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Green and gold: coltsfoot and dandelion

Pasta with beans, dandelions and coltsfoot (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

Spring has sprung in a big way! The ice is off the lakes. The birds are back. Crocus is blooming in our garden and coltsfoot along the path. Dandelion greens appear where snow has melted.

Common and ubiquitous, both dandelions (Taraxacum officinalis) and coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) were used in herbal medicine for millennia. Both plants were brought here by European colonists and have adapted to our natural landscape. Both have bright yellow blossoms. Today, coltsfoot is considered a wildflower, but dandelions are scorned as weeds.

Coltsfoot has been used for centuries to treat respiratory infections from the common cold to bronchitis and flu. In some places, it’s known as coughwort, and the Latin name derives from tussis ago, meaning “I drive out a cough.”

Traditionally, leaves and blossoms are collected and dried, then steeped in hot water to brew tea. You can also pack fresh or dried flowers and stems tightly into a small jar, then fill the jar with honey. Use a butter knife or popsicle stick to remove air pockets. Store for 6 to 8 weeks to infuse the honey, then strain out the flowers and use as a cough syrup. Fresh or dried leaves can also be boiled in water until the liquid is reduced by half, then mixed with honey. The bright yellow flower petals can also be combined with water, yeast and sugar and brewed into a delicious and medicinal wine, which has a subtle flavor and beautiful color.

Flowers and young leaves can be added to soups. Young, tender leaves can be cooked and served as a green vegetable with a mustard sauce or fried in batter. Flowers and greens can be added to egg dishes like quiche, frittata or omelets. To make a tasty coltsfoot sorbet, boil together 1/2 cup coltsfoot flowers (sepals removed), 1/4 cup sugar and 2 cups water. Cool, then pour into an ice cream maker and process.

Pasta with beans, dandelions and coltsfoot (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

However, recent studies have found that its leaves and flowers contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can damage the liver — so use it sparingly and cautiously.

The dandelion is king of the wild greens. Cup for cup, dandelion greens have as much calcium as milk. They have more iron than spinach, more beta-carotene than carrots, and as much potassium as a banana. They’re also a rich source of vitamins A, B, C, E and K, and the minerals copper, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus.

They have been used medicinally to treat digestive problems like constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain and weak digestion. They’ve also been used for liver, gallbladder, and kidney problems, anemia, acne, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Recent scientific studies are testing dandelions’ efficacy in suppressing the invasive growth of several types of cancer. The International Journal of Oncology published a clinical study showing the positive effects of dandelion leaf tea on breast cancer cells.

Now is the best time to gather the fresh greens — just as they begin to poke through the brown matted grass or last year’s dry leaves, and while the young shoots are still tender. As they grow bigger and develop flower buds, they will become tough and bitter.

Young dandelions are great in salads and taste good added to pasta, quiches, frittatas and risotto. Stir them at the end of cooking into soups and stews. Try them ground into pesto or blended with fruit and yogurt in smoothies.

Dandelions (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

Later in the season, you can brew dandelion petals into wine, brew them as a tea, cook them into jelly or syrup, or mix with a batter to make fritters.

When picking wild greens or flowers, take only what you need, and be careful not to over-harvest any area. Avoid picking along major roads, where plants contain high levels of toxins from car exhaust and may have been sprayed with herbicides and pesticides.

Pasta with Beans, Dandelions and Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

Ingredients:

1/4 pound penne, ziti or other tubular pasta

1 Tablespoon cooking oil

1/4 pound sweet Italian sausage (or other sausage, or 1 cup diced ham) optonal

1 large onion, peeled and diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 cups dandelion greens, washed and chopped

3/4 cup coltsfoot flowers

1 1/2 cups cooked beans (1 can, 15.5 ounce)

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juice

1 teaspoon basil

1 teaspoon marjoram

1/2 to 1 cup grated cheese

Directions:

Cook pasta according to package directions.

In large skillet, heat the oil. Add sausage (if using) and onions and cook 5 to 10 minutes, until sausage browns and onions are translucent.

Add garlic, greens and flowers, and cook another 3-4 minutes, till greens are wilted. Drain and rinse the beans, and stir in along with the tomatoes, herbs, optional ham and cheese. Cook 5-10 minutes on high, to reduce the liquid. Serve hot over cooked pasta.

Serves 2 to 3.

Wild Spring Frittata

2 slices bacon

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 cup baby dandelion greens

1/2 cup coltsfoot flowers

3 eggs

1/4 cup broth or milk

2 Tablespoons tomato sauce

1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan

Directions:

Cook bacon until crisp; drain. Add mushrooms, and cook about 5 minutes. Add dandelions and coltsfoot; cook on medium-low heat until greens are wilted, 2 to 5 minutes.

Beat eggs with broth, tomato sauce and Parmesan, and pour over greens. Cover and cook on low until done, 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle top with additional cheese, if desired. Serve with bacon and toast. Serves 2.

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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 found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook at Words Are My World.

(Correction: The photo captions of dandelion and coltsfoot were accidentally switched in an earlier version of this article. The Enterprise regrets the error.)

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