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Dandelion – Really the bad boy on the block?

It has been a long, cold winter and we are looking for signs of spring. Here in southern New Jersey, we see fragrant Arnold Promise witch hazel in golden bloom now. In sunny warm protected places, we see crocus and daffodils pushing out of the soil. And in wooded areas there are downy shad blow or amelanchier trees starting to show white buds and then blooms. Many of the usual spring wild flowers and weeds are late, but some are beginning to bloom.

But usually when the temperatures reach 50 degrees several days in a row and the sun begins to warm the earth, the first blooms of spring appear. Besides the spring bulbs, the wild violets and dandelions usually burst out in bloom on warm sunny day (remember what a warm sunny day is like?)  Soon those of you with a natural lawn can pick a wonderful batch of greens for a delicious soup or salad early in spring! Both dandelion and violet leaves are rich in vitamins as well as have many other wonderful and restorative properties for promoting good health.

To many, the dandelion is a legendary jewel of folk legends because of centuries of beneficial uses in folk medicine. Dandelion wine has long been consumed as a healthy tonic year round because it is a way to preserve the therapeutic qualities of the blooms. Beverages made from the root, as well as countless dishes made with the green leaves, can readily be found in first-rate cookbooks.

Most folks would laugh if someone said they planted this ‘common weed’ in their garden, yet today’s supermarkets buy vast amounts of dandelion from farmers who grow it for market. Here in southern New Jersey, Vineland has long been known for these greens, blooms and wine. This month, the first of the local produce can be found.  Victorian notes state that most gardens allowed these plants so a few leaves could be added to salad and vegetable dishes as well as soups. They also made wine from the blooms to enjoy all year long.

Dandelion gets its name from a corruption of the French Dent de Lion, which means teeth of the lion because of the configuration of the jagged periphery of its leaves. High in vitamin A, vitamin C and iron, this green is also low in calories, fat and cholesterol. For those who collect this plant in the wild, it is most readily available in spring and only needs to be harvested for tender salad greens. Always try to pick the youngest leaves before blooms appear to use in salads. Only harvest from lawns that are free of chemicals, pesticides and far enough away from roadsides where there is pollution from traffic.Be sure to wash the greens well before you use them.

Dandelion greens (Taraxacum officinalis) are around most of the season with larger and more mature leaves later in spring through fall. These can be blanched in boiling water until tender and then sautéed in butter or olive oil. They can be served over pasta, as a side dish or simply with a squeeze of lemon juice to be enjoyed with crusty buttered bread and cheese. Any left over greens can be tossed into an omelet or casserole. Most supermarkets have them both in and out of season. Enjoy.

Recipes:

There are so very many recipes for dandelions considering the many cultures that use it. One of my favorites is to use it in place of, or with, escarole in chicken soup. This will hit the spot after gardening on theses damp, rainy days. Make a basic chicken broth for this using a cut-up whole chicken.

Lorraine’s Favorite Chicken Soup

  • 1 whole chicken, cut up*
  • 2 onions, sliced and chopped
  • 6 celery tops
  • 1 or more cups of barley (depending on how thick you like your soup.)
  • 6 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 6 large carrots, sliced
  • 1 parsley root (if available), peeled and sliced
  • ½ cup parsley, chopped
  • 3 cups dandelion leaves cut into 3-inch pieces
  • 2 cups spring violet leaves, if available

Add onions and celery tops to chicken and cover with water in a stock pot. Simmer a couple of hours, remove the chicken and take meat from the bones. Add barley, celery, parsley root and parsley to broth. Simmer for about 25 minutes. Add more water if soup appears thicker than you’re like it. Add carefully washed dandelion leaves. In spring, I also add cleaned violet leaves. Simmer until tender. Remove the skin and bones from chicken meat and return to soup. Serve hot with a spoon of grated cheese and freshly chopped parsley on top.

*If cooked in a blanching basket in a soup pot, bones and skin are easiest to remove.

Healthy lunch Salad

(serves 2-4)

  • 2 cups Dandelion leaves, washed and drained
  • 2 cups mixed spring greens, washed and drained
  • 2 medium potatoes, cooked, peeled and sliced (water chestnuts may be substituted)
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
  • A handful of walnuts or your favorite nuts
  • ½ cup of your favorite cheese cubes
  • 1 cup of cherry tomatoes (optional)
  • 1 sliced cucumber
  • Red onion (to taste), thinly sliced
  • 8 slices of bacon cooked till crisp
  • 1 or 2 spoons of bacon drippings (optional)
  • Oil may be substituted to dress the salad.
  • Wine vinegar to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

There are so very many recipes for dandelion considering the many cultures that use it.  I have never made wine from the blooms, but last year after writing about them, I suddenly found myself with wine to taste from many readers who do make it. So if the dandelions annoy you when they pop up in the lawn, just eat them!

lorraine-kieferLorraine Kiefer has gardened all of her life. She is a garden writer, floral designer and professional horticulturist. Lorraine teaches many classes at Triple Oaks nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, NJ. Email Lorraine@tripleoaks.com for garden help or leave your questions below! www.tripleoaks.com