Monday, May 6, 2013

In Defense of Dandelions

Save money and pick free food already growing in your own backyard. :)  Turns out dandelions are probably one of the healthier foods you can be eating, and it's probably growing somewhere close-by wherever you are in the world. When I was a kid, I remember the frustrating chore of trying to pull up dandelions, and their tenacious roots, as they sprang up all through the mowed lawn. I had even come to associate those lovely yellow flowers as a nuisance - sigh.

Strange to realize people (including me) were conditioned to spend money on chemicals to kill the dandelions, more chemicals to cultivate expensive finicky garden plants, and then spend more money buying food from the store. … Always follow the money. I've learned a more cost effective, less time intensive, more rewarding approach to gardening: Appreciate the wild food that flourishes on it's own and likely provides more nutrients than what you would pay for in the store. :)  For some reason, when I was growing up, I had thought dandelions were toxic … the white sap from the flower stalks always scared me, but just about every part of the dandelion, from the roots, to the flowers, the stalks (including that sap), the leaves, the seeds all are attributed with different nutritional or medicinal benefits - not only for vitamins & minerals, but lymph system and digestion support.

Dandelion Tool for more easily digging up the roots ... for cooking :)
I bought mine on Amazon but it might be at your local hardware store.
So far, I've just put the leaves in my smoothies, and made tea with the roots, but that's only the top of a very long list of possibilities. Here's a YouTube video that I found helpful when I was initially learning about the benefits of dandelions.  Among other factors, the deep roots of the dandelions make them more likely to pull up minerals from lower layers of soil vs other plants whose roots stay in depleted topsoil. Dandelion mimics (like Cat's Ear) are also edible, but for salads, the smooth surface of the true dandelion leaves might make them more appealing.

I realized I have been spending so much money buying plants for the garden that I couldn't eat and took a lot of time and energy to keep alive, while trying to get rid of beneficial plants that can take care of themselves. Doh! So this year, I am experimenting with a different approach. I've deliberately planted what most farmers usually dred (because most people haven't caught on yet that it's awesome food) : dandelions, stinging nettles, shepherd's purse, lambs quarters and plantain. (...along with kale, sorrel, and other various herbs, but I've allocated the most space to the wild foods this time. Hey, they want to live; I'll support them!)

Already I love this bottom-up approach (to support what is already working) rather than a top down, frankly arrogant, authoritative, micromanaging approach that is usually encouraged in so many facets of modern life. It's not like we have more resources than we know what to do with nowadays; makes sense to me to focus on efficiency all around. The complete picture. Companies have no incentive to support wild foods. That's on us to investigate. Seems well worth testing to me! I'll post an update later in the year about how much time I spend working on the garden vs output compared to previous years.

If nothing else, now when I look out at an open field and see the dots of yellow dandelion flowers, I can't help but smile and appreciate the bountiful resources growing freely. (Although I'd be cautious about eating them from public parks or along a roadside though since spraying is so common, and pets are usually marking their territory…) Now that I'm learning more about wild foods, it's fun to walk through the park and realize there are also other edible plants growing all around: berry bushes, miner's lettuce, clover, horsetail (for tea), and on and on. Random side note: I was watching part of a zombie movie where survivors were walking through a forest stressing about where to find food … but they were surrounded by wild food, they just didn't know so much of what they were walking by was actually edible. It's like if it's not in a box or a can, it is not 'safe' to eat. Doh!

So, here's a post in defense of dandelions and other maligned weeds. I would recommend doing some research to make sure you have properly identified the plants, or maybe deliberately try planting seeds of known plants (I ordered several varieties from Seeds Of Change and Mountain Rose Herbs. Maybe it's silly, but I wanted to play it safe.) In general though, as long as the dandelions haven't been sprayed or otherwise debacled on ;p  with minimal effort, you might be able to take advantage of free food already growing in your own backyard!

by Laura A Knauth

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