Dandelions have a bad reputation as pesky weeds, but author Amy Jirsa reminds us that humble, versatile plant packs big health benefits.
Confession time: I love dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). I mean, let’s think about this little weed for a moment (and just a reminder: all herbs are weeds). First, the dandelion isn’t merely the first green of spring, but often also the first flower (I say this rather wistfully as I look out my office window at eight inches of fresh snow).
Second? All parts of the dandelion are useful. I think that bears repeating, don’t you? All parts are useful. Not only that, but this tenacious little plant essentially tracks the season. When the first greens arrive in spring? Harvest for fresh salads. First blooms? Ditto the salads or perhaps a little dandelion wine, or dandelion flower fritters, or dandelion flower-infused vinegar. Then, come fall, all that hard-working weediness dies back and plunges its energy into the plant’s roots for storage. Harvest these when the full moon is in an astrological earth sign (a time of maximum potency, according to biodynamic practices) for dandelion coffee.
Why bother with all that, you ask? Let’s pause here for a quick run-down of dandelion’s benefits: this weed is our winter sludge-mover, a liver-loving, fat-metabolizing, herbal apothecary all unto itself. It is a powerhouse tonic for the digestive system and the liver, kidneys, and lymphatic system; not to mention it’s loaded with vitamins A and C, as well as trace minerals like potassium, iron, and copper — so needed after a long winter’s rest. Just as we use the whole plant, dandelion tones the whole body, inspiring a recovery response to elimination conditions such as constipation, gallstones, indigestion, sluggishness, fatigue, and problem skin. It may even regulate blood sugar and lower cholesterol.
For many of us, these benefits aren’t surprising, and maybe dandelion greens and flowers are already a staple at your table. But maybe this year you’re looking for a little adventure. Whether you’ve got dandelions springing from your yard already, or you’re waiting for that first bit of bare earth, without further ado, let’s dive into something with a little kick, a little fizz, a little fermentation.
Let’s talk kimchi. Kimchi is Korea’s darling, a fermented condiment (or in my house, a meal unto itself) with all kinds of pungency, spice, and attitude. Traditionally, kimchi is a way of life in Korean cuisine, often made in special pots and buried underground while it ferments. Recipes vary by family, by geography, and by ingredient, which is one of the things I love about kimchi: you can pretty much put anything in your brew.
Enter the dandelion. And since dandelions can bloom anywhere — city, countryside, between cracks in the sidewalk, on roadsides, and in wastelands — they’re plentiful and free for the taking (as long as you’re mindful of the environment from which you harvest — no heavy traffic, no pesticides/herbicides, and no trespassing!). So, no matter where you live, you can forage for these tenacious, determined, persevering little weeds and find yourself greening up as brightly and relentlessly as the dandelion. Happy cultured foraging!
- 3–4 pounds Napa cabbage (shredded by hand or food processor)
- ½-pound dandelion greens
- ⅓ cup sea salt
- 1 cup daikon radish (or carrots or beets), thinly sliced
- ½ cup vegetable of choice (I often add kale or beet greens)
- 1 bunch green onions or similar vegetable (leek, spring ramps, or chives), chopped
- 1–3 tablespoons chili powder or ground cayenne pepper (to taste)
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce or soy sauce
- 2 super-clean quart jars with clean rings and lids
- Day one: Place any leaves you’re using (sliced cabbage, kale, beet greens, or dandelion greens) in a stainless steel or ceramic bowl and sprinkle them with salt. With super-clean hands, mix well. Place a plate over the greens to both cover and weigh them down, and allow to sit overnight at room temperature.
- Day two: Grab your bowl of now-wilted greens, rinse them well in a colander, and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze the liquid out of them. Then add all of your remaining ingredients and mix well (again, I use my hands, unless the spices bother your skin; if that’s the case, wear gloves or grab a wooden spoon).
- Grab your jars, and pack the greens and vegetable mixture tightly into them. Press down with your fist, a smaller jar, a pickle packer (these are awesome, by the way), or a wooden spoon. You want the inevitable liquid that’s left in the vegetables to seep up and cover your kimchi, but if it doesn’t, add water judiciously until covered.
- Place your jars on plates (trust me on this one) and tuck them into a cool, dark place. Make sure the lids are loose, because this stuff is alive and needs to breathe. Plus, your kimchi will probably leak the first day or two. (Um, make sure you label your jars with the date, by the way. The last thing you want to play is the “how-long-has-this-been-here” guessing game).
- Let these guys ferment at room temperature (around 70°) for three days, checking your jars daily to burp your lids if necessary (this releases gas and helps prevent minor explosions) and to make sure your vegetables submerged. You may need to press the vegetables down below the liquid, or add more water to keep them covered.
- After three days of fermenting? Whee! Taste it. If you like it, then put the lid on tightly and refrigerate. It will build fizz, so don’t let that surprise you. Me? I love a seasoned ferment. My minimum is about 2 weeks before refrigeration, but if I have enough made to satisfy my minimum daily ferment fix, I’ll go two months. Once you refrigerate your kimchi, it keeps for months. Don’t let it dry out, though; make sure there is always a bit of liquid covering the solids.