It is spring in the Great Lakes region, even if we did receive a healthy dose of snow for Easter. While the lilies and snowdrops are fighting their way through the snow, the herbalist in me is craving the first of the spring herbs. Dandelion is one of my absolutely favorite herbs in general, but in the spring time it holds a special place in my heart.
Piss-a-lint as it is sometimes called sends tender lion-toothed leaves out while some plants are still dormant. These greens can be consumed much like spinach. As a kid I have faint memories of my grandpa cooking spring dandelion greens with eggs. These leaves are rich in minerals like iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. It supplies thaimin, riboflavin, Vitamin C and B6. But what I love is the mild, yet slightly peppery, flavor of the fiber packed leaves. The young spring leaves are not as bitter as they can be as the weather warms up, but they still offer a bitter quality.
In herbalism, a “bitter” herb is one that stimulates the secretion of certain digestive enzymes in the digestive tract. They contain a chemical constituent called “tannins.” These tannins send out the signal to the pancreas and liver to start churning out the enzymes to break down the food that is coming. . Dandelion has been said to “thin the bile.” This is referring to its tannin content’s ability to cause the gall bladder (or directly from the liver if the gall bladder is gone) to squirt bile. Traditionally, bitter herbs were served as a salad as a starting course of a meal. The pile of iceberg is a far cry from the original starter greens of the past. Aperitifs made from gentian had been used as a bitter, as well.
Dandelion also serves as a mild spring cleansing herb. Its diuretic actions pull excess fluids via the urinary system, while supplying minerals like potassium to keep from becoming dehydrated like some over-the-counter diuretics.
I pick fresh dandelion from my yard. Be sure you gather yours from an area free from chemical sprays like weed killers. I also do not gather from along the road sides of busy highways due to the exhaust pollution. Dandelion greens can be eaten fresh, just like you would eat baby spinach this time of year. It can also be cooked. One of my favorite recipes is sautéing fresh picked and washed leaves in butter with finely chopped onion added to scrambled eggs. You can also dry the leaves for use in teas later.
Photos by author.
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