Spring is a season of renewal and new beginnings. 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 and 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 continents and have been gathered since prehistory, but the varieties cultivated for consumption are mainly native to Eurasia. A perennial plant, its leaves will grow back if the tap root is left intact. To make leaves more palatable, 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. 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.
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.
Dandelion root has long been known for its healing and medicinal effects. It has long been thought that dandelion root is a liver tonic, and can be used to detox the body of toxins; however, research does not support this at this time. I wish they would do more studies on medicinal herbs. What dandelion root can do for you is treat digestive disorders and constipation, and stimulate appetite. Those taking insulin or medication to reduce blood sugar levels and those taking diuretics or lithium should consult their physician before consuming dandelion root. The root has a mild diuretic effect when consumed (as does the coffee you are using it to replace). Otherwise, the herb is considered safe for human consumption.