With spring right around the corner, I thought I would introduce myself. My name is Donna Cyr. I have been teaching edible wild plants, herbology and nature studies for over thirty years. What I would like to do now is acquaint readers with something which is not necessarily new and different, but rather something nearly as old as this beautiful mountain lands in which we live, namely edible wild plants.
Foraging for food is both economical and easy. There are hundreds of edible wild plants growing right near your own home. These plants have been used for food and medicine for hundreds of years. They also have utilitarian purposes, such as Kudzu for baskets, black walnuts for fabric dye and cattails for for bedding.
One of the most common and versatile plants is often thought of as a nuisance weed, all and happens to be my personal favorite edible wild plant; the Dandelion, Other names by which it is know are blow ball, lions tooth, milk witch and of course I cannot exclude the Latin name, Taraxacum Officinale. Dent de Lion in French means the teeth of the lion, which refers to the jagged leaves that grow in a rosette or circular pattern around the central stalk of the plant. It has a hollow stem that oozes a milky,bitter tasting sap when cut. The stem is the only part of the dandelion that is not edible. Old wives tales claim that you can use the sap to cure warts, and that if your boil the stems in water and wash your face with it it will remove freckles. The flower has a hundred or more yellow petals and is one of the flowers to appear early in the spring.
As soon as the warm weather arrives dandelions are sprouting everywhere This plant is a rich source of vitamin A, calcium potassium, and other minerals. Young leaves gathered early in the season can be eaten raw in a salad or just by themselves with oil and vinegar. As the plant gets older, and buds and flowers appear the leaves tend to develop a bitter taste, although, with the right preparation, these leaves can be cooked like spinach all year long.
I gather enough leaves to fill a bread bag. As with any greens they shrink down with cooking. You can easily gather dandelion greens by cutting with a knife at the base of the leaf rosette. Clean the leaves with salt water to remove insects. Discard any stems and save the buds and flowers for other recipes.
Separate the leaves and boil as you would spinach. If you have older leaves from later in the season, bring to a boil, drain the first batch of water, and boil again until tender. This takes the bitterness away.
The flowers can be batter fried, stir fried, and put into soups, omelets, and quiche. The unfurled buds can be used in the same manner as the flowers. Pickled buds are pretty good too.
The root makes a fine coffee substitute. It takes a shovel to dig the deep taproot of the dandelion. The roots have a better flavor when dug up in the fall, but any time of year is good. When you dig the roots, be sure to wash them clean of dirt, scrap off any dark areas and cut off the stringy parts. I chop the root into small pieces and place on a cookie sheet. Preheat oven to 250 degrees and let cook until a nice golden brown. It sometimes takes hours, but well worth the wait. If you do not have a grinder, you can put the dried root into a plastic bag and hit it with a hammer which will break it up nicely. Use the same amount of dandelion root as you would normally use for coffee. Try a new brew. Dandelion and chicory were used as coffee substitute throughout history, Which will write about at a different time.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes: battered fried dandelion blossoms. Pick twenty to thirty dandelion blossoms, wash in salt-water to remove insects and dirt. Dry on a paper towel. Heat oil in a fry pan (I put about two inches of oil in my pan).
Make a batter by taking:
1 cup flour
2/3 cups of milk or water
¼ teaspoon salt and pepper
Mix all together and drop each blossom one at a time into the batter. Put blossom in fry pan and fry until golden brown. Next is to see if you like the taste.
You can just saute the blossoms,the buds,or the leaves in butter or bacon grease with onions,mushrooms,peppers, or just by themselves. Dandelion greens saute in bacon grease, salt and pepper,with a little vinegar, is very good. Give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Many people request this recipe:
Pick two gallons of dandelion flowers cut up 8 oranges,peels and all.
Cut up 4 lemon, peels and all
Add 2 cups of raisins.
Put all of this in a non-metal container, preferably glass,crock, or enamel. A five-gallon plastic bucket will work,but is not my favorite to use. Pour two gallons of boiling water over all of this, cover and let stand for 24 hours. Strain and squeeze as much juice as you can out of the fruit and flowers and put back into your container. Add 3 to 4 pounds of sugar and stir the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cover and let ferment.
Every few days check to see if your wine has started to work. It takes three to four weeks and sometimes longer for the fermentation process to end. You can tell it is working because it looks like carbonation bubbles is soda. When this stops it is time to strain and bottle, I use cheesecloth to strain my wine and strain it several times. I like to use quart jars to bottle. Its best to let set for a least six months to get a nice tasting wine, but you can drink it as soon as two months. Be sure when you bottle that your wine has completely stopped working or you may blow your corks or your jars.
Dandelion greens, flowers, roots and buds can be eaten without any harm. Dandelion is an acquired taste but is well worth biting into.
There are a few things I would like to mention before you go picking. One is to always know where you are picking and that plants and the ground around have not been sprayed with any chemicals. Also when you’re picking wild plants to eat, always be sure without a doubt that what you have picked is positively identified. A good book to use as a reference for this is the Peterson Field Guide to Wild Edible plants.
Thank you for taking the time to read my little article. I hope to be able to offer more over the coming months on the subjects of edible Wild plants, herbology, planting by the moon , old wives tales and other such quirky information for your interest. This is Donna Cyr, signing off for now, and happy foraging to all. If you are interested in a call you can reach me at (willowwind1@gmail)