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Dandelion – One of the South Saskatchewan Weeds Which Kept Us Healthy in the Depression Years

posted on: Apr 7, 2021

Dandelion – One of the South Saskatchewan Weeds Which Kept Us Healthy in the Depression Years

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributor

“Come! Get a pail and let’s go! The salq (a colloquial Syrian-Arabic word meaning wild greens) are at their prime today”, my mother urged as she put on her boots. It had rained overnight, and the south Saskatchewan prairie land was soggy, but it smelled fresh after the night’s rain.

The atmosphere felt invigorating as we made our way up the hill across the valley from our homestead abode. Trailing behind with the pail half as big as myself, I was irritated, thinking, “Why were we picking weeds that our neighbors children, after once watching us harvesting salq, had told me were poisonous even for animals. 

Little did I or our neighbors’ offspring know that these wild greens were some of the healthiest foods in the world. There is no doubt that they had a large hand in adding a variety to our diet and keeping our family healthy during the years when the south Saskatchewan plains were turning into a desert of blowing sand. 

In spring and early summer, the tender wild shoots of lamb’s quarters or pigweed, sorrel, dandelion and a host of other prairie greens were on our daily menu, without question, responsible, to a great extent, for not one of us children ever needing to see a doctor in our growing years.  Of course, there were other reasons which helped to keep us away from medical facilities like the lack of money and the nearest doctor being 25 miles away – a considerable distance in the horse and buggy days. 

As my mother with a sharp pointed knife cut a few inches underground the roots of tender dandelion and other plants with which the prairie land teemed, I shook the soil off before putting them in my pail. Back home, i felt relief after I left my mother to clean the greens while I joined my brother and sister in our daily play.

During late spring and early summer, year after year, we children would accompany our mother on the weekends through the unplowed prairie land to pick wild greens – and there were innumerable types. The Indians, who had inhabited the land before it was given out to immigrants like ourselves as homesteads, utilized over 60 types of these prairie edibles in their cooking. 

In the Middle East, from where my parents came, many of these weeds were well-known. Hence, every year our kitchen overflowed with endless dishes made from these tasty and nutritious wild greens. However, as children we never appreciated the delightful foods resulting from these wild plants.  To us, helping to pick them was only another of our boring farm tasks.

From all the prairie greens on which we feasted, dandelion leaves were our favorite. Versatile and tasty, before they flower and the leaves became bitter and tough, they were excellent as ingredients in omelets, salads, stews and soups. I have fond memories of the many dandelion dishes we consumed during our homestead days. 

One of the most nourishing foods known to man, dandelions, now commercially grown, are also known for their medical qualities. They are one of the vegetable kingdom’s richest source of vitamin A, calcium, iron and potassium; and contain small amounts of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, protein, fat and vitamin C. The leaves have as much iron as spinach; 50 times more vitamin A than asparagus; 25 times more than tomato juice; 7 times more than lettuce or carrots; and five times more than broccoli .

For hundreds of years dandelions have been employed, in most parts of the world, as a folk medicine. European medieval herbalists made fantastic claims about their healing qualities. They employed the flowers, juice, leaves and roots for improving the eyesight, cleansing wounds, relieving skin afflictions, curing jaundice, removing obstructions of the liver, gallbladder and spleen; and cleansing ulcers from the urinary tract. 

In our modern times, it has been scientifically proven that dandelions are a depurative and diuretic – its diuretic qualities much superior to those produced synthetically. They help the bile production of the liver and increasing the urinary output of the kidneys. It has been found that dandelions are valuable in the treatment of acidosis, anemia, arthritis, cardiac oedema, colds, constipation, emaciation, diabetes, hepatogenic dropsy, hypertension, rheumatism, skin diseases, and low blood pressure. 

However, dandelions are eaten, in the main, for their savory and nutritious attributes. In taste and nutritional value, it matters not if they are frozen or fresh. Grown in the wild or cultivated as a garden plant, every part of this much maligned green can be used in cooking. In fact, one can dine on a whole meal made up from dandelions alone.

The leaves can be made into a delicious salad and the roots, after being thoroughly cleaned, steamed, and buttered, then served as a main dish and washed down, with a wine made from dandelion flowers. The meal can end with a coffee made from the roots which are roasted until they turn crisp, before being ground. Such a repast would be a healthy and hardy spread.

For the uninitiated, trying these two simple recipes will be an exciting trip into the exotic dandelion world. 

STEAMED DANDELIONS

Dandelion – One of the South Saskatchewan Weeds Which Kept Us Healthy in the Depression Years

Serves about 4

4 tablespoons cooking oil

2 medium size onions, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

2 tablespoons vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper, 

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1 bunch tender dandelion leaves – about 454 g (1-pound) thoroughly washed and chopped

In a saucepan heat oil, then sauté onions, garlic and coriander leaves for 12 minutes over medium heat. Stir in vinegar, salt, pepper and cayenne, then top with dandelions. Cover cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Stir and serve. 

DANDELION-LENTIL SOUP

Dandelion – One of the South Saskatchewan Weeds Which Kept Us Healthy in the Depression Years

Serves from 10 to 12

1 cup lentils, rinsed

9 cups water

4 tablespoons cooking oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

One small hot pepper, finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

1 bunch tender dandelion leaves – about 454 g (1-pound) thoroughly washed and chopped

4 tablespoons lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon pepper 

Place the lentils and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, heat oil in a frying pan and sauté onions, garlic, hot pepper and ginger over medium heat for 12 minutes. Transfer frying pan contents to the lentils. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to boil. Cover and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes. Serve hot.