Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Harvesting Weeds

We've all heard the saying about one man's trash being another's treasure.  Well, one woman's weeds are another's dinner in my neighborhood.

Five minutes of weeding my neighbor's yard yielded several meals worth of nutritious, fresh vegetables: beautiful dandelion greens and their roots, and several cups of yummy purslane. 

Dandelion Greens
Most of us are familiar with dandelions; many of us (myself NOT included) fight a seasonal battle with them in our lawns.  I suppose I'm one of the few people in Allentown who plants them in my garden; I had to persuade my kind neighbor NOT to mow them down on the small strip of grass between our two properties.  But here they are, in all their glory. 

Last spring I planted a variety named Clio,and allowed it to grow.  Clio's leaves are less jagged than the wild lion's teeth (dent de lion), but she's not nearly as plentiful, so I added my cultivated variety to the abundant offerings from my yard and my neighbor's flower beds.  Voila!  A stock-pot full of greens which I am parboiling for the freezer.  I love greens in the winter, and according to this website, dandelion greens make a wonderful saute.  Apparently the slightly bitter flavor that they sometimes have is lost in the boiling water.  Bonus!  *Update: I just tasted a boiled leaf or two...they're delicious, even plain!  My few minutes of picking yielded about 6 servings (3 meals for Peter and me).

Conveniently attached to those yummy leaves, you'll find a long taproot.  I like to use a long, thin shovel or a screwdriver to dig mine up, but I'm not too careful about getting the whole root, as I like dandelions in my lawn!  The best time to harvest the roots is supposedly early spring or just after the first frost, and preferably after a rain when the soil is soft. Those roots can be scrubbed, cut into small pieces, chopped in a food processor then slow-roasted in a warm oven for a tasty and healthy coffee-like drink.  Dandelion coffee (or tea) contains vitamins and minerals, and is tasty to boot!  Out of curiosity, I priced dandelion root at a local health food store, and was absolutely floored by the cost.  Dandelions are everywhere!  All you need to do is harvest them!

I also make a healthy dandelion tincture, which gives me loads of energy in the darker months, but that's a story for the winter.

Dandelion Roots Drying in the Oven
Last, but not least, I harvested a few cups of humble purslane.  I find purslane extraordinarily beautiful, like a miniature, shy jade plant.  You'll find it in the most unusual places; the last bunch I saw was in the parking lot of our local Home Depot!  I didn't harvest it there (I don't know if they use chemicals on their grounds), but I can tell you that the purslane was it was in the driveway next door. Apparently, purslane was a favorite food of both Henry David Thoreau and Gandhi; those are pretty good credentials, in my book. It can be eaten raw, pickled, sauteed; you treat it like most sweet greens, though the leaves are small and succulent.  Both links above provide several serving suggestions.

Purslane is Simple to Harvest.
So, in honor of my last night of summer vacation (school starts tomorrow for teachers in my district), I harvested some of nature's freely given gifts.  It's been a good season; now we'll all prepare for the coming of the darker, colder months, and the long haul to spring.  Hopefully, our freezers, root cellars and pantries will be full of the fruits of summer, and the winter will be a time to cultivate the hearts of our families and friends as we share our bounty.

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