The definition of a weed is an unwanted plant competing with other, more desired plants such as vegetables, flowers or grass. But what if you could turn it into something useful (and tasty)?
Margaret Paton, a freelance writer from the Central West of NSW, permaculture enthusiast, forager extraordinaire and organic foods fan shows how — with a touch of ingenuity and a bit of effort — you can turn a block of dandelion weeds into a delicious, nutritious and heartwarming tea. All while doing your bit for community service by clearing the land!
With a bit of hard yakka, you can dig-roast-n-sip your very own dandelion tea. Don’t be put off by this, but for five kilograms of washed roots, we made a 400gm jar of powdered roasted tea. It’s worth the effort because you know where the root came from, can fill your house with a glorious caramel fragrance during the slow roasting and end up with a super-food brew to keep you toasty. No caffeine either.
Liberate your local ‘infestation’
Check out your locale for an infestation of them, but avoid those near roadsides or where you’re not quite sure about the prior or current use of the land. Don’t want to risk any extra nasties in there to impact the health benefits. I sourced ours from a vacant neighbouring block. In a way, it’s a community service, ahem, as I’m reducing the ‘weed’ burden of that block. Just to balance things, I do attack the thistles and Patterson’s Curse occasionally in there, too.
Don’t confuse with Cat’s Ear
Some people confuse dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) with Cats-ear (also known as flatweed, Hypochaeris radicata). Cats-ear is also an edible weed, but that’s a whole other story.
Dandelion’s characteristics include usually a single multi-petalled yellow flower; when you snap its stalk, it’s hollow; the leaves are not hairy like the Cats-ear. I also find the flowers are generally closer to the ground from a few millimetres to about 15cm.
Dig the roots when soil is moist
After drenching rain is the best time to wield your mattock to ‘liberate’ the dandelion roots. These ‘herbs’ generally grow in poor drainage areas. At my source it burrows down deeply into rich clay soil, which hardens to concrete in the dry and during summer.
So, when you’re digging out the root, avoid whacking your mattock into the soil near the basal rosette of leaves. You’ll hear a snap below the surface as your tool cuts into the precious root. Harvest more by easing away the soil around the rosette before you go in for the big whack to upturn the clod. Tap the root as free of the soil as possible, use a knife to cut off the lovely greens (the new ‘kale’) for salads, stir-fries, omelettes, savoury pies and more.
Let them swim
To help remove more soil, I immediately place the roots (without the green tops) in a bucket of water, agitate it regularly and scrub them. You can also soak them in warm slightly soapy water for a few hours, which is a great way to reduce your efforts as it really gets a heap of the dirt out. Next, comes a warm water bath and agitate again. Yes, the water will still be a bit muddy, but you’ll see the roots take on a lovely caramel colour. I let them rest on the dishwashing rack overnight.
Fragrant roasting time
For my most recent harvest, at this point I had five whopping kilograms of roots – weighing them just before we put them in the oven. Spread out the clean root on flat baking trays lined with baking paper or foil and it’s fine to have the roots layered on top of each other a few centimetres high. Set the oven to 140 degrees Celsius and in the trays they go. Then wait. For hours. Yes, we took about four hours to roast the roots – turning them every hour or so. You won’t forget you’ve got them in the oven as a caramel fragrance will permeate your home.
Snap and go
To test if the roots are roasted enough, grab a piece and if it snaps into two neatly with a nice crunchy sound, it’s ready. If it’s a bit rubbery, keep it roasting. When the lot is crunchy, cool outside the oven, then place a handful in a grinder. We used the nut/seed grinder attachment on our smoothie maker. Worked a treat. You can coarse, medium or fine grind it – we prefer it like a fine powder.
Enjoy your brew
Add a heaped teaspoon to boiling water; sweeten to taste if wished; add milk or not and enjoy.
What’s it good for?
Flowers: wine; cough syrup
Leaves: rich in vitamin A and C and minerals, great for salads; powerful diuretic for urinary disorders and fluid retention, but kind on your potassium levels; blood detoxifier so good for acne and eczema.
White sap: treats warts, corns and verrucas.
Root: yummy tea drink; reduces inflammation; a liver stimulant; useful for jaundice, gallstones and rheumatism; makes a yellow die.
Margaret Paton is a Blayney, NSW based journalist and copywriter who’s been growing her own tucker since the 1990s and for the last decade tended a flock of chooks. She has a CIV in Organic Farming and has sold her home-grown herbs at a local food co-op. These days she gives away her excess produce to buddies and forages her neighbourhood for free fruit and mushrooms. Follow her on Facebook and check out her website, Keeping it Real Communications
Source: Bremness, L. (1994), Herbs: the visual guide to more than 700 herb species from around the world, Harper Collins Publishers, Australia.