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Dandelions Defined

Officinale Dandelion in Lawn

Perhaps you, like me, have sort of overlooked the Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale.

It was always there even where we didn’t want them to be. We picked the seed

heads, dug them up, and generally cursed them, at times. Just a few years ago I

was lending a photographic hand to the Delaware Natural Heritage Program, and

noticed on a list of plants that they needed photographs of, the red-seeded

dandelion, Taraxacum erythrospermum . I think I had heard of this plant before

but had certainly never searched for it. As a result of that spark, I began to check

every last dandelion that I came across. Ultimately, after many failures, I learned

to recognize them, and low and behold, after looking over heck and half of

Georgia, here they were growing in my own front yard!

Red-seeded in lawn (Taraxacum erythrospermum)

T. erythrospermum

T. officinale

So, here is the tale of the dandelion.

The very name, dandelion, is derived from dante, meaning teeth and lion because

the saw toothed edges of the leaves resemble the teeth of a lion. One definition

for a “weed” is a plant that humans have not discovered a use for. This cannot be

said of the dandelion since in centuries past, the dandelion was a valued plant;

however modern man for the most part, seems to have forgotten the former uses

and developed an absolute disdain for it. The very scientific name, Taraxacum

officinale, comes from the fact that it was listed in the official Materia Medica of

that time.

Leaf detail "Teeth of a Lion"

According to Euell Gibbons in "Stalking the Wild Asparagus", (recommended reading), many lives were saved in the prevention of scurvy alone during medieval times by consumption of dandelion leaves, shoots, and hearts after a long vitamin deficient winter. The plant is packed with vitamins A and C as well as iron and other minerals. The tender leaves can be gathered in early spring before the flowers arrive and eaten raw as a salad green or boiled like spinach or kale. In order to force edible shoots during the long winter months, the roots and crowns are buried in boxes of damp sand, then placed in a cellar where the darkness and additional warmth stimulates growth. The resulting blanched sprouts and shoots were relished by the vitamin famished citizens. The crowns

and roots of chicory and dock can also be forced in this manner. I have eaten

steamed Witloof chicory in Holland, where it is considered a delicacy, and found it

a little too bitter for my taste. This vegetable is called “endive” in French cuisine.

Furthermore, the dandelion’s center crown, the blanched tight cluster of leaves

and buds just below the surface of the soil in early spring, can be prepared in the

manner of artichoke hearts, simmered until tender in water acidified with a little

lemon juice then served buttered or with Hollandaise sauce. Dandelions are still

commercially grown in Europe and until very recently, at least, there were

specialty farms in New Jersey that grew dandelions for the markets of New York

and Philadelphia.

Later in the season the leaves gathered in the yard become too bitter to be used.

At that time the fresh flowers can be collected, washed and battered, then deep

fried to make dandelion fritters; pronounced delicious by connoisseurs. Be sure

that the area where the flowers are collected is a “safe” area, not sprayed with

herbicides or visited by the family pet. Use your favorite batter recipe seasoned

to your taste. My own recipe for a simple sweet batter is made by combining

ginger ale with self-rising flour and a pinch of salt. The flowers are dipped in this

batter and fried immediately in 375 degree neutral flavored vegetable oil.

Drain these silver dollar-sized fritters on paper towels and sprinkle with a little

powdered sugar. The resulting fritters were pronounced to be the very best by

everyone in my family.

Lately I have experimented with making a coffee substitute from roasted

dandelion roots. Perhaps some of the more senior readers remember Luzianne

brand coffee, which was adulterated with roasted chicory root. Some preferred it

to straight coffee for taste plus the reduced caffeine content. This substitute

additive was made using roasted roots of the chicory plant, lovingly called “blue

devils” in the South. Apparently roasted and ground dandelion root is superior to

chicory. (When I lived in Germany for a year, we were served Mocha Volk made

from roasted grain at least once a week). To make your very own dandelion

coffee, carefully dig up the long, white taproots using a sharp spade. The roots of

a large plant may go down eight inches. If done carefully you can rid your lawn of

dandelions at the same time.

Scrub these up as you would carrots, trim off the smaller side roots and rootlets, then cut in three inch pieces and roast uncovered in a 275 degree oven until brittle and brown (three, or more hours). When you are ready to brew, break the roasted roots into smaller cubes, grind in a regular coffee grinder, spice grinder, or even a fine grater if necessary.

Brew as you would regular coffee, experimenting to your own personal taste. I use a coffee filter and the drip method. This makes a “good” camp coffee without caffeine.

If you have a large number of flowers available and are so inclined, a delicious

wine can be made. Euell Gibbons, in the afore mentioned book, gives directions

to make a small batch using one gallon of blossoms gathered on a dry day. Place

in a two gallon crock. One gallon of boiling water is poured over the flowers, then

covered with a cloth and allowed to sit for three days. The liquid is strained off,

yeast, citrus, and sugar are added to this amber liquid then allowed to ferment.

Finally bottle up. Gibbons gives the complete directions in his book. My oldest

brother enlisted the help of his five boys and made a large batch in my parents’

thirty-gallon crock. As I remember (wine can affect your memory), it was

delicious. In my untrained opinion, best used as an after dinner or dessert wine.

Dandelion seed heads are also very useful during adolescence. Pick a completely

mature seed head with all of the fluffy achenes (term for this type of seed)

attached. Blow three times to dislodge the seeds and send them flying. Then

count the number of individual seeds remaining attached to the floral disk.

Amazingly this will reveal the number of children you will have. At the same time

you will be insuring a continual source of dandelions for generations to come.

Three children promised

So get outside and have some fun with your kids. Create a memory that they

won’t soon forget. Investigate the color of the seeds and see if you can locate the

elusive red-seeded dandelion. They have been spotted on the Milford Millponds

Nature Preserve lands.

N.B. Individuals have different food allergies. Use your discretion when trying any

new food or recipe.


Next week, Steve will leave the Mispillion River and start heading south down Route-1, first exploring the mills that are, or once were, on the ponds of Cedar Creek.

Ponds with names like Swiggett, Cubbage, Clendaniel and Hudson.

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