Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Secret Life of Dandelions

Every spring dandelions reappear in my part of the Shire
as they do in many places.
They pop up in cultivated lawns and along untended city streets alike.

While some people appreciate the dandelion's yellow flowers,
it seems more people plot their extinction,
not realizing that  dandelions are more than just a lawn weed.

There is something compelling about dandelions.
From the bright yellow head
to its jagged, serrated leaves and
the tap root that defies half-hearted attempts at removal,
the dandelion persists. 
Its survival is ensured with every puff of air
that sets loose hundreds of tufted white seeds.
But dandelions do more than proliferate,
for they have a secret life as a wild edible.

I have a small collection of herb books, and they all describe
dandelion leaves as a delicious salad green. But there are other uses.
According to Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs,
prescriptive uses for dandelions are described
in Persian texts as early as the 10th century. Decoctions of the root
were used to treat anemia and diabetes and to tonify the liver.
Dried and ground, the roots are still used as a coffee substitute the way chicory is.
And dandelion wine has been made from the flowers for centuries.
Rodale's also advises that the flowers can be steeped in herb vinegar
or minced and added to butter
to give both a deeper yellow color.

But one use none of my books mention is a recipe I came across
years ago printed in a newspaper; I don't remember the source.
It is a recipe for dandelion pancakes.

I have always thought about making some,
especially since I'm from a family of pancake lovers.
But two things dissuade me:
First, childhood attempts at splitting bitter dandelion stems
and then using them as a whistle makes me wary of  meeting
that astringent flavor again in something as sacrosanct
as a Sunday morning pancake. 
And I don't want to go to all the trouble of making pancakes
fancied with bright dandelion blossoms
only to find they are unpalatable and, therefore, inedible.
Second, I'm concerned that any dandelions
I would pick here may have been previously doused
with some noxious lawn chemical.

But I'm including the recipe here
for any soul brave enough to take on the challenge.

Dandelion-Blossom Pancakes

Combine 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar.
Add together 1 large egg, 1 cup of milk, and 2 tablespoons of melted butter
and stir into dry ingredients. 
Add 1 cup of dandelion blossoms and mix well.

This recipes suggests serving the pancakes with yogurt and jam.
But I think having dandelions in one's pancakes is adventure enough.

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