By Kristin Lehar –
It seems like only yesterday the tree buds burst open with the first greens of the year, temperatures finally allowed for open windows during the nights, and weeds started popping up everywhere. The last jar of fermented vegetables from the previous year’s harvest marked the end of a cycle and I began to feel the need to eat something new and fresh, which, if you think about it, coincides perfectly with the new beginning that is spring. Anyone eating a significant portion of his or her diet locally and seasonally inevitably feels the indwelling need for certain foods and nutrients that become available at the turning of seasons.
Now with spring in full swing and summer practically just around the corner, it’s the season of greens. Bitter greens are especially important at this time of year as they support the cleansing of the body and are excellent for digestion—the bitterness hitting the tongue is a powerful stimulant for digestive enzymes. These bitters including mustard greens, kale, arugula, and endive, can all be sourced at your local farmers market, growers co-op, or in your own garden.
However, not all edible salad mix greens are limited to those growing within the confines of the greenhouse or garden. And even better, anyone and everyone has unlimited access to harvesting potent wild bitter greens—dandelions. Spring marked the beginning of the growing plethora of dandelion greens thriving under the sun each and every day despite the cold frosts of the previous night. I had never gone out to harvest dandelions before but as I looked over the endless fields of this abundant weed, it seemed very commonsensible to go out there and take what has been given to me and to us all. After harvesting several baby dandelion leaves and roots I enjoyed a beautiful dandelion green salad everyday for the rest of the week—I couldn’t get enough! Not only was it super delicious, but it was hugely nutritious!
These slightly bitter greens have more than twice the amount of calcium contained in broccoli, are loaded with vitamin A – one cup of raw greens contains 112 per cent of the recommended daily value (DRV) – and thus are rich in antioxidants helping to protect body tissues from irritation from chemicals and free radicals. Just one cup will give you over 500 per cent of the DRV of vitamin K and is also rich in vitamin C, iron, manganese, as well as fiber. These numbers are all found on the National Nutrient Database collected by the USDA; however, it is important to consider that these numbers apply to crops being cultivated mainly through industrial agriculture whose practices result in significant decline in nutrient values of most foods year by year. So it is likely the wild dandelions growing in our own backyards, meadows, and forests will be much richer in nutrients than those cultivated by mass agriculture.
In addition to the leaves, the roots can be harvested and cooked, or dried to make tea and coffee substitutes. They are an exceptional blood cleanser and liver tonic, helping it to filter toxins out of the body. Dandelion root is now gaining considerable recognition by the scientific community as well. Researchers at the University of Windsor have reported the effectiveness of dandelion root extract against “various human cancer cell types” that include “human T cell leukemia, chronic myelomonocytic leukemia, pancreatic, and colon cancers, with no toxicity to non-cancer cells.” Their research, known as The Dandelion Root Project is ongoing and hopefully spreading the wisdom of the dandelion’s power for the better.
The best time to harvest roots is in the spring and fall when the plant’s energy and nutrients are stored in the root. As for the leaves, harvesting is best in the spring before the plant flowers when they are small and only mildly bitter. Even after they have flowered, however, and in the midst of summer, new baby leaves can still be found and the more bitter greens can be added in smaller portions in a mixed greens salad, added to pesto, steamed, or lightly sautéed with garlic and herbs. It also doesn’t hurt to pick the beautiful yellow flowers—their bitter-sweet taste and bright color decorate a salad beautifully. To soak up their benefits otherwise, add them to an herbal tea blend or as I recently did, incorporate them into your kombucha! It is important to seek out a clean place to forage—one that hasn’t been treated with any chemicals or that is too close to roads, accumulating pollution.
Consuming dandelions is nothing new. What is relatively new is the amount of weed killers and herbicides being used on them regardless of their resilience and constant return. They have been around and used medicinally for hundreds of years, so perhaps we should reconsider why they are seen as nothing more than a pesky weed.
I hope I can inspire you to go out and collect some greens this summer (and perhaps some roots this fall?) and make something absolutely delightful out of them. And doesn’t it just feel so much better to take a walk into the field to collect your supper in a beautiful interaction with the earth than to wait in a line up for someone to scan the barcode off of your plastic box of spinach?
Kristin is a holistic nutritionist in training whose main goal is to live a simple and awesome life. She loves to inspire others to realize the power of the body and its amazing capabilities to restore and maintain flourishing health, to realize that nobody knows their body better than themselves, and to understand only they hold the power to bring it to wellbeing. Having love for and being connected to the body and the language of the body is the first step on the path to a thriving life and thriving planet.