My first experience with the dandelion takes me back to first or second grade. In the late springtime, our yard turned into a bright flowing sea of yellow flowers. Dreaded and hated by my grandfather, those weeds became my problem.
This was a time before we had sprays you could put on the lawns, killing weeds but leaving the grass unharmed. The method for removal of these interlopers to the grass was a dandelion removal tool. The preferred method of my grandfather was to have me remove dandelions from his yard with this tool.
The dandelion removal tool was nothing more than a foot-long bar with a handle. The idea was to dig up the weed and not leave any roots behind, lest the plant grow back. Considering the yard had somewhere between three and four million dandelions, with new arrivals each day, it was a losing battle, albeit a battle I fought gallantly, but lost the war.
Nowadays, there are sprays that can be mixed with water and applied to the entire yard, killing all the weeds and leaving the grass alone. Fertilizers are also available with a “weed and feed” type of mix that accomplishes the same thing.
I might point out that the more modern methods of dandelion removal cause the flower to go to seed before it expires, scattering seeds throughout the yard, assuring you of more summer weeding fun in the future. I am sure it is a plan by the communists to keep us occupied with yard chores while they take over the world.
My second experience with the feisty little yellow flowers came along when I was around 12 years old. It was this point in life that I harbored ideas of becoming a mountain man, moving deep into the mountains where school, chores and bossy grandparents were all but a distant memory. This, of course, would require the young mountain man to learn to live off the land.
The dandelion was pointed out to me as an edible plant. Before I go any further with this, I should explain what exactly “edible” means. Edible means that you will not fall face down in your mashed potatoes after eating some of it. Edible does not necessarily mean “good to eat.” If the “edible” plant were in fact tasty and good to eat, it would be in little cellophane wrapped packages and sold for five bucks a pound in the grocery store.
I offer the dandelion as a starter for anyone wishing to learn about edible plants. The dandelion is a hearty plant that grows just about everywhere. It is very difficult to make a mistake and eat the wrong part of the plant because everything on the plant is edible.
Besides being a potential survival food, the dandelion is actually very good for you. Health benefits include relief from liver disorders, diabetes, urinary tract problems, jaundice and anemia. The plant has helped with bone health, skin care and weight loss.
The term dandelion is a broad term for many types of flowers native to Europe and North America. The name “dandelion” translates in French to “lion’s tooth.” The flowering plant is believed to have evolved around 30 million years ago in Eurasia.
The genus to which this plant belongs is called the taraxacum. They are all herbaceous and perennial plants that grow very well in any temperate climate.
As nutritional food, dandelions contain more Vitamin A than spinach, and more Vitamin C than a tomato. They provide other nutrients including Vitamins B and D, and the minerals of iron, calcium and potassium.
I use the dandelion as an introduction for folks who wish to start foraging, mentioning earlier that it is hard to get into trouble eating them. There are mushrooms and berries that a single bite of could leave you deader than easy credit. Seems Mother Nature has made sure there is no “free lunch” in the woods.
Every part of the dandelion is edible. The yellow flower can be eaten, and has a bittersweet taste. The leaves are good eating and have a better nutritional content than any of the leaf lettuces in the grocery store. The leaves can be used as a salad, dressing to a sandwich, or steeped into a tea.
Dandelion roots are often dried and used as a wilderness substitute for coffee, although it does not contain any caffeine (which counts me out). There are people who make a pretty good wine from the dandelion flowers.
Like any other wild food, you will want to watch how much of it you eat at once. Dandelions are well known for their diuretic qualities and the increased production of urine. They can also be substantial roughage for the colon if you overdo.
Looking for edible plants can be a fun activity on a hike into the backcountry. There are several books and aids to help with the identification of edible plants. One is the pocket guide Edible Survival Plants of the Rocky Mountains by Jason Schwartz.
This simplified guide covers a widespread selection of edible berries, nuts, leaves, roots and plants found in the Rocky Mountains. The guide also has information on how and when to pick, and to prepare these edible plants. It also has a section of which plants should be avoided.
You will find there are many books available to someone interested in edible plants. There are also many apps available for your smartphone that can be taken into the field with you.
My wife and I collect wild asparagus, raspberries, chokecherry and a few select other plants when we are out and about. Occasionally, we have run into some wild mint or currants, and we collect a few handfuls to have with our supper.
I have no intention, nor the room, to provide you with a catalog of all the edible plants in Colorado. There are hundreds of them, but be aware, there are just as many that could kill you or make you so sick you wish you were dead. Identifying and selecting edible plants is just another thing you can do to enhance your enjoyment of an outdoor trip.
As for the dandelion, I still don’t want the things in my lawn. I prefer seeing them in the parks and meadows up in the mountains, where they belong. And up there, they can go to seed all they want.
Mark Rackay is a columnist for the Montrose Daily Press and avid hunter who travels across North and South America in search of adventure and serves as a Director for the Montrose County Sheriff’s Posse. For information about the Posse call 970-252-4033 (leave a message) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For outdoors or survival related questions or comments, feel free to contact him directly at his email email@example.com