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!
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
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
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.
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.