By Sonya Welter
Here in Duluth, Minnesota, spring has arrived early, after a few weeks of above-average temps and early rains.
But that doesn’t mean we’re stuck eating nothing but grocery store produce.
Underneath last year’s dead grass, dandelion green are starting to emerge.
Today, most North Americans think of dandelions as a weed, but they were actually brought to this continent intentionally as a potherb. Dandelions easily took to their new home, and now grow wild almost everywhere.
Pioneers considered these super-early vegetables to be a spring tonic, and it’s easy to see why: imagine surviving the winter on potatoes, bread and meat, and then suddenly being able to eat fresh leafy greens again. Not only are they incredibly cheering and invigorating, but dandelion greens and other fresh vegetables supply important nutrients that, in the days before refrigeration and a global food system, people wouldn’t have access to in the winter. Dandelion greens in particular are a good source of calcium, iron, and vitamins A, C and K.
Dandelions grow in lawns, fields and waste areas, and in the very early spring they’ll be found in highest numbers on sunny, south-facing slopes. The dandelion’s rosette of deeply toothed leaves are so familiar that it would be hard to mistake them for anything else. Do not gather dandelions from areas that have been treated with pesticides, and avoid gathering from roadsides, where the plants are subject to car exhaust and road salt.
As with most leafy greens, dandelion leaves become bitter after the plant flowers, so the greens should be gathered early in the dandelion’s life cycle. In the kitchen, dandelions can be used in the same way as spinach, either eaten fresh or lightly steamed or sautÃ©ed.
Today I folded my dandelion greens into an omelet with Swiss cheese and fresh ground pepper. That one omelet depleted my 50 x 140 foot lot’s supply of dandelion greens, but if this weather keeps up I should have a salad’s worth in no time.