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Eat your way to backyard respectability

Let's face it; in the epic battle between backyard good and evil, the dandelion has won. No amount of herbicide, or search and destroy with a hand-trowel will repeal the mathematical certainty that someday, dandelions will rule the earth.

And it will be good.

Before I came to this relief-giving personal realization, I was a dandelion warrior: a spade-wielding, organically inclined Jedi knight who shovelled, pulled and yanked against a legion of invading spawn.

This year, however, I was foolishly buoyed by an encouraging incentive: according to a legion of Web sites I stumbled across recently, nearly every part of the dandelion is not only edible, but medicinal, nutritious and tasty as well.

The jagged-toothed leafs of the dandelion are not only well-known as a spicy addition to a spring salad, but these vitamin-rich lawn-pests can also be sauteed with some bacon bits (kind of like a really poor person's version of collard greens).

I had already known that the cheerful yellow dandelion heads can be used to make wine; in fact, my 93-year-old grandmother has been making such a brew for some 40 years with her local wine circle in Barnt Green, England.

But putting dandelion greens in salads was not going to solve my dandelion problem: Just a few tufts can provide enough greens to spruce up a salad; so unless I plan on feeding an army of vegans for a year, I won't cure my weed problems by eating dandelion fronds.

Judging by the proliferation of Web sites with dandelion recipes, there is some hope, however. It turns out, the greens can be used in everything from soup to souffles. The dandelion heads can even be deep fried in batter: a true white-trash tempura. (See the list of Web sites at the end of this article for recipes).

But even these recipes are only a band-aid solution. Only by getting at the root could I ever expect to control these promiscuous weeds. If only the roots were edible, then I could simply eat my way to neighborhood respectability.

Finally, I hit pay dirt. The Web site for Defenders of Dandelions (I'm not making that one up, folks) includes a recipe for roasting dandelion root and grinding it into a caffeine-free substitute for coffee. (As if pulling up dandelion roots wasn't enough trouble, now I'd have to roast and grind 'em, too?)

Digging a little deeper, I found what I was looking for: dozens of recipes for dandelion root, which is not only edible, but (you got it) nutritious, medicinal, and even sweet to the tongue.

Not one to believe what I read on the Internet, however, I decided put the recipes to the test, digging up as many tubers I could, keeping only the ones thicker than my thumb.

Following both guidance and common sense, I peeled the bark-like exterior from the gnarled tubers and boiled them -- for a really long time. (Be sure to set your timer on "a really long time.")

When cooked to softness, they had a mild parsnip flavor, with a slight bitter aftertaste. Still, none of the sweetness advertised on-line. But then, I bit into the thickest root of the lot, and there it was, a sweet pocket of flavor that enveloped my palate like the scent of so many lilacs on the spring air.

Therein lies the rub. If you want decent flavor, you've gotta go for the big roots. But if you know anything about dandelions, you know that the big roots don't come easy. You gotta dig. You gotta dig at least a foot deep.

Faced with the prospect of a lawn that looks like a prairie dog colony -- all in an attempt to control an attractive, even beautiful weed -- I decided against any hard-core adherence to the dandelion diet.

Instead, from now on, I will spend my springs sitting back on my lawn chair (sipping a mint and dandelion julip, of course) and watch wistfully as tufts of snowflake-seed are blown by the breeze across my range of view.

For best results, just type in "dandelion" and "recipes" into any good Internet browser. By my favorite Web site by far is the Defenders of Dandelions (www.drwnet.com/wings/dandrev.htm), which links to a number of other scientific, culinary and historical treatises.

  • Lets face it. In the epic battle between backyard good and evil, the dandelion has won.

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