There’s a lot to know about dandelions or Taraxercum, a large genus in the Asteraceae family. They’ve been around forever or at least a good 30 million years and for most of that time they’ve been revered, first by animals and then by people, all over the world. Okay, well I don’t actually know if ancient animals revered them, but people certainly did. We’ve only been trying to kill dandelions off for a relatively short time in our history.
The English word dandelion is the anglicized version of the French dent-de-lion, named for the plant’s lion’s tooth-shaped leaves. But these golden little wonders also go by Irish daisy, monks-head, priest’s-crown, cankerwort, milk witch, swine’s-snout, wild endive and butter flower—to name a few. And then there’s the modern French pissenlit that turns the tables and borrows from the English folk-name piss-a-bed inspired by the dandelion’s diuretic properties. Guess what name my four-year-old likes best?
So, like Gandalf, this prolific and humble little yellow flower goes by many names. Also like Gandalf, it’s quite magical and helpful. Humans have relied on it for food and medicine since pre-history and have been using it ritually for luck, divination and making wishes for just as long. Persians call it qasedak or “little post-man” in English as they believe it brings good news. It’s also said that drinking dandelion wine is helpful for communing with spirits and deities. I bet it is.
The common dandelion was brought to North America in the 1600s by settlers who grew it in their gardens for food and medicine and supposedly to remind them of home. However, fossil evidence shows that indigenous people have been using native dandelions for a whole lot longer. There is some interesting discussion out there about the common (re: invasive) species assimilating the native species. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere…
What I like about dandelions is that they’re an excellent source of calcium and vitamins A, K , E and C. They’re also a natural anti-inflammatory and a gentle diuretic a la piss-a-bed. Not to mention they’re delicious from root to blossom and FREE!
With the springtime bounty out there, we’ve been enjoying young dandelion greens and blossoms in salads, roasted roots for coffee and most recently—a zippy, green and fragrant dandelion pesto made from the larger, older leaves. It was a joy to make and even the kids eat it.
Dandelion Pesto Recipe
With pesto a little goes a long way and this recipe makes a lot. Luckily it freezes well or you may want to half the recipe if you’re not a big pesto eater.
350 grams dandelion leaves (harvested from a good clean source – sans pesticides & critter urine)
1 cup of the best quality olive oil you can afford
4 garlic cloves or 12 garlic scapes
6 tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts (OR toasted pumpkin/sunflower seeds, if you want to keep it local)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan
1. Wash and shake dandelion leaves.
2. Put a handful of dandelion leaves into a food processor or blender with the olive oil and process for a minute or so. Add the remaining leaves in handfuls until they’re all finely chopped.
3. Add the peeled garlic cloves, pine nuts or local seeds, half the salt and cheese. Process until everything is a smooth and pesto-y looking.
4. Give it a taste and add more salt if necessary.
Remember it’s supposed to be a bit bitter. Embrace the bitter! I found the bitterness mellowed a bit after a couple of days in the fridge. This pesto is amazing on homemade ravioli, sandwiches or as a dip for tortilla chips.
Some of the internet says this pesto keeps for 4-5 days in the fridge. Some of the internet says it keeps for 2 weeks as long as it’s topped up with a layer of oil. I’d play it safe and try to use it within 7 days and freeze the rest.