Our Harvest: Dandelion

Make a Wish

By: Jennifer Muck-Dietrich

 

“Mama had a baby and its head popped off.”

 

Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is an edible herb originally from Eurasia and was revered by ancient people for its edible and medicinal value. In the conformist 1950s when everyone was on the lookout for communism and crabgrass, Abraham Levitt & Sons came along. The King of Suburbia built his “11 minute” house subdivisions for the GIs returning from WWII. Introducing the concept of a neat, weed-free lawn appealed to the military trained middle class American, making it the pride of every new homeowner. Lawn chemicals were applied liberally and led to the DDT nightmare in the late 1960s, the glyphosate obsession of today and the obliteration of the dandelion. Luckily this useful “weed” has again risen in popularity and commercial value around the world. Dandelions can be seen happily growing in the lawns and fields of organic minded homeowners.

“Dent de lion,” which translates to lion’s tooth in French, are in the Asteraceae family, and have composite flowers made up of individual florets. Appearing in late March or early April in the northeast, they are a vital source of early spring nectar for honeybees and other pollinators. They produce seeds asexually meaning that they are produced without pollination. Each offspring is identical to its parent plant. The leaves are simple, lobed, and form a basal rosette above the central taproot. The flowers open during the day, then close at night. The hollow stem and the leaves exude a white latex when broken. The flowers mature into spherical seed heads containing single seeded fruits called achenes. It is said that the flower represents the three celestial bodies—sun, moon, and stars. When the “stars” or seeds are released and taken to the wind they tend to stay within 15 feet of the mother plant, but may travel as far as five miles away. 

 

Dandelions are good for more than just making flower chains and wishes blown into the wind. 

There are over 100 species of dandelions worldwide, and they were intentionally introduced to North American by European colonists. Its uses range from dying fabric to medicine to edible food. The entire plant is used as a general tonic. It may be taken as an infusion in tea, a juice extraction, a root decoction, or as a tincture. Fresh leaves are eaten in salads or added to cooked dishes. The taproot can be thick and grow up to 1 1/2 feet long or even deeper in loose soil. It is a hardy herb that will regrow from root parts left in the soil during harvest.

 

The medicinal uses include eradication of warts, soothing bee stings, and minion sores, treatment for liver diseases and cleansing the bloodstream by increasing bile production. The herb is also used as a mild laxative and a diuretic. One of its nicknames is “piss-a-bed”. This diuretic quality helps heart problems and lowers blood pressures. It is believed dandelion can also help reduce stiffness and provide relief for rheumatism and arthritis. The dried root is also used as a coffee replacement. As with all herbal treatments, please consult your doctor first before taking any supplements. These are not meant to replace your prescribed medication and may have a negative effect on your health. 

 

Dandelion is rich in potassium, calcium, lecithin, iron, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, boron, and zinc. It also provides vitamins B, C, E, and K. The chemical constituents in the leaf include glycosides, carotenoids, terpioids, choline, potassium salts, and other trace minerals.

 

RECIPES

 

Sunshine Jelly

 

1/3 Cup dandelion flowers—just the yellow part of the blossom. This is about three full cups of entire blossoms. You can use your finger nail to dig out the yellow fleurets or a paring knife. 

4 Cups water

4 Cups granulated sugar (white is best because it does not discolor the jelly)

1 Box powdered pectin

2 Tbsp lemon juice

1 Drop yellow food coloring (optional)

 

In a medium bowl, mix together the sugar and pectin and set aside. 

 

In a large soup kettle bring the water to a boil with one half the blossoms in it. Once it comes to a boil, turn it off, cover, and let it sit for up to 30 minutes. Strain out the blossoms, put steeped water back in the kettle and repeat with the remaining blossoms. Once it has steeped for 20 minutes or so, strain out the blossoms, being sure to press out all that golden goodness through a fine mesh strainer. Wash out the kettle, then measure three cups of the steeped water back in. Turn heat on medium high and slowly add the sugar and pectin mix, stirring constantly. Add lemon juice and optional food coloring. Bring to a full rolling boil for one minute. Turn off heat and skim off the foamy bubbles on top. Pour into sterilized, hot jars leaving a quarter-inch headroom under the lid. This recipe makes two pints, or four half pint jars. Store in the refrigerator or process in a water bath for 10 minutes.  

 

*The jelly does not set, it remains as a thick gel perfect for adding to tea.

 

Detoxifying Green Soup

 

1 Tbsp coconut oil

2 Shallots, chopped

4 Cloves garlic, crushed

4 Cups cauliflower, chopped

2 Heaping cups dandelion leaves, torn up

5 Cups vegetable broth

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Salt and pepper

 

Heat the coconut oil in a soup kettle, add cauliflower, and shallots. Cook over medium heat for five to seven minutes or until shallots are soft. Add garlic and saute for about one minute then add broth. Bring to a boil, then turn down and cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until cauliflower is tender. Turn off heat and toss in dandelion leaves and lemon juice. Let sit for 10  minutes covered, then with an immersion blender, puree until smooth. Serve immediately

 

Wilted Dandelion Greens Salad

 

1 Lb dandelion greens, washed, dried, and torn into bite size pieces

3 Tbsp red wine vinegar

1 Tsp sugar or maple syrup

1/2 Tsp dry mustard 

3 Tbsp olive oil

3 Tbsp bacon bits or chopped vegan bacon

1 Clove garlic, chopped

1 Sweet onion, sliced

 

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, and mustard. Set aside.

 

Heat olive oil in a large skillet then add garlic and bacon bits. Saute for about one minute then add dandelion greens. Using thongs, keep tossing the greens until they begin to wilt. Turn off heat, add onions, and pour the vinaigrette over the greens. Divide among plates and heat while warm. 

 

*Fresh orange slices or strawberries are delicious when added before serving.

 

Globalization has triumphed in the produce aisle. More than half the fresh fruits and one third of the vegetables in our supermarkets are imported from other countries.  But anyone with taste-buds knows that just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it tastes good. 

We are incredibly lucky to be living in one of the most fertile valleys in the Northeast. The soil in the Rondout Valley is called unadilla silt loam. It is a mineral rich, glacially deposited topsoil ideal for growing fruits, vegetables, and grains. Our region’s farms produce a wide variety of seasonal crops which are bursting with flavor and personality.  Here is our Autumnal locavore’s dilemma.  

We have so many varieties to choose from;  butternut or hubbard? – or should we try kabocha, acorn, buttercup, golden nugget, delicata, pink banana, neck pumpkin, turk’s cap, Long Island cheese, cushaw, cocozelle, Rouge Vif d’Etampes and many, many other squash and pumpkin —which are technically in the same family “cucurbitaceae” varieties—in various colors, shapes and sizes. What does this all mean? 

The name “squash” comes from the Narragansett Native American Indian word “askutasquash”. Originally believed to have been from Central America or Mexico, humans have used their hard shells as containers for utensils and have eaten the flesh, flowers, and young shoots raw or cooked for almost 10,000 years. Learning from the Native Americans, European settlers adopted squash as a staple in North America. They baked the squash and then cut and mixed it with animal fat, maple syrup or honey. 

 

Saving Seeds and Pollination 

The reason we have so many varieties  is because people learned to save seeds from squash with the unique qualities they preferred. Many different varieties developed all over the world. Squash are pollinated by insects, so in order to avoid unwanted hybrids, you must make sure that the plant was pollinated by another member of the same variety.  The first generation of fruit gets its characteristics from the mother plant, so you will indeed enjoy the delicata you had planted. But say your delicata squash was pollinated by a sugar pie pumpkin, the genes within the seeds will be altered and the following year, when you grow that seed, you will get a pumpcata, or is it a delikin?  You need at least ¼ mile between squash varieties to avoid Frankensquash (unless you like that sort of experiment, who knows? You may come up with a fabulous cross that you can name after yourself … Pink Jenana d’ Etamps perhaps?). 

Did you know the seeds are edible of all squash and pumpkins? The seeds are an excellent source of magnesium, zinc and potassium, as well as iron, protein and fiber.  So don’t compost them with the stringy guts… Here is what to do with them. 

Roasted Seeds

Ingredients

2 cups raw, rinsed and dried squash or pumpkin seeds

1 Tbs. olive oil

½ tsp sea salt

After cutting open the squash, scoop out the “guts”.  Pick the seeds out of the stringy fiber and toss them into a colander.  Rinse under cold water, then pat dry with a tea towel. Spread the seeds into a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and sea salt.  Mix it around until all the seeds are coated. Place into a preheated 350 degree oven and roast in the oven, stirring occasionally until they are lightly golden. Allow to cool before snacking.  Pumpkin seeds are best soon after roasting. 

Soup

Curried Coconut Squash Soup

Ingredients

1 medium kabocha squash ( about 3 lbs)

1 tbsp olive oil

2 cups chopped yellow onions

2 ribs celery, sliced

3 cloves chopped garlic

1 ¼ teaspoon cumin

1 ½ teaspoon curry powder

½ teaspoon ground coriander

1 can coconut milk

3 cups unsalted vegetable stock

2 teaspoons salt (more or less according to taste)

Hopefully the squash you just harvested the seeds from is a kabocha because curried, coconut squash soup is on the menu tonight and the kabocha, with its thick, solid, waxy, orange flesh  that is ideal for soup. Take the two sides of your squash, rub with olive oil and place on a baking tray inside a preheated 400 degree oven for 45 minutes (or until completely soft).

Saute the onions, celery & garlic in olive oil in a heavy bottom, 8 quart soup kettle until golden brown.  Sprinkle the spices into the kettle and saute until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Slowly add the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer.

Once the squash is soft, place the roasted flesh into the pot with the vegetables (I leave the skin on the squash for added vitamins & fiber, but you can remove it if you prefer). Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and partially cover for 8-10 minutes.

Turn the heat off, and add the coconut milk.  Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Add salt & pepper to taste.  Serve with chopped cilantro & a squeeze of lime juice.

 

Roasted 

Maple Cinnamon Roasted Neck Pumpkin*

 

Ingredients

8 cups cubed Neck Pumpkin (*butternut squash can be used as replacement if you can’t locate this graceful giant at your local farmers market. This squash is ideal because it is tender and juicy, yet holds its shape), about 3 lbs of peeled cubes

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp maple syrup

½ tsp sea salt

½ tsp cinnamon

2 pinches cayenne

 

Preheat oven to 425

 

Line a baking 2 baking trays with aluminum foil (or use a silpat silicone liner so when the sugars caramelize it won’t be too hard to clean) Spread out the cubes evenly on the trays.  

Drizzle the squash with 1 tbsp olive oil and maple syrup per sheet. 

Sprinkle each sheet evenly with ¼ tsp cinnamon, salt & pinch of cayenne

Toss the squash on the sheets with clean hands to coat evenly

Place the pans in the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes, switching racks halfway and cooking until all the squash is tender. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and turn on the broiler. Take turns placing each sheet under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to caramelize (be careful it does not burn!  The sugars cause it to brown very fast).  

This dish is delicious served warm or cold. As a side , or tossed onto a bed of raw spinach and dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice.  

No matter what you call it – squash or pumpkin, our valley is flush with these disparate cucurbits this month.  Whether you carve a jack-o-lantern or create a delicious meal, get out there and support our local farmers buy purchasing from your local farmstand.