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The Green Man.....In The Field (Part 8 A)

     In my series Weeds of Wonder, I described Dandelion  as the poster child of the weed world.  I then went on to describe many of the virtues of the Dandelion (Taraxicum officinalis). 

     In this post I would like to make another comparison.  The Dandelion is to the herbalist what the Buffalo was to the Plains Indians (the native Americans of the plains).  Like the Buffalo, every part of the Dandelion can be used.  The Flowers are made into wine.  The stems provide a white latex used in the treatment of warts and other skin conditions.  The leaves are high in nutrients and are used as part of a nutritious salad as well as in herbal medicines.  Finally, the roots are used in herbal medicines for numerous conditions, but have a special affinity for those of the Liver. 

     In this post I am going to show another use for the root, and that is in making Dandelion coffee.

     I have found it necessary to reproduce quite a number of photos to illustrate, step by step, the stages and considerations throughout the process.  For this reason it has been necessary to divide this post into multiple parts.

     As I am a medical herbalist you might wonder why I am interested in showing you how to make Dandelion Coffee? This is because food plays a very important role in good health. In our society the consumption of tea and coffee is well entrenched.  For many patients coming to me, the effects of caffeine, found in these beverages, plays a contributing role in the complications of their condition.

     Rather than just ban an offending food, it sometimes helps to understand what is behind the need.  Often, there is an emotional aspect that is not being fulfilled.  Certain foods can sometimes serve as a substitute for the feelings and emotions we crave.  For example, a lack of attention or love may be substituted by sweet food, especially chocolate.  A lack of stability may be substituted through a craving for salty foods.

     It is my feeling that there is something earthy in the taste of both coffee and tea, that brings a sense of grounding.  This is a need that is more subtle than that which is provided by the effects of the caffeine.  

Where there is a need for grounding, Dandelion makes an excellent substitute, without the side effects of caffeine.  It provides that bitter earthiness that many people crave.

     One of the great things about Dandelions is they are not difficult to come by.  Once you have truly begun to appreciate their hidden potential you might find yourself being converted to someone who even plants them as a crop!  At this very moment outside I have rows of tiny Dandelions, individually planted in pots, waiting to be planted in the ground next year.  However,  if you cannot envisage yourself reaching this point in the near future, then you need to know how to extract them from the wild....or at least from your lawn.

     Like anything we are about to consume, it helps greatly to have a good idea of the history of the site where you are about to extract the Dandelions from.  If you have convinced your neighbour of the virtues of allowing you to extract his/her Dandelions....make certain they have not been spraying weed killer in the previous years.

     Once you have decided where you are to source your Dandelions, you must consider the best way to get them out of the ground.  Personally I have a little contraption that I find suitable. It is shown in the first picture on the page.  I found this in an antique shop selling used tools.  Someone recently told me it is a bulb planter....I am calling it a root extractor.

     For those of you who have never seen a Dandelion....the flowers in the picture with my root extractor are actually Calendula (Pot Marigold).  If you wish to see a Dandelion flower, please go to my Weeds of Wonder series.

     In the next picture I have separated the leaves of a single Dandelion from the leaves of those growing around it.

     The next picture shows how I have fed the leaves of the Dandelion through the tube of the extractor.  It is possible to trim the leaves away before extraction.  However, the leaves are also of value to me, so I include them in the harvest.

     Once the leaves are fed through and the bottom of the extractor is sitting on the ground, you take the handle and twist the tube back and forth into the ground.  Once the earth is visible at the top end of the tube, you pull up.  This gives you a neat plug of earth which you can bang out through the top of the tube and from there rescue your prized root.

     Just a moment ago I confessed that I do in fact grow Dandelions.  One reason for doing this is that you can change the environment in which they grow for the purpose of getting larger, straighter roots.  If you look at the next picture there are a number of different shaped roots.  When it comes to cleaning and cutting the roots the straight root in the middle is the most desirable.

     Once you have harvested your roots, remove the crowns and set them aside for the drying of the leaves.  The remaining roots may be washed in a bucket of clean water outside or brought inside and cleaned in the sink.

     You can see the prepared and washed roots laid out on a chopping board.

     Thicker roots should be sliced down the middle and then cut into pieces Thinner roots may be sliced into rounds.

     The roots can be dried in a well ventilated shed, loft or airing cupboard.  They may also be dried in a slow oven with the door left slightly open.  Sometimes when I dry herbs I will do the initial drying in a mesh system I have and then finish the process in my dehydrator..

     Once the roots have been thoroughly dried we must then consider the next stage of the process; roasting.

     Just like coffee, the length of time we roast the roots determines the nature of the final beverage.  Longer roasted, darker roots, are what I seek as this improves the colour and flavour of the final drink.

I will continue with the roasting process in the next posting.


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