I can so clearly remember picking bouquets of Dandelions to present to my ever appreciative mother and now I have my own little girl gleefully bringing me countless bright bunches that are closing and dropping even as they are being offered. Is there a little girl anywhere who can resist a field of the golden flowers? Is there a mother who can resist the little girls who come bearing the flowers?
Often considered the number one lawn pest, prolific seed that it is, dandelions may be unwanted, but their history of usefulness to man is as interesting as they are showy. The gold in a field of dandelions is not all on the surface.
Centuries of medicinal history has endowed it with its name Taraxicum officinalis, meaning it has been used officially. Today, the leaf is used as a wonderful potassium sparing diuretic, while the root is a bitter herb used to help the digestive system function. Older tonic uses were to improve the blood and as an aid in skin diseases. Surely those early green edible leaves were also a valuable addition to diets impoverished by winter. And still are.
At my grandparents home, frequent dandelion salads were a sure sign of spring. Served with hard boiled eggs and hot bacon dressing, it has become a traditional part of our Easter meal. It can also be served Mediterranean style with an oil and vinegar dressing seasoned with salt and pepper, garlic and rosemary.
Steamed and served with a little butter it is considered more wholesome than spinach. In this case you can macerate the leaves by pounding them in several changes of water to extract the bitterness. There are several interesting ways to make the succulent leaves more sweet. Draw the outer leaves up and secure them with a rubber band and allow the centers to blanch as they grow out. Another method is to lay a flat board on a large dandelion plant and it will turn beautifully white. The earliest crispest leaves are obtained by growing a few plants in a cold frame.
Every fall I swear I am going to dig dandelion roots, plant them in a box of damp sand and keep them over winter in our cellar– but I always get caught up in other projects. This will produce a supply of sweet succulent whited leaves for winter salads as choice and crisp and elegant as French endive. No light is necessary for this easy trick.
Unopened buds can be added to the butter used to make omelets. Heat the buds gently in the butter and add the eggs and then the buds will open slightly while the omelet is cooking. Dandelion uses are endless, roasted and ground fine it can be added to coffee or drunk alone. Not to mention Dandelion Wine. All minor complaints in my grandmother's house were treated with Dandelion wine, something to avoid at all costs! Better to stay healthy, I always thought. Even the garden fairies enjoy this plant. Helping to disperse the seeds by playing “how many children will I have.” Each perfect round seed head is an irresistible fortune teller, blow on it three times and count the remaining seeds to predict the future parenthood. I still like to do that, but now I am counting my future grandchildren! When I think of how many millions of dollars have been spent to try to eradicate this amazing plant– it simply boggles my mind.
Susanna Reppert-Brill, the youngest of her four girls and husband David Brill operate The Rosemary House. Susanna grew up living and knowing the herb business and gardens with her mother, at The Rosemary House. After graduating from Penn State University she became manager of The Rosemary House.
She has completed a Herbal Medicine course at David Winston’s Herbal Therapeutics School of Botanical Medicine. With now close to 4 decades in the herbal business, Susanna’s love of herbs and their many uses shines through. Susanna is a sixth generation herbalist dating back to a German Herb Doctor, who worked in Poland, and will now be passing her knowledge onto the seventh generation, her sons Zachery and Cedar and daughter Angelica.
Susanna Reppert Brill of The Rosemary House, Mechanicsburg, PA. Call 717-697-5111 for a calendar of events for weed walks, classes on medicinal herbs, incense making and more or visit their website at TheRosemaryHouse.com