For me, foraging has always involved a psychological hurdle. Maybe you can relate to this. My parents, brothers, grandparents and living relatives were all city people. I had the good fortune to grow up in the country and quickly acquired fascination for practical uses of wildflowers. Still, I carried the burden of belief that food came from store shelves. So did medicines, for that matter.
In the woodlot beside my childhood home I slyly chewed sweet stems of wild aniseroot. The neighbourhood children called wild grape tendrils “snake tongues” and savoured their tartness. I dried native herbs like sweet gale and wild bergamot and placed them in jars. There they would stay. Except for the occasional pot of bergamot tea, it would take me years to carry these experiments through to fulfilment. Not until adulthood did I forage seriously to make elderberry jelly or dye yarn from mountain-ash leaves.
I have known all my life that a passable coffee-like drink could be made from common dandelion roots, but never tried it until yesterday. This happened as a consequence of looking for usable resources. Foraging begins this way. You cannot make a shopping list. The Earth gives bountifully and randomly. You must choose to honour or ignore its abundance.
This spring my front yard happened to have an abundance. I do not object to dandelions. In fact, I can hardly think of a worse waste of time than picking them out of the lawn like most of our neighbours do. However, I could not resist the idea of putting them to good use. So I did. Here is how to make dandelion coffee:
- Dig dandelion roots using a specialty tool or narrow trowel. Big roots are the best. If you cannot get enough from your lawn, look in a field or park that does not receive too much pedestrian traffic.
- Offer affection to the neighbourhood guardians. It is bad luck to ignore their demands for friendship.
- A pail full of dandelions will yield enough roots for quite a few servings. Cut them off just below the tops.
- If it starts to rain, notice whether you are cold. If not, continue working in the rain while relishing the fact you can do it comfortably so early in the spring. Then remember your expensive camera sitting on the porch stairs, curse, and run to take it indoors.
- The leaves make a nutritious, bitter salad green like endive. Apparently they can also be frozen. The flowers can be made into dandelion wine, which I would love to test but lack the equipment.
- Rinse the roots well outside to get rid of most of the soil.
- Chop coarsely by hand.
- Rinse thoroughly and use a salad spinner to remove moisture.
- Use a food processor to chop them into finer chunks.
- Spread in a thin layer on a cookie sheet or pan.
- Place pan in a 250F oven with the door propped slightly open for two hours. The chunks will shrink as they dry, then start to darken as they roast. Watch to make sure they do not burn.
- Cool then store in an airtight container.
- Grind roots coarsely in a coffee grinder as needed.
- Prepare the same way you would coffee. We use a French press. I used two tablespoons of grounds for three cups off beverage.
- Serve as you wish with milk or cream and the sweetener of your choice.
The result is a nutty brew with a mild coffee-like bitterness. It probably will not satisfy hardcore addicts like Danny, my partner. If you sincerely want to give up coffee, dandelion root might soften the blow. I had to give it up years ago for the sake of stomach and nerves. I still drink tea, but like this alternative well enough to use it often.
Dandelions thrive without pesticides. No one has to pay for me to enjoy this luxury. No habitat is lost, because there are plenty more where these roots came from. I will continue digging them into the future.