Since moving to our 5 acre mini-homestead we are constantly learning about “nature’s bounty”, from the obvious – chestnuts and walnuts falling from the trees, to the more obscure – dandelion, chickweed and plaintain, for instance.
I have bought dandelion tea previously, it’s very good for digestion. Now I just make my own. I’ve also used the leaves in salads and in soups. You can buy bunches of dandelion leaves in the supermarket or dried in GNC ($5 or so a bunch in Publix! I couldn’t believe it when a friend of mine bought some to feed to her rabbit!!) Why buy something you can pick yourself for free? Of course, make sure you are picking it from a place not sprayed with pesticides and/or pets!
Every single part of the dandelion can be eaten AND every single part has a different health benefit.
Dandelion leaves should be treated like any other leafy green vegetable (like spinach, chard, etc.) Use them in salads or sandwiches when they’re young and fresh; use older larger ones for cooking in soups, casseroles or sautéed as a side dish all of its own.
To make tea simply pour boiling water over fresh clean leaves, cover and let steep until cool. Pour through a sieve to remove the leaf pieces. Keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. You can also make tea from the flowers, this has a slightly different taste, more lemony. Use two or three whole flowers to make one cup of tea.
You can even make coffee from dried dandelion root. Again, I have bought this from a health shop years ago and it was actually quite good. Now I’ll try it myself – dry the root thoroughly, grind it with a mortar and pestle (or in a blender) and use as you would instant coffee granules.
Dandelions have good levels of iron, as do all dark leafy greens, a variety of vitamins including C and K and good protein and fiber content. If you haven’t already, you’d better get out in the garden and pick some now! It’s not a weed – it’s free food! And of course you can feed it to your rabbit or in my case, your horse.
Chickweed is my second “weed food”, one which I only discovered this year. It grows in abundance in most places, though often in Spring only (as opposed to dandelions which seem to grow all year round.) More of a ground covering than a dandelion, chickweed has small leaves and tiny white flowers. Easy to identify by the petals, which appear to be 10 in number, but are actually 5, each one with a split in the middle.
As per the name, chickens love this plant, so our little chicken was very happy to have this added to her diet while it was available. We humans can also enjoy it though. It is high in calcium, iron and magnesium, plus vitamins A and C. A highly nutritious little plant. You can eat both leaves and flowers. Wash well and add to a leafy green salad or use it instead of basil in a pesto, which you freeze in batches. Also, just as with spinach, if you don’t like the taste much, you can get all the nutritious benefits by adding it to your favorite smoothie.
Last but not least, plaintain – and no, not the banana-like fruit. This plant also grows pretty much everywhere and is currently lining the edge of my driveway, (as shown in the photo) so I am looking forward to harvesting this for the first time. Having medicinal qualities as well as being a food source, lines this up nicely with the other two.
It has been documented as an healing herb as far back as 40BC. It has been used throughout the ages to heal everything from boils, swelling, epilepsy, headaches, coughs, fever, snake bites, wounds and bruising. Quite an extensive list!
You can also eat the leaves, just as with dandelion and chickweed. Add them fresh and young to a salad or in a sandwich. The seeds can be harvested and used to add a nutty flavor to anything from smoothies to oatmeal to cakes. The leaves, seeds and roots can all be used to make a soothing tea. Particularly noteworthy for its high levels of beta carotene, calcium, vitamins C and K.
So there you are, go out and forage for your dinner – you’ll be amazed at what you can find.