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Dandelions: if you can't beat 'em, eat 'em.

Dandelions were brought to the colonies by European settlers as food and as an herb. However, dandelions were already here, most likely from seeds blown on high-altitude winds from China.

The name comes from the French "dent de lion" -- lion's tooth -- because of its coarse-toothed, long leaves. Its botanical name (Taraxacum officinale) means "the official remedy for disorder."

Due to a deep tap root, often three feet or more in length, it withstands droughts better than most lawn grasses and also brings up minerals from the subsoil. If not broken off deep in the ground, the plant can regrow from the remaining root stock.

Its blossoms have been fermented as dandelion wine. Its roots have been dried, ground, and used as a coffee substitute, laxative and a diuretic. Its leaves and flowers are rich in vitamins A and C, as well as minerals.

Dandelions are actually grown on a commercial scale, mostly in New Jersey, for the restaurant sala trade. It wholesales for about $8.00 per bushel, although this is a different strain than what is in most people's yards.

Dandelions are often an indication of calcium-deficiency in topsoil. If you are trying to eliminate them, include periodic spreading of limestone in your program. An aggressive feeder, dandelions eliminate their neighbors through both competition and by exuding an ethylene gas, which inhibits growth of other plants.

If you have decided to co-exist with them, here are some recipes:

-- Vegetable Dish: Harvest and wash young leaves. Place in pan without shaking off water. Add butter or oil and lightly season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook slowly until tender, turning occasionally. Serve hot with a squeeze of lemon juice, chopped chives or parsley.

-- Salads: Chop or shred small amounts of young leaves into salads as a garnish. Opened or unopened heads can also be used.

-- Sandwiches: Add two or three young leaves as a layer.

-- Soups: Add small amounts of young leaves, finely chopped.

-- Tea: Add one ounce of fresh, young leaves to about 1-1/4 cup of boiling water. Let steep a minute or so and add sweeteners to taste twist of lemon.

Even young leaves are slightly bitter so you will need to experiment to determine your own tastes. A little can go a long way.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 1993
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