Dandy and plenty Devotees of dandelions see food and drink options, not pesky weeds

Master gardener Roselyn Taylor , Rodman, says dandelions are more than weeds, they can be used medicinally and in recipes. Norm Johnston / NNY Living

Master gardener Roselyn Taylor , Rodman, says dandelions are more than weeds, they can be used medicinally and in recipes. Norm Johnston / NNY Living

The yellow buttons of spring sprouting on the green coats of north country lawns quickly wear out their welcome. Now, for many people, it is time to eradicate those dandelions with an arsenal of weed killers.

But hold on, says Roselyn Taylor, a master gardener for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County.
In the latest Master Gardener newsletter published by the Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, Mrs. Taylor wrote about some edible and other alternatives for the perennial flowering weed:
“The greens are used in salads, fried up as fritters, pureed into pesto and dried for tea,” she wrote.
She added that oil made from dandelion flowers can relieve arthritis. The sap from the stem of the plants can be used on warts.
“I think it’s hysterical that people have such fits over dandelions,” Mrs. Taylor said in a phone interview from her home in Rodman late last month, where she tends to her small organic farm and five horses.
Mrs. Taylor isn’t alone in her appreciation of dandelions.

Josephine Natale of Davidson Street regularly goes into her backyard to fetch the greens of dandelions for salads.
“I learned it in Italy,” Mrs. Natale, who emigrated to the U.S. from Italy in 1963 said. “It’s the same thing my mother used to do.”
She makes a tossed salad with the dandelion greens by mixing them with romaine lettuce.
“I mix other greens with it,” she said. “My husband (Frank) likes anchovies, so I also make it with anchovies and Italian dressing.”
She also occasionally prepares the greens in a frying pan with some garlic and beans.
“It’s a nice side dish,” she said.
Mrs. Natale mixes dandelions with other greens because they can be on the bitter side, especially when the warmer temperatures arrive.
“It’s best if you can eat them before the frost stops,” said Joan C. Bola, a backyard herbalist from Antwerp. “Once the frost stops, they begin to get bitter. Frost makes them sweet.”

Ms. Bola has made beer out of dandelion leaves; although people may be more familiar with dandelion wine, which is made from the blossoms of the plants.
For another drink alternative, Mrs. Bola has blended the stems with ginger ale and ice cream to make a refreshing drink.
“It’s real good,” she said.
She even digs up the roots and sautes them.
“It’s a little bitter but they are excellent because they have minerals,” Mrs. Bola said.
The minerals and vitamins dandelions provide are why Ms. Bola doesn’t believe in exterminating them.
“They are beautiful,” she said. “There is so much nourishment that these dandelions have. They add vitamins to the soil. You shouldn’t kill them because you are killing the immune system of the soil. It’s just another thing that Mother Earth does to build up the soil.”

The following are three dandelion recipes from files of the Watertown Daily Times.

White Bean and Ham Soup With Dandelion Greens
Active Work Time: 30 minutes — Total Preparation Time: 2 hours 40 minutes

1 pound ham, cut in bite-size pieces
2 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 pound Great Northern beans, rinsed and broken pieces picked out
8 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 bunch dandelion greens, tough parts of stems discarded
Freshly ground pepper

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Heat the ham in a large, heavy oven-proof soup pot over medium heat. Add the carrots, cover and cook 5 minutes. Add the onion, cover and cook until soft, stirring several times so they don’t stick to the bottom, about 10 more minutes. Add the beans, water, 1 teaspoon salt and bay leaves, cover and bake until the beans are quite tender, about 2 hours.
Chop the dandelion greens, remove the soup pot from the oven and stir in the greens. Replace the cover and set aside, off heat, until the greens have softened, about 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves. Season to taste with pepper and salt, though the latter probably won’t be necessary because of the ham.
Serves six to eight.

Makes about ½ cup pesto.

1 to 2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3 tablespoons pine nuts
12 ounces dandelion greens, trimmed and chopped
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons finely grated pecorino Romano cheese
2 to 4 tablespoons fruity olive oil
Lemon juice, if desired, to taste

Using a mortar and pestle, grind the garlic and teaspoon salt to a smooth paste. Add the pine nuts and grind until smooth. Add a handful of dandelion greens and a sprinkling of salt, grinding to break the leaves down to a pulp, until all the dandelion greens and salt are incorporated (this can take up to 30 minutes). Add the cheeses and olive oil, grinding and stirring to combine. Taste, adjusting the cheese and seasoning if desired. Add a touch of lemon juice to brighten the flavors if you like. (The pesto can also be made in a food processor or blender, though the recipe will require an additional clove or more of garlic).

Serves 2 to 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 slices applewood-smoked bacon, cut crosswise into ½-inch strips
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 (1-pound) bunch dandelion greens, trimmed and torn into 3- to 4-inch strips
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1½ to 2 tablespoons maple syrup

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crisp and the fat is rendered. The last minute or so before the bacon is ready, stir in the garlic. Add the dandelion greens and remove from heat, stirring until the greens are wilted. Season with salt and several grinds of pepper, and stir in the vinegar and maple syrup. Taste and adjust the seasonings and flavorings if desired.

Dandelion wine
The following recipe is from allrecipes.com. It makes four quart jars of wine.

1 quart yellow dandelion blossoms, well rinsed
1 gallon boiling water
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
8 cups white sugar
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon slice

Place dandelion blossoms in the boiling water, and allow to stand for four minutes. Remove and discard the blossoms, and let the water cool to 90 degrees F.
Stir in the yeast, sugar, orange slices, and lemon slice; pour into a plastic fermentor, and attach a fermentation lock. Let the wine ferment in a cool area until the bubbles stop, 10 to 14 days. Siphon the wine off of the lees, and strain through cheesecloth before bottling in quart-sized, sterilized canning jars with lids and rings. Age the wine at least a week for best flavor.

By Chris Brock, Times Staff Writer.