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The Front Yard Forager

BLOG 31: If you go outside and walk around your lawn you could forage fresh ingredients for a raw salad or even steamed greens. It’s true and during the month of May and June it is the best time to forage for wild green foods. Front yard foraging sounds odd, I know, but It’s a practice I believe could be beneficial to everyone. It’s beneficial right now as we are experiencing pandemic confinement but also because of the bleak plight of our pollinators and the growing food insecurity in Canada. I know it sounds dramatic but do you think the practice of front yard foraging is part of the solution for all three of the major issues just mentioned?

If you have an urban front grassed lawn you probably also have at least 5 edible plants hiding in there right now. If your lawn is in the countryside or wooded area, you probably have triple the amount of edible plants to forage. This is especially true if your lawn borders on a creek, a wild field or thicket. In this article I will discuss only one of these common lawn plants because I know the majority of you will have access to forage it. This gorgeous bright golden flower not only disturbs fanatic lawn groomers but also happens to be the nemesis of farmers and golf course owners alike. Uh huh, that’s right, Dandelion.

Why does it seem that we are the only continent trying to obliviate this beautiful flowering plant ? The defiant Dandelion that even powerful lawn chemicals can’t seem to eradicate. What is Dandelion’s role in life? Why the heck is on my lawn? Why should I eat them?

Dandelions are so nutritious that they have been foraged for centuries. There are many species but for purposes of this article when I say ‘Dandelion’ it refers to either the Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) or the Red-Seeded Dandelion (Taraxacum erythrospermum). The Common Dandelion and the Red-Seeded Dandelion are slightly different but look the same at first glance. The Red-seeded Dandelion has reddish-brown seeds and uniformly deeply cut triangular lobed leaves. The Common Dandelion has blackish-brown seeds and leaves with rounded edges that are deeply cut or not cut at all. The leaves can be up to 12’’ long and plant height can reach 18’. The big dudes are almost always around the compost pile. Dandelion seed heads are big fluffy balls of seeds. Each individual seed is attached to a mini cotton-like parachute that can travel to a lawn 5 miles away! The entire Dandelion plant (leaves, buds, stems, flowers and roots) are edible, nutritious, and non-toxic (unless you are allergic). Dandelions are part of the Wild Lettuce family of plants and much more nutritious than commercial lettuces and spinach. Dandelions are a good source of vitamins A, C, K , folate and the minerals calcium and potassium. A cup of Dandelion greens (leaves, buds and stems) has 25 calories and 1.5g of protein.

Dandelions can grow in a host of poor soil conditions and even withstand colder temperatures. It's the longest blooming flower in our region and feeds over 93 beneficial insects, including pollinators. Europeans brought dandelions to all their colonies because they were certain it would adapt anywhere. In a short 200 year history of traveling with Europeans dandelions covered the globe.

Did you know Dandelions show up on your lawn to fix it ? That’s right, all this time you have been blaming your weedy lawn on the dandelions and they actually came to help you condition and aerate your lawn. Weedy lawns are the result of too much shade (grasses need 8 hours of sunlight), not enough rain or mineral deficient soil. Good soil condition is necessary for the soil to do the job it was intended to do. Healthy soil according to Tasmania scientists ‘sustains biological productivity, maintains environmental health, and promotes plant, animal and human health’. That’s a tall order! We humans and our Earth can’t survive without healthy soil and for goodness sake, soil allows us to build our homes on it too. Ironically, one’s attempt to eradicate lawn dandelions with chemicals actually leads to poorer soil conditions and then even more dandelions will show up to help! Dandelion’s strong tapered root drills holes in compacted soil to aerate and trap rain. The root design also pumps up necessary minerals to recondition the soil. If the plant is cut back by the lawn mower it mulches calcium into the soil. If your soil is too acid, Dandelions will arrive on the scene to make it more alkaline and balanced. Dandelions give great advice...if you see them then it's time to re-mineralize your soil. A beautiful healthy lawn will never be taken over by dandelions.

Foraging Dandelions on your lawn can only be achieved safely if you don’t chemically treat your lawn and your pet is not allowed to do his business in the foraging area. Dandelions are very easy to identify if you heed their unique features. They do have several look-alikes but these imposters have different looking roots, hairy leaves or branched flower stems. Dandelion leaves are shiny, smooth and not hairy. Dandelions also have a single golden yellow flower head on each smooth long and wide hollow stem.The stem grows out of the center of a basal rosette of leaves. The inner flower bracts holding the flowerhead point upward and the outer bracts always remain pointed downward. The look-alikes flowers have all their bracts pointing up. The flower opens and closes due to darkness or shade. The damaged plant will ooze a milky white latex liquid.

Dandelions leaves are best collected young in the Spring before the flower opens. One should collect the leaves in the center of the rosette. The leaves are tender and not bitter at this stage. Please know that Dandelion greens can be foraged from Spring to fall but are considered choice in Spring. Although the leaves can come in all shapes and sizes, the jagged edges always point down to the center of the rosette. In fact, most of the features present in the plant encourage rainwater to flow to and get stored at the center of the rosette. This is why when your lawn is looking like the Mojave Desert, the Dandelions are still green and thriving ( and ready to eat mind you when everything else is dead). They weren't born yesterday. In fact the earliest reference to them was by the Persians ten centuries ago.

The roasted roots are sold commercially as a caffeine-free coffee substitute and very satisfying and easy to make. Simply forage five or more roots from the yard. Brush off as much dirt as you can before bringing them inside. Set the oven to 200C / 390F. Wash and dry roots.Split the larger roots lengthwise first and then chop roots into small similar pieces for an even roast. Spread on a dry cookie sheet and bake for 10-15min until they are very dark brown and you get a scent of coffee coming from them. Don’t burn them. Cool and store in a mason jar. Grind before use. Make and serve as you would coffee. Dandelion greens can also be used to make a hot pot or steamed vegetable, raw salad leaf, leaf tea, and root beverages and tinctures. The flowers can be eaten raw as a garnish or make wine, vinegar, jelly or excellent fritters. The plant can be dried, frozen or picked for the winter months. The internet is loaded with great recipes for you to try. This recipe is one of the oldest: cover dish in raw tender dandelion leaves, add freshly fried chopped bacon, top with an easy-over runny egg. Sprinkle 2 tbsp of bacon fat and one tbsp vinegar over it. Enjoy.

On a final note, please consider the economic consequences in our quest to eradicate dandelions and other edible weeds ...we spend billions of dollars on chemical and natural herbicides that don’t even work and can harm our children, pets and the soil our health depends on. We should instead be incorporating wild foods into weekly diets and mowing down our foraged lawns weekly to respect the atmosphere of the neighbourhood. Understand and take charge of your lawns mini-ecosystem. Just a smidgen of the billions wasted on herbicides can be better be redirected to chemical free edible landscapes and community gardens that can serve inner city poor neighborhoods and improve the air quality of congested urban centers. It’s something to seriously think about this year when you go to the garden center. Try to choose edible flowers and dramatic edible centerpiece plants like beautiful Rainbow Swiss Chard. (see photo ) And please leave the blooming dandelions on your lawn for the whole month of May to feed, support and encourage bees and butterflies to return to our gardens and pollinate our flowering food. Never forget Dandelions withstand the late frosts in May and early frosts in the Autumn and can be the only food available to a host of pollinators and others. Share.



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