Sunday, May 30, 2010

Making Dandelion Coffee

Weeds have a bad reputation and perhaps fairly earned. Just when you think you’ve pulled the last seedling of quack grass, chic weed, dandelion or lamb’s quarters, another pops up from the ground and innocently waves, “Over here baby cakes.”

They are resilient, prolific, aggressive and driven bleepity-bleepers (minus that last part, they sound a lot like the financially successful people I know). Weeds threaten our prettier, more tender plants and drain our already busy schedules.  Plus, we’ve been acclimatized to think prejudicially towards them- they are ugly, smelly, good-for-nothing curses from the earth.

There is a small but growing contingent of people who would like us reconsider our hate-on for the weeds in our yards. These folks suggest that perhaps the Earth has gifted us with these tenacious plant-fellows, to be used as ground cover (Johnny’s sells Dandelion seeds by the thousands for this purpose), or salad dishes, nutritional supplements, or fertilizer.

In case you I haven’t heard about the wonder plant, ‘Dandelion’, here are some of its benefits collected by Living Magazine writer Judith Berger: Dandelions

- Restore health to over used topsoil
- Help digestion and enhance ‘movement’ in the intestine (bitter greens release hydrochloric acid in the stomach)
- Has a potent effect on the solar plexus, the liver, stomach and gall bladder, are strengthened by ingesting the choline in the plant’s leaves.
- Contains high levels of Vitamin A and C
- Ensures that honey is made and harvested into the fall (when most other flowers have died)
- Emits a gas that ripens fruit in orchards early and evenly.

Seems too good to be true that all this can be found in my back yard! On a sunny day in early May, I decided to give a dandelion salad and dandelion-root coffee a try.

I spent about a half an hour in my yard pulling out dandelions, root and all. It was tough work and my thighs were burning by the end as I gathered up enough plant to fill an 8-litre pail. After soaking the plants in clean water for a couple hours, I used a scrub brush to scour the roots. The leaves washed clean okay, but looked very spindly. There wasn’t a lot of flesh on these particular dandelions leaves and before I even started with preparing a salad, I tried a leaf. Spiny and tough and bitter, it left me no choice but to throw the lot of leaves out.

On further experimentation, the trick with the leaves is to find plants with no blossoms developed (best picked in the early spring). Also, the broader leafed the better. “Better’, though, is still very bitter. I find these leaves hard to swallow except when mixed with lots of other greens, buried in egg, ham and salad dressing. I still have to work out whether the leaves’ health benefits outweigh the cholesterol and fat consumed in such a salad.

I had somewhat better luck with the dandelion roots gleaned from my back yard. They mostly came clean and smelled freshly of carrot. In order to use them as a tea or coffee, first the roots must be dried. I placed them on a cookie sheet and put them in 170 degree F oven for about two hours- until they looked like dried mushrooms.  I let them cool, and then stored them in Mason jar.


Tonight I brewed the harvest. I used a small coffee grinder and ground the roots (not too finely). You can apparently brew this in a drip machine or percolator but I only had the option of a French Press. So I added my ‘grounds’ to the carafe (they smelled a lot like Ovaltine, which increased my optimism) and hot water then let it steep for five minutes. With great ceremony, my husband poured the beverage. First I tried it black. It was rather like healthy tea, in colour and in flavour. I added cream and sugar. It still tasted a lot like healthy tea- with an extra kick at my back tonsil as it went down my throat. 


The verdict: The flavour was pretty awful for my novice palate and a half hour of harvesting, plus half hour of scrubbing, plus two hours of roasting produced just four teaspoons of ground dandelion root- enough for two cups of brew. 

There are many recipes that at press time I haven’t tried- you can mix dried root with equal parts real coffee and add a dash of cinnamon. Or steep fall dug leave and roots in brandy for winter cordial. Or add blossoms to pancake mix. You can make wine, face wash, vinegar.

Considering the dandelion’s many benefits and my inexperience as a dandelion barista, take my take on the salad and coffee as a challenge: Try them, you may like them. And, if you do like them, please share the recipe or tricks with me on my blog at! Because I really wish I could ingest dandelions without exercising my gag reflex.

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