NAME: DANDELION (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion is perhaps one of the most commonly known weeds in the world. Most people notice the yellow flowers that are often seen in lawns and fields. The flower arises from a leafless stalk, beginning with a bullet-shaped bud, which then bursts open into a globe of yellow flowers. After a week or 10 days, these flowers mature into a light-gray ball of fuzzy seeds. This ball, if left undisturbed, waits for a gust of wind to blow its seeds away.
The word, “dandelion,” is derived from the French “dent de lion,” which translates to “lion’s tooth.” This refers to the configuration of the jagged-edged leaves, which are pinnately divided into sharp lobes. The low-lying leaves often become prostrate and are thus able to hide among the blades and stems of grass. The leaves exude a milky juice when cut, and the brown taproot resembles a small, knotty carrot or ginseng root that’s generally from 3 to 5 inches long.
Dandelions are found throughout the world (although it appears it’s native to Greece). It has established itself all over the United States and can be found on virtually any lawn, field or similar area that has fairly consistent moisture. Although it prefers an urban environment, it’s also commonly found in certain wilderness areas.
The young-to-early mature leaves are edible raw in salads or sandwiches. The older leaves become increasingly bitter and need to be cooked and prepared in much the same way one handles greens. Cooked dandelion leaves are similar to spinach.
The crown (the 1-inch section between the lower leaves and the upper root section) can be eaten as a separate hot vegetable or added to mixed vegetable dishes. It should be steamed or boiled if it’s too bitter.
The roots are commonly roasted to make a good-tasting non-caffeine coffee. To do this, you first dig up the largest roots available and thoroughly wash them until they’re free of dirt. Dry them (in the sun or an oven at low heat), and then grind them in a grain or coffee grinder, mortar and pestle, or electric grinder. The grounds are then roasted in an oven at 225 degrees (F) until brown, after which you percolate them as you would coffee grounds. Drink this “coffee” plain or try adding raw cream and/or honey. Unseasoned, it tastes like something between coffee and Postum (a popular commercial cereal beverage made of barley, wheat and molasses).
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