In the not too distant past, someone quite seriously asked what were those fluffy white balls all over her lawn; she had never made the connection to the cheerful yellow "weeds" we either love or hate, called dandelions. And I thought I was not very observant!
Dandelions have been in use in the medical and culinary arts for many centuries and grow in all temperate parts of the world, having originated in Europe and Asia. All cultures have found uses for this herb and yes, I shall refer to it thus in the future, as it has glowing tributes in all my herb books.
The common name comes from a corruption of the French 'dent de lion' meaning lion's tooth, and refers to the jagged-edged leaves. Some of its other common names give hints of its other common uses: Pee in the Bed and Piss-a-beds hint at the diuretic ability of dandelion, and Blowball conjures up childhood memories of setting the seeds free on the wind.
The French call it “tooth of the lion.” Americans generally call it that gosh-darned weed.
PHOTO BY TINA CLINEFELTER
Dandelion also enjoys a reputation as a treatment for anemia, diabetes and liver diseases, while dandelion wine is sipped as a beverage and a blood tonic.
In the culinary department, the roots may be roasted and ground up for use as a coffee substitute; the tender young leaves may be used in salads, or steamed like spinach (very nutritious!) and the minced flowers may be added to butter or herb vinegars for color. The flowers also yield a yellow dye.
In addition to being an excellent feedstuff for rabbits and guinea pigs, the herb dandelion makes a useful fertilizer high in copper: take all parts of three plants, place in a bucket, and cover with 3 1/2 cups of boiling water, let steep until cool, strain and use immediately. I should think a foliar spray would be most beneficial.
One word of advice with regard to this herb: don't enter it in the county fair as either an herb or a wildflower it will soon close up and lose all appeal!
Speaking of the county fair, I just had the pleasant experience of judging the Floral and Fruits & Nuts entries and have some further advice to offer participants for next year - to whit:
- Make sure your entry is in strict accordance with the catalog;
- Clean up your entries remove dead blossoms and leaves, trim off broken stems;
- Enter only tip-top specimens;
- Make sure the plant has a container large enough to hold a decent amount of water. This excludes miniatures, of course.
- Don't enter daylilies by "Judgment Day" the flower will be dead!
I hope to be asked to judge again, but be warned I'm a tough judge and won't award a place unless it's warranted. For the most part, the entries this year were wonderful and I applaud all the "plant-persons" of Clinton County.
Using the leaves of fall will eliminate the need to blanch dandelions to remove the bitterness of the spring leaves, so here goes with a recipe for filled savory pastries:
Note: The amounts will vary with the number of pastries you intend to prepare.
Combine minced dandelion leaf with ricotta cheese, feta cheese, and a pinch of mint. Fill pastries (frozen puff pastry shells) and bake in a moderate (325-degree) oven until browned. Let me know if you try this and it is a success better yet, bring me a sample!
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Tina Clinefelter is a Penn State Master Gardener Volunteer with the Cooperative Extension office (726-0022). She recently received the President's Volunteer Service Award from the Points of Light Foundation.