An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of May 4, 2006
Issued from Polly's Bend, Garrard County, in Kentucky's Bluegrass Region, USA

DANDELION SALAD & POKE

I'm lucky to have arrived in central Kentucky exactly when Dandelion leaves and Pokeweed shoots are perfect for eating. Several times since I've been here I've gathered fistfuls of Dandelion leaves, snipped them into stamp-size sections, poured oil and vinegar over them, sprinkled on a tiny bit of salt, mixed it all up, and, boy, it was good. I'd forgotten how good Dandelion salad tastes.

Dandelion connoisseurs often let their freshly picked leaves soak in saltwater about half an hour before composing their salad. Also, they tend to mix in other kinds of leaves on the premise that the pure Dandelion flavor is a little robust for refined tastes.

If you decide to pick some leaves for a salad, be sure they haven't been peed on by dogs, doused with herbicides, or coated with exhaust fumes from passing cars. Also, my experience is that once the big flush of fruiting heads -- the puffballs -- have lost their fuzz, the leaves are beginning to be bitter. At locations south of Kentucky it may be too late to enjoy the tasty salads I have. Finally, I wouldn't bother with the stunted kinds of dandelions found in most lawns because they might be too tough and bitter. The leaves I've been picking are from fields that haven't been touched for a while, and the leaves stand up like dark green, glossy rabbit ears at least a foot high.

Most of my life I've also picked Pokeweed shoots. I'd just take the top eight inches or so of the shoot, keeping in mind that the purple stem below the shoot is poisonous. I'd cook the shoots, then pour off the water, put the shoots onto a plate, add salt and pepper and, when I felt particularly affluent and skinny, smear it all with butter.

Well, one recent morning, since I don't yet have my campfire routines down pat, I decided to forego the boiling in water and just snip the shoots directly into my skillet, sauté them and then scramble my eggs into them.

That tasted pretty good but apparently skipping the parboiling wasn't a good idea. I think my shoots, even though they were just the green tops, retained enough poison in them -- which usually gets poured off with the water -- to make me sick. I lost that breakfast about five minutes after I ate it, and I didn't feel well the whole day.

So, there are insights here.

The first insight is that the Earth is bounteous and good. The second is that it's not enough to simply make the mental flip enabling you to appreciate things like Dandelions and Pokeweed. You also need to know the art of taking advantage of these gifts, without which you may end up poisoning yourself as I did. In the past this art was communicated to us through traditions passed down to us from our families.

Yet a third insight can be mentioned here. Not only have most people never learned about the wonderful things the Earth offers freely, but agencies within our culture actually cause people to despise them. Lately I've heard more than one person's disparaging words about Dandelions.

So, it seems that our culture has passed through three doors on its way to alienating itself so thoroughly from Nature's bounteousness.

  1. The first door was losing the art of taking advantage of what was given freely.
  2. The second was forgetting that there ever was something free in the first place.
  3. The last was acquiring contempt for those things not hyped on TV and in magazines.

Well, maybe one way to start the journey back to the first door might be to go out and pick Dandelion leaves for a nice salad, and eat them with proper ceremony and thankfulness. Or have some nice buttery Pokeweed shoots.

Just remember to cook that poke, though, and then throw the water away! Facebook Icon.