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Take a walk on the wild side - Eat some dandelions

March 16, 1999|By KATE COLEMAN

Those who are into perfectly manicured, perfectly green lawns, have no use for the jagged-leafed plants with dense yellow blossoms that turn to fluff and spread like wildfire.

Dandelions - from the French "dent de lion," tooth of the lion - were brought to North America by European settlers, for medicinal uses, according to "Edible Wild Plants of Pennsylvania and Neighboring States," by Richard J. and Mary Lee Medve.

[cont. from lifestyle]

Dandelion has healthful benefits, according to Steve Sinclair of Green Valley Health. Sinclair is an acupuncturist and a naturopathic physician, a designation that requires postgraduate training in natural therapies. Dandelions are high in potassium and are diuretic, and they protect the liver and kidneys, he says. Teas are made with dried dandelion greens and roots. Dandelion roots are a mild laxative and promote liver function, according to an American Botanical Council brochure on common herbs.

Parts of the prolific plants are edible. The greens are used in salads, can be cooked like other greens, and some people even eat the flowers.

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Dandelions are everywhere, but does that mean you can eat any dandelion you find?

Sandy Scott, horticulture consultant for Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County, says make sure wild things you plan to eat are free of pesticides.

And avoid dandelions right along the roadside. They could have a high lead content because of their closeness to leaded gasoline vapors, cautions Tony Evans of the Maryland Department of Agriculture in Baltimore.

Madeline Holder hasn't hunted for dandelions in a while, but she used to find them in the early spring in the fields near her home near Knoxville, Md., in southern Washington County.

Holder cooks the greens twice - once in clear water with a little salt. Then she drains and cooks them in ham broth.

You have to get them early, because they are bitter after they get a bloom, Holder says.

Gary Himes of Himes' Store, also near Knoxville, doesn't hunt for dandelions but has heard customers talk about them. Most people around here batter the dandelion flowers and fry them, he says.

John Walla has used "baby" dandelions in salads at other restaurants, but he hasn't at Twilight's Ristorante in Hagerstown where he is executive chef. He says you can cook older dandelions as you would collard greens or kale - braised in chicken stock and sprinkled with vinegar. Walla also remembers his grandmother making dandelion wine.

Chef Paul Santi, of Roccoco, a Grand Brasserie has his own grandmother and dandelion story. Ermelia Calvissi would stop by the side of the road and have her grandkids pick "cicoria" - that's Italian for dandelion, Santi says. They'd take it home and she'd wash it and serve it as a cold salad with crispy pancetta - that's Italian bacon - hard-boiled eggs and a red wine vinegar dressing sweetened with a little sugar to cut the bitterness of the plant. If the bacon is still warm, it's even better, Santi says.

Another way to prepare it is first to boil it with salt and lemon juice then fry it with pancetta and onion, according to Santi.

Dandelion greens also can be used in "braciola," Santi says. For the dish, flank steak is flattened by pounding. The greens are chopped and placed on the flattened meat with onion, garlic - maybe a little ricotta cheese, Santi says. Whole hard-boiled eggs are lined up on top of the mixture, the steak is rolled, skewered and cooked in tomato sauce with red wine.

Santi plans to include dandelion greens on Roccoco's menu.

"I love it. It's good for you," he says.

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