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Why are we eating weeds?

All Areas > Food & Drink > Wild Food Foraging

Author: Steven Hawley, Posted: Friday, 24th April 2015, 08:00

I was at an impressionable age when my mum served my sisters and I a plateful of boiled dandelion leaves for dinner. We complained at their bitter taste and asked why we were eating weeds. She, even to this day, claimed it was just strong tasting cabbage. We tried once more to turn away our meal when my eldest sister spotted the dead insects that had once claimed this plant as a home. She told us to stop being over dramatic, shut up and eat it. Mum was, and still can be, a formidable woman so we obediently – if a little begrudgingly – tucked in. It wasn’t until we had mostly devoured ours that she sat down with her own portion, saw the insects and screamed in horror before binning the whole lot in disgust.

Now, whenever I look at my neighbours’ highly manicured lawn and see those lovely yellow heads defiantly popping up every year (dandelions don’t last long in my garden), I’m reminded of this vivid childhood memory. As a result, dandelions are now one of my most favourite foraged foods. They are also incredibly versatile, which just adds to their appeal. Every part of the plant can be eaten – even the root, which is used in a classic British summertime beverage.

To make a light side salad, gather the required amount of leaves for a portion – a small handful of unopened flower buds and a couple of opened flowers. Wash everything in cold running water, unless you’re inviting a dedicated meat eater to join you for dinner, in which case feel free to leave those insects where they are! Remove any excess stalk then roughly chop the leaves and place into your intended serving dish. Throw in your buds whole. Drizzle some lemon juice, finely chopped garlic and a light sprinkle of sugar, and season to taste. Toss. Pick out the yellow petals from the opened flower head and sprinkle over the top until it looks suitably pretty. Enjoy with your chosen meal. This is how I enjoy mine but I have a very robust palate so you may want to experiment for yourself. Have fun with it – it’s free food so mistakes aren’t costly!

And in answer to the question that some of you are no doubt wondering – I have never wet the bed after handling dandelions, so you’re perfectly safe!

If you’re not 100% sure that the plant you’re picking is safe for human consumption, don’t pick it. If you’re prone to food allergies, or pregnant, always seek medical advice before consuming anything foraged in the wild.

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