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Dandelions: Great In Soup, Lousy Houseplants

Dandelion miso soup. Credit: Wendy Petty

Dandelion miso soup. Credit: Wendy Petty

“So, let me get this straight. You are keeping dandelions as houseplants? Can’t you see it’s snowing outside?” My buddy aimed her attention toward the straggly weed I’d positioned near the window to catch early morning light, “Why?”

I explained that I had wanted to be like Euell Gibbons and grow my own salad greens in the middle of winter. “Ewe … who? I thought you have a black thumb.”

It’s true. I’ve killed every houseplant I’ve ever touched. One even died of thirst in the cruelest of places, hanging above my shower. Still, as a forager, my desire to enjoy fresh dandelion greens in the snowy months had overcome any fear of dooming another plant to die inside my home.

Gibbons is considered by most to have ushered in the modern era of foraging with his book, “Stalking the Wild Asparagus,” originally printed in 1962. I must have read Gibbons’ book a dozen times before I went to college. Still, when I opened it again last summer, the words sparkled on the page, as if I were reading them for first time.

Having stocked my pantry with wild food for many years, I’d come to take for granted the book written by the man some refer to as the grandfather of foraging. When I reread the chapter titled “A Wild Winter Garden in Your Cellar,” it felt as if I’d been given a gift.

In it, Gibbons chronicled how he grew wild vegetables indoors in winter. He used a method not dissimilar from the one some use to force bulbs such as tulips or hyacinth to grow out of season. In the fall, Gibbons dug up and potted dandelions and left them outside in the cold so they’d go dormant, then brought the pots inside his cellar to reawaken and grow tender new greens to nibble throughout the cold months.

Dandelions wintering in the garage

Facing the looming winter of the Rocky Mountains, I excitedly planned to harvest dandelions and force them to grow throughout the off-season, just as Gibbons had done. Late in October, word came that a winter storm was approaching. I went out into my yard with a bucket, dug up several dandelion plants, and placed them in my cold garage for safe keeping.

Fast forward to the beginning of February when I engaged with another snow-weary forager, bemoaning the lack of fresh greens. I dramatically complained that I’d give my left leg to taste bitter dandelion leaves. Only then, months after I’d dug them up, did I remember my plans to make dandelions dance in winter as Gibbons had done.

I rushed out to the garage, and sure enough, there was my bucket of dandelions, exactly where I’d left it the previous fall, between a stool and some rakes. The poor plants had been freeze-drying all that time, piled in the bucket without any water. I reached in, and fished around the dirt clods for a plant. My heart fell as I pulled out a hard, shriveled root.

Dandelions foraged from outdoors. Credit: Wendy Petty

Dandelions foraged from outdoors. Credit: Wendy Petty

As much as I felt like it might take an act of wizardry to revive the dandelions, I hated the thought of wasting plants more. Without much hope, I planted a few crusty taproots in a bowl, gave them some water, and tucked them into a corner of the kitchen.

I hate to admit that I once again forgot about the dandelions, which is why I nearly spilled my cup of coffee when, one morning the next week, my gaze fell upon that bowl and the tiny jagged leaves it contained. I did my best Dr. Frankenstein impression, “It’s alive!”

Filled with renewed enthusiasm for my project, I smothered my little potted dandelions with TLC. Every day, I moved them from the east window to the west, so they could catch the most sunlight. I sang to them and kissed their leaves goodnight. It was exhausting, all the effort it took to grow weeds.

After a month of babying, my dandelions had only produced a few disappointingly spindly leaves, not nearly enough to make a salad. Worse, I couldn’t bear to eat them because I had grown attached (I wasn’t kidding about the lullabies and kisses). Experiment failed.

Spring brings a new wild crop of dandelions

Let’s face it, I’m no Euell Gibbons. No doubt he was the type of guy who made his bed every day and polished his foraging boots. I, on the other hand, am famous for killing houseplants, and dug up a bucket of dandelions, only to forget them until it was nearly too late. I’ll admit to feeling a little melancholy about my dandelion misadventures.

Then one day last week, I noticed the early March sunlight had coaxed the first dandelions out of the ground. After only three days, they were larger than my dandelion houseplants had grown in a month.  I happily dug them and enjoyed my first taste of spring in the form of dandelion miso soup. In the future, I think I’ll leave the dandelion gardening in the expert hands of Mother Nature.

Dandelion Miso Soup

Serves 1

Ingredients

2 cups water

2½  tablespoons white or yellow miso

2 newly emerged dandelion plants, washed and chopped

1 tablespoon minced chives or green onion tops

Directions

1. Prepare the dandelion plants by washing them under cool running water. Chop the plants in their entirety. If they are the first of spring, the roots should be tender enough to eat. You will be able to tell because your knife will slice through them as easily as a carrot.

2. Over high heat, bring the water to a boil, add the dandelion roots, and cook for 7 minute.

3. Turn off the heat, and briskly stir in the miso until it dissolves completely into the water.

Gently fold the dandelion greens and chives into the soup, and enjoy it immediately.

Top photo: Dandelion Miso Soup. Credit: Wendy Petty



Zester Daily contributor Wendy Petty is a wild foods enthusiast dedicated to showing people how to transform abundant, "weedy" plants into free and nutritious kitchen staples. She is the foraging instructor at the Laughing Coyote Project, and shares her favorite wild foods from the Rocky Mountain region at Hunger and Thirst.

9 COMMENTS
  • Caroline J. Beck 3·19·14

    Wendy – I applaud your perseverance. Thanks for the charming story and recipe. Just last week, the organic farmer down the street had beautiful bunches of dandelion greens and I couldn’t think of what to do with them. They were left behind in favor of an oversized head of endive. I’ll head back there today because now I know!

  • michlhw 3·19·14

    you are adorable! and yes, you should have known better– never sing lullabies to plants/animals you intend to cook! thanks for the story and the recipe, my husband thinks i’m mad for wanting to pluck weeds off the sidewalks (to eat! the horror!) but i’m showing this to him.

  • wendy petty 3·20·14

    Caroline – Dandelions are actually just the medicine your body needs at this time of year, as they are good for the liver, and act as “spring cleaning” for your body. Probably the easiest way to eat them is simply to add them to your salad mix. But also try sauteing them quickly with garlic and bacon (if you please), and finishing with a splash of vinegar. Also, check out the article I wrote last year for tips on eating dandelion crowns and flower stalk. The crowns are my favorite part! Finally, my favorite recipe is for a pizza topped with raw dandelion greens. Brush your favorite pizza crust with garlic butter, then hit it with quite a bit of salt and pepper. Top it with a small amount of mozarella, torn pieces of prosciutto, and a few raw eggs before popping it in a hot oven just until the crust is cooked through and the eggs set. Serve the pizza with handfuls of dandelion greens on top. I swear to you, it is heaven!

    Michlhw – Such good food, and such a tenacious plant. Just make sure you are harvesting from a clean location, making certain the area hasn’t been sprayed or otherwise polluted. But once you find a good dandy spot, let your Mr. think you’re mad while you enjoy all of that delicious free food.

  • Kate Y 3·20·14

    Wendy, it seems as though your gentle ways have not been lost on your readers. However, they have clearly never seen you brandishing your hori hori knife in the woods. 😀

  • Kate. 3·20·14

    Well I now have to add another item to the grocery list. I know I enjoy miso, but never enough to purchase for my cupboard, until now. This sounds like the perfect soup to share with the sick kiddo who is home from school today.

    On the dandy-growing front, try putting them in a deeper pot next year, for the sake of experimentation. You know how those roots like to extend.

  • erica 3·28·14

    Maybe you should just be a dandelion farmer in the warm months? Just kidding. The miso soup recipe sounds delicious. I can’t wait until the dandelions come out here up high where I live. Thanks!

  • Nichole 3·28·14

    “I sang to them and kissed their leaves goodnight. It was exhausting, all the effort it took to grow weeds.” I LOVE this. 🙂

    I have dandelions popping up right now in my yard too. I’ll leave most for the bees, but I’ll harvest one or two and give this yummy sounding soup a try. Thank you!

  • Karen 3·28·14

    I wonder if treating fall harvested dandelion roots the same way farmers treat Belgian endive roots will yield similar, mid-winter, tender, blanched tops? We grew Belgian Endive two years ago. Harvest roots after first frost; cut off tops. Store in damp sand in the fridge for 30-60 days to let them think it’s winter. Pull them out of the fridge, plant into a bucket or something deep enough, with roots only a few inches apart. Keep the soil damp but not overly wet, and warm (55ºF-ish). Cover the bucket top so you exclude light and blanch the emerging tops (we used two layers of black trash bag loosely covering). You could even stagger the timing by only taking a few roots out of the fridge at a time, so that every week you have a few new plants a-popping! Just a thought. I also kill houseplants, so this would be a challenge for me too. Thanks for sharing!

  • Wendy Petty 4·10·14

    Hi Karen! That was more or less the method Gibbons suggested. Seems like such a good idea, but I think I stick to dried/frozen/pickled greens for my future winters. If you try it, though, please do let me know how it works out.

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