed and eaten raw or cooked.  They are very sweet and tasty.  A healthy high vitamin C tea can be made out the leaves and flower buds.  And of course there is the yellow to red berries that are delicious if you can get to them before the wildlife does.  The berries come ripe from June through August.  They can be made into jam, jelly, and wine.  Because they have such a high water content they are not very easy to dry.  I learned this the hard way when I put a quart on a dehydrate. Salmon berry patches are a favorite hiding place for many wild critters.  You could be standing 20 feet from an elk and never see it in the dense patches that form

Fireweed

FireweedFireweed is a very distinctive herb that grow quickly in burned area.  Young plants can be eat as spring greens either raw or cooked.  By summer the leaves become bitter, but can still be dried to make a tea that is high in vitamin A & C.  During the summer the stems can be pealed and eaten raw.  They kinda remind me of raw asparagus. Honey produced from fireweed fields has a very distinctive spicy taste.  This is my favorite honey.  It is hard to find in Oregon though.