Free and plentiful super food leafy greens

Last year at around this time, I did a post about how dreary the winter had been, and how happy I was that we were now approaching spring. Nothing, however, prepared me for this winter, which in fact shattered ALL previous records for rain and dreariness. I was practically chugging my Vitamin D supplement this winter to compensate. Folks, it was rough.

But alas! It is SPRING! Ok, to be fair, it is still raining almost daily. But at least the light is sticking around longer each day, and everything has decided to bloom and leaf right on target, despite continuing feelings of sadness from us human types.

One sure-fire sign of spring around here (and much of the country) is that dastardly weed: the dandelion. We talked last summer about how every part of the plant is edible, and it's one of the best beginner forager foods out there. It's super easy to identify, it's crazy nutritious, and no one will get pissed at you in a local park if they see you digging out the plants. Hell, they may even thank you. Recently, Mark and I did just that: we spent a day at a local park foraging, and boy, did we score: dandelions, plantains, nettles, fiddleheads, and MORE! But this post is all about the dandelions. Let's talk dandelion leaves.

Rather absurd how large these flowers are... more shortbread might be in order.

Rather absurd how large these flowers are... more shortbread might be in order.

The lowly dandelion is considered an obnoxious weed almost universally, but it was at one time a staple part of many cultural diets, and rightfully so: dandelion leaves are super nutritious. According to Jo Robinson, author of the book Eating on the Wild Side, dandelions have seven times more phytonutrients than spinach, our current favorite leafy green "super food." Dandelion leaves are more bitter than the greens that Americans tend to prefer, but in general, bitterness can help to predict healthfulness. When selecting dandelion leaves, look for the youngest, most supple leaves. Often the leaves turn tougher and become more bitter as they get older, particularly after the plant flowers (though they are still technically edible).

I'd also like to predict the following, and you heard it here first: I think dandelion greens are about to become the hot new "super food." I was recently in trendy, expensive health food store and saw a bag of dandelion greens going for SIX DOLLARS. Let that sink in for a second. SIX. DOLLARS. PEOPLE. I thought it was pretty hilarious. I imagined all these wealthy city-dwellers spending time and money eradicating weeds from their yards, then walking on over to buy exorbitantly priced greens that would otherwise be free and plentiful to them. I've said it before, and I'll say again: modern humans are weird.

But you don't have to be one of those strange modern humans. You can gather your own, FOR FREE. I'm guessing most of you can identify the flowers, but if you are trying to catch them pre-flowering, would you be able to pick them out of a lineup? As we talked about in our last dandelion post, the name comes from "lion's teeth" - so look for the leaves with sharp edges like a tooth, with a smooth surface. There are also a few similar-looking non-edible plants that have somewhat hairy leaves and rounded "teeth." These are not the droids you're looking for.

This is a baby dandelion. Notice the adorable, pointed teeth and the nice, smooth surface. This is your future salad!

This is a baby dandelion. Notice the adorable, pointed teeth and the nice, smooth surface. This is your future salad!

Notice the rounded edges and fuzzy surface of this guy. Not a dandelion. This is not your future salad.

Notice the rounded edges and fuzzy surface of this guy. Not a dandelion. This is not your future salad.

Our gathering day started with some all-to-rare glimpses of the sun and pretty quickly we came across entire fields full of flowering dandelions. The blue sky against the green and yellow of the field was almost enough to bring a tear to this PNW'ers eye after months of gray. Despite this spectacular sight, the older, tougher leaves on these plants did not look terribly appetizing. So we ventured into the wooded trail system and found plenty of newly-sprouting dandelion plants with soft, baby leaves in more shaded areas and higher up some of the hills. We foraged away, and left with a huge helping of leaves.

Since the leaves are fairly bitter on their own, we rinsed and chopped them up and added them to a bigger salad of lettuces, spinach, and other greens. We picked enough for about a week's worth of salads, combined with some other greens, some chopped radishes, and a big slab of line-caught salmon that we grilled to go with it. 

Rinsing the bounty of the day! Dandelion greens, fiddleheads, and nettles.

Rinsing the bounty of the day! Dandelion greens, fiddleheads, and nettles.

And... I didn't take any pictures of that glorious meal. Sorry, guys. Gotta get back into that blog mindset where I take pretty pictures of everything all the time. Dope.

One last tidbit I learned from Jo Robinson's book that I'll leave you with: for all types of greens, wash when you get home, then dry off and store in a microperforated sealed bag (basically a storage bag that you prick with a pin about 20-30 times). Squeeze out all the air and seal, then store in the fridge. This method helps maintain the proper humidity to keep the leaves from wilting.  Here you see I threw the dandelions into the microperforated bag along with my lettuce for easy access as lunches for the next week.

Alright, there you have it! Go get yourself some free greens!