Goodbye April, welcome May!
April seemed endless, surreal and strange. I’m so glad it’s May! The days are noticeably longer and temps have risen above 60 degrees F. The brown earth is transformed by green growth.
Bright yellow coltsfoot blooms as it does every year. Crocuses, daffodils and scillas fill the flowerbed with blue, purple, white and yellow blossoms. Wild plants like ramps, fiddleheads and dandelions are popping up everywhere. We may be in the middle of a pandemic, but nature doesn’t stray from its course. And that is reassuring.
Some plants grow in gardens. Others grow wild. With schools closed for the rest of the year, why not plant a garden with the kids? Or go hunting for wild edibles together? I have friends who picked dandelion greens with their grandparents when they were little.
One of the most bountiful wild plants is the dandelion. They grow everywhere — even in sidewalk cracks!
Although gardeners scorn them, these “weeds” were imported to the American continent by European settlers, who brought them here as a source of food and nutrition. The very word dandelion comes from the French “dent de lion,” or lion’s tooth, because of the deep-toothed leaves. They’ve continued as a staple in the South, where dandelion greens are sold in produce sections of supermarkets, and among African-Americans.
Early herbalists used the dandelion to treat gastrointestinal, kidney and liver ailments. In more modern times, Euell Gibbons, best known for Stalking the Wild Asparagus and Stalking the Healthful Herbs, writes, “We spend millions on herbicides to kill the dandelions in our lawns, while we pay millions more for diet supplements to give ourselves the vitamins and minerals that dandelion could easily furnish.” (Gibbons, in his essay, Just How Good Are Wild Foods? In Stalking the Healthful Herbs, p. 283)
The long, jagged, lance-shaped leaves are delicious when harvested early. Now is the best time to gather them — when they’re tender and just coming up. The fresh tender leaves are wonderful in salads, quiches and frittatas. Once they bloom, they become tough and bitter, but older leaves can still be sauteed with bacon, onions and garlic and seasoned with a bit of cider vinegar.
Dandelions are packed with nutrition. The tender greens contain more calcium than milk (187 mg per serving), as well as many other essential nutrients. They have more than 10 times the vitamin A than lettuce — a one-cup serving contains more than the daily RDA (28,000 IU); they’re high in vitamin C (35 mg in a half-cup serving) and fiber; and they’re a good source of the minerals iron (3.1 mg.), potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and copper and vitamins E, B6, folate, thiamin, and riboflavin. Like other greens, they have almost no calories — a mere 25 calories per cup. So, there’s a good reason why in Greek mythology, Hecate is said to have fed Theseus dandelions for 30 days so he would become powerful enough to defeat the Minotaur.
There are many ways to use dandelion greens. Add them to salads; stir them into soups and stews; saute with bacon or sausage. You can infuse them with boiling water for tea (and dry some to make tea in winter).
For a delicious smoothie, blend the greens with a sweet fruit like banana, tart citrus and yogurt. Use 1 cup greens, 1 banana, 1 orange, and 1 cup of yogurt. If you like it a bit sweeter, add honey, maple syrup or stevia. Add crushed ice to create a cool beverage.
Make dandelion pesto by blending 3 cups of greens with ½ cup olive oil, a couple garlic cloves, the juice and zest of 1 lemon, 1 cup toasted almonds, a tablespoon or two of Pecorino Romano, and a little salt. Serve with pasta.
Dandelion roots and flowers also have many uses. Tea, wine, jelly and fritters can be made from the flowers. The roots can be ground and used in baking, brewed for tea, or used as an ersatz caffeine-free coffee.
Dandelions are delicious. They’re nutritious. They are great for the environment, providing food for bees and birds. And gathering them can be fun for the whole family.
Dandelion Pasta and Sausage Skillet
1/2 pound pasta (like egg noodles or ziti)
1/4 pound sausage (like breakfast or Italian)
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
4 cups washed dandelion greens
1 small can diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup grated mild cheese
Cook pasta according to package directions.
In large skillet, brown the sausage to release fat. Add onions, and cook 5 – 7 minutes. Add garlic and dandelion greens and cook another three to four minutes, till greens are wilted. Stir in the tomatoes and cheese. Cook 5-10 minutes on high, until everything is hot and the liquid is reduced. Serve over cooked pasta.
Serves 2- 3.
Option: For a vegetarian version, omit sausage; fry onions in oil. Add a can of white beans.
Dandelion Carrot and Apple Salad
1 or 2 carrots
2 cups dandelion greens
1 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt; 1/4 teaspoon pepper; 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup walnuts (optional — and better if toasted but not necessary)
Scrub carrots. Shred into the salad bowl. Wash dandelion greens well in several changes of water to remove sand and grit. Chop coarsely and add.
Combine dressing ingredients — yogurt, mustard, maple syrup and seasonings — in a small bowl. Stir with a fork to blend. Fold into carrot-dandelion mixture.
Wash, core and slice or chop the apple, and stir in.
Stir in sliced scallions, raisins and / or walnuts.
Option: For a main dish salad, add chopped diced ham.
Serves 2- 3.
Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook as Words are My world.