Dandelions and perennial greens

By Tom Seymour | May 19, 2020
Photo by: Tom Seymour Strawberry spinach

Just when everyone was sure that dandelions were done for the season, we find another use for them.

We know that dandelion leaves become bitter after the plant flowers. For many years, I was convinced that other than drying and grinding the roots for use as a coffee substitute, there were no other uses for this ubiquitous plant other than using the leaves as boiling greens. Then I learned how to eat the blossoms.

While it surely seems counter-intuitive to eat dandelion blossoms after the leaves become too bitter to countenance, the blossoms bear no relation to the leaves, bitterness-wise. Here’s how to use them.

Gather as many blossoms as you wish. It won’t hurt the crop one bit. In fact, most homeowners ruthlessly dig and poison dandelions in order to create a pristine lawn. But for others, dandelions comprise an important part of the landscape, with both visual and culinary uses. Call me out-of-step, but a lawn, covered with yellow, dandelion blossoms, seems a beautiful sight to me. But then beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

Anyway, inspect the blossoms after you bring them indoors, since tiny bees and other insects may be present. Also, rinse thoroughly in cold water just to make doubly sure. Then spread out on a paper towel to dry. While your dandelions dry, set about preparing a Tempura batter.

I buy pre-mixed Tempura batter, just to make life a bit easier. The preferred method is to sprinkle the dry batter in ice water and stir with a wire whisk until the mixture is moist and most of the large lumps disappear. The finished batter should be somewhat lumpy. Then drop one ice cube in the mix but do not stir any further.

Then make sure to remove all parts of remaining stem from the blossoms, dip in the batter and fry until golden brown. Remove from the frying pan and place on a paper towel to absorb any oil. Serve while still hot.

This product is so tasty that no one I ever introduced to Tempura-fried dandelion blossoms didn’t ask for a second serving. I like them so much that cold leftovers serve as a nighttime snack. Now that’s getting your money’s worth from a simple and common, wild plant.

Strawberry Spinach

The more edible perennial plants I can have in my garden the better. These just increase in size over time and in doing so, give us more and more product. One common perennial, sold in most garden catalogues, strawberry spinach (not real spinach, but tastes like it all the same), withstands the coldest temperatures with no problem.

Also, strawberry spinach has a type of fruit that vaguely resembles strawberries. These make a great snack, simply eaten out-of-hand.

Picking the leaves only encourages more growth, so don’t hesitate to take enough for a meal when you harvest.

Another thing in this plant’s favor, while true spinach bolts too quickly for my taste, strawberry spinach retains its sweet flavor even after setting fruit, a real plus for lovers of dark, leafy greens.

To establish strawberry spinach, just buy a packet of seeds and distribute wherever you want the plant to grow. You’ll get a harvest the first season and every year thereafter.

Strawberry spinach grows to nearly three feet tall, but pinching the terminal tip, or stem end, will direct the plant to become bushy, rather than tall.

All in all, I give strawberry spinach a thumbs-up. Try it and see if you don’t agree.

Another perennial green that tastes remarkably like spinach, Good King Henry can also withstand subzero temperatures and still come back each year. And it’s easy to maintain. Good King Henry tolerates fairly dry soil, but the occasional time of cold, damp soil does not faze it either.

The leaves on GKH are rounded and cleft, very distinctive. The plant was used as a cooking green in Europe, but over the last several hundred years, fell into disfavor there. However, it has seen a revival here in America, as gardeners look into old favorites as well as “new” and distinctive plants.

At one point, the Knox County Soil & Water Conservation Service sold GKH at their annual plant sale. Alternatively, you can order seeds from Le Jardin du Gourmet, P.O. Box 75, St. Johnsbury Ctr., VT 05863.

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