Ae
As kids, our parents encouraged us to pick dandelions. We held them under each other’s chins to see if we liked butter or we dabbed them on our cheeks and nose as if putting on make-up. As we grew bored, we would chant, “Momma had a baby and her head popped off,” flicking off the flower top to emphasize the action.
Gathering Alaska: Dandelion sunshine 051017 AE 1 For the Capital City Weekly As kids, our parents encouraged us to pick dandelions. We held them under each other’s chins to see if we liked butter or we dabbed them on our cheeks and nose as if putting on make-up. As we grew bored, we would chant, “Momma had a baby and her head popped off,” flicking off the flower top to emphasize the action.

A blossoming dandelion. Photo by Corinne Conlon.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Story last updated at 5/9/2017 - 4:23 pm

Gathering Alaska: Dandelion sunshine

As kids, our parents encouraged us to pick dandelions. We held them under each other’s chins to see if we liked butter or we dabbed them on our cheeks and nose as if putting on make-up. As we grew bored, we would chant, “Momma had a baby and her head popped off,” flicking off the flower top to emphasize the action.

Adults used special tools to eradicate this pesky weed and praised each other for their dandelion-free yards. This disdain is a recent phenomenon. Until we longed for pure, green lawns in the twentieth century, people often removed grass to provide space for dandelions to grow. It is often suggested that the Pilgrims purposefully brought them over on the Mayflower as a medicinal plant.

Dandelions were sought out and valued. Rightly so, almost every part of the dandelion can be eaten at its different stages of development. Although it can be hard to find a clean area as the snow melts and reveals the winter accumulation of pebbles, dirt, and other debris, it is worth the search.

Like most edible leaves, early spring is the best time to harvest. As the flowers develop and emerge, the greens become bitter and less tender. This transformation makes sense when you think about the plant’s needs. The leaves make the energy that the developing flower needs to reproduce. As a plant, you don’t want your energy source to be eaten. The more bitter compounds in your leaves, the less appealing they are and therefore, less likely to be eaten.

As the flower begins to emerge, it is still protected by its involucral bract. This creates a hard, tight bud nib. Although not as delightful to look at as the leafy greens and certainly not as attractive as the evolving flower, it is a delicious edible. Steam it lightly and sprinkle with a light lemon vinaigrette for a tasty lunch.

As the flower fully displays it’s yellow petals, you have another foraging opportunity. Flowers are short lived, even when they are not in a tightly fisted bouquet presented to you by a child. Plan to eat them shortly after harvesting. I break them apart and spread them out in salads like a yellow rainbow.

Some people use the flowers to make fritters, dipping the flowers in batter and frying. Others make a juice to produce wine or jelly.

Harvest the root as it becomes dormant in the fall until it rejuvenates in the spring. You’ll want to chop it into small, consistent pieces and roast it on low heat for about two hours. It will begin to smell like coffee, so the crispier, the better. Like any roasting, there is a fine line between roasted and burnt. Don’t let it get too brown.

Look to dandelions as an important part of spring. They are some of the first plants to grow, which makes them an important source of food for bees and birds. Even if you never try a dandelion, take a moment to smile when the yellow fields emerge at the same time as if to announce that spring is truly here.