Dandelion: More Than A Weed

Jaime Means of Shamma Farms grows crops on two properties. One 3-acre property has a 5,000-square-foot garden and 2 acres of trees. The other property is 7.5 acres with a 3,000-square-foot garden. Means uses biodynamic farming techniques that include plantings timed to the lunar calendar, making compost, organic fertilizer (including worm casings) and organic pest control, and starts from Heaven on Earth Starts.

Means specializes in medicinal food, herbs, microgreens and garden vegetables.

What’s growing now: Avocados, basil, beets, broccoli, bush beans, cabbage, calamansi, carrots, cassava, chayote, chives (French and garlic), choy, cilantro, coconuts, comfrey, dandelion greens, dragon fruit, edible flowers, egg fruit, eggplant, gourd (curly), grapefruit (sweet), kabocha squash, kale (curly), rainbow chard, kumquat, leeks, lemons (Meyer), lemongrass, lettuce, limes (seedless Tahitian), longan, lychee, mangos, marjoram, microgreens, mustard cabbage, neem, noni, onions, oranges, oregano (Greek), parsley, peppermint, perpetual spinach, rosemary, sage, spearmint, tangelo, tangerine, taro, tarragon, thyme and white sapote.

DANDELION GREENS

Dandelion is a corruption of the French dent de lion, meaning “lion’s tooth,” referring to the long, deeply notched leaves. They are thought to have evolved about 30 million years ago in Eurasia and have been used as a medicinal food for much of recorded history. Whether wild or cultivated, these greens come from the common lawn weed, which is a member of the sunflower family. The leaves are picked before the yellow flower develops and have a faintly bitter taste, similar to chicory.

Means grows two types of cultivated greens, which are longer and more tender than wild greens. Catalogna is a long, slender, deep-green variety with deeply cut leaves and white midribs. Italian red rib is not a true dandelion, but the leaves are similar.

Season: Dandelion is a beneficial weed and a good companion plant. Its taproot will bring nutrients to shallow-rooting plants, and add minerals and nitrogen to soil. It attracts pollinating insects and releases ethylene gas, which helps fruit ripen. Seeds are an important food source for birds. Means grows dandelion as “end caps” in his garden rows to prevent erosion and control nematodes. Dandelion is a hardy perennial that grows year-round on Kaua’i.

What to look for: Look for fresh, green color – leaves should not be yellow or brown – and purchase moist, crisp, unwilted greens.

Storage: Rinse greens and wrap in a paper towel. Store in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Preparation: When served raw in salads, use strong flavors that can stand up to the bitter flavor. Try pairing a strong dressing, such as a sherry vinaigrette, with chopped, hard-boiled eggs and crisp bacon or pancetta.

Bitterness lessens with cooking and the greens pair well with other greens, such as chard or kale, as well as fragrant oils, shallots, sharp vinegars, and with citrus, apples, pears, walnuts, hazel-nuts and blue cheese.

Tip: If you are allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigold, chamomile, yarrow, daisies or iodine, you should avoid dandelion. In some people, dandelion can cause increased stomach acid and heartburn. People with kidney problems, gallbladder problems or gallstones should ask their health care provider before eating dandelion.

Health benefits: Native Americans boiled dandelion in water and took it to treat kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn and upset stomach. In traditional Chinese medicine, dandelion has been used to treat stomach problems, appendicitis and breast problems such as inflammation or lack of milk flow. In Europe, it was used in remedies for fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes and diarrhea.

Leaves are loaded with vitamins A, B, C and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium and zinc. Today, they are used as a diuretic, increasing the amount of urine your body makes, which is believed to cleanse the liver.

Grocery: Means delivers every Tuesday and Friday to Healthy Hut, Hoku Natural Foods and Papaya’s Natural Foods and Cafe. Restaurants: Beach House, Hukilau Lanai and Akamai Juice Co. For more information or for restaurant orders, email meansound@gmail.com.

TANGY DANDELION LEAVES

The assertive flavor of garlic and a good, strong vinegar match the aggressive nature of dandelion greens. A hot dressing wilts the leaves and tempers the bitterness. Makes four servings.

* 1 pound dandelion greens, trimmed of stem and sliced into bitesized pieces
* 1 large garlic clove, sliced in half
* 2 large, thin slices of sturdy bread
* 1 shallot, finely diced
* 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
* 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
* 2 hard-cooked eggs, quartered
* salt and pepper

Toast the bread and rub it with the garlic half. Crumble into eight pieces. Pound the garlic with 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a mortar until smooth. Whisk in shal-lots, vinegar and oil. Heat vinaigrette in a small skillet until it sizzles. Pour over green and toss. Add croutons and a generous pinch of pepper and toss. Garnish with eggs.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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