Dandelions are popping up everywhere. We’ve been taught they’re weeds, something to be banished from our yards and handled with highly toxic chemicals like Roundup. But they’re actually herbs and they play a hugely important role in our local ecosystems. They’re food for butterflies and bees, those creatures we so desperately need to keep our crops healthy. They’re also non-toxic and edible for humans, and for centuries people have used their roots, flowers, and leaves as both food and medicine.
They’re said to decrease inflammation, help with liver function, and act as a diuretic. Some researchers say the greens are higher in calcium and iron than most cultivated greens like collards and kale. They’re loaded with anti-oxidants and minerals and, of course, they’re remarkably easy to grow. You can even make wine out of dandelions. Besides all these great uses, they’re beautiful. Just ask any child and they’ll be quick to tell you dandelions in a yard are a welcome sight.
The late Bille Jo Tatum of Arkansas wrote multiple books on collecting and eating wild foods including everything from poke greens to purslane to watercress. Her 1976 publication Wild Foods Cookbook and Field Guide has a handful of different dandelion recipes, including “Dandelion Bud Omelet,” “Fried Dandelion Flowers,” “Sautéed Dandelion Greens,” and “Dandelion Flower Fritters.” I often drink dandelion tea (a light and earthy tasting tea made from the roots), but I recently decided to try my hand at some of those flower fritters. I enlisted my five year old sons in helping me harvest the flowers from our yard. We washed them well, patted them dry, and whipped up the simple batter recipe of flour, baking powder, salt, and a hint of non-dairy creamer.
They tasted pretty good. A little earthy, a tiny bit sweet. There is a great Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that goes like this: “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” I’d say in the case of the dandelion they’re plants whose virtues have been forgotten. People try so hard to get rid of them, dumping chemicals into the soil all for a manicured lawn. These same chemicals then enter the groundwater. After all, bees can’t eat from a manicured lawn. Dandelions grow for a reason.
Wash the buds
Dry the flowers
Fry them up
Ready to eat!
I’m not going to tell you how to take care of your yard. But I will say this: If you care about butterflies and bees and (and by connection the future of pollinators and food in our world) consider rethinking the lowly dandelion. If you ever find yourself without a thing to eat, dandelions will sustain you—at least for a bit. Of course you don’t have to wait for that kind of situation to try them out. Maybe throw some dandelion leaves in your smoothie or add some to your pot of mustard greens. Or if you can’t bring yourself to eat them at least don’t kill them off. Leave them for the butterflies and bees. Mostly I think we should all take a clue from our wisest gardeners: Little children. They always see the magic in a field of dandelions.
Do you prepare dandelions? I’d love to hear about it. Coming up on April 15th the McElroy House in partnership with ARVAC, inc is offering a free container gardening workshop led by the Yell County Extension Service. It will be held at 12:30 at the ARVAC food bank in Dardanelle. We also have our Yoga for Caregivers workshop on Saturday April 25th. Thanks so much for reading!
Dandelion Flower Fritters from Billie Jo Tatum’s Wild Foods Cookbook
What you need:
* Oil for frying
* 1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons powdered non-dairy creamer
1 1/2 cup dandelion flowers (make sure they have not been sprayed with weed killer!)
How to make them:
1. Heat frying pan to about 350
2. Stir together the flour, baking powder and salt
3. In another bowl, beat the milk, non-dairy creamer, and eggs together. Whisk until smooth
4. Wash the flowers and clip off any stems. Do this quickly so the flowers don’t wilt. Pay dry with paper towels.
5. Dip the blossoms into batter and few a few at a time until they’re golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
The Seed and the Story is a partnership with the Courier newspaper serving Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources and Community Action and attempt to bridge intergenerational themes in the region.