That scourge of temperate-zone gardeners — the humble dandelion — is out in force all over the North Fork, carpeting every available spot in glorious yellow. And you either love it or you don’t.
Most don’t. Notoriously hard to permanently eradicate, the dandelion just doesn’t give up without a fight. For those who like the manicured garden, it poses a real problem.
If you are uncomfortable with pesticides, you have to weed. But weeding dandelions means constant weeding. as the plant selflessly volunteers itself to spread all over your lawn and flowerbeds. And it’s not easy weeding either, as the taproot can be up to 10 inches long and is easily fractured. Any portion of the root left in the ground can regenerate the weed, so you might want to invest in a special dandelion weeding tool, stocked by your local Agway. Even then they’ll come back.
So here’s a novel suggestion. Why not embrace your inner dandelion and develop a whole new attitude towards the pesky interlopers?
K.K. Haspel, for one, can’t say enough good things about the weed. “It attracts cosmic forces to the soil,” said Ms. Haspel, a biodynamic farmer in Southold.
And those cosmic forces are evidently especially attracted by dandelion compost. Ms Haspel suggests taking a look at the powerful compost composed of dried dandelion flowers produced by the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Bio-Dynamics in Woolwine, Va.
“They break up your soil,” said Ms. Haspel. “This is nature trying to help you.” (The institute will purchase your dandelion flowers at $25 a dried pound.)
Ms. Haspel also points out that the dandelion is hugely useful in medicine. “It can ease digestion and alleviate warts,” she said. “It’s also very nutritious, roots, leaves and flowers.”
Nutritionally, the dandelion can be consumed as food or drink. With a warning to avoid plants from areas that may have been sprayed with pesticides, Ms. Haspel recommends eating young dandelion leaves raw in a salad or sautéing them with garlic and spinach and perhaps some onions and ginger and Asian greens. “But just wilt them. Don’t overcook,” she said.
Dandelion flowers can also be steeped in water to make tea. “Steep them for about fifteen minutes,” said Ms. Haspel. “Some people also put them in smoothies.” Dandelion roots too can be finely ground to form the basis for a coffee substitute.
Dandelions can also be useful in other ways.
Ms. Haspel says that leaving dandelions to grow wild really helps bees. “Bees have a very hard time in spring with few flowers from which to gather pollen,” she said. (For beekeepers, the bonus is that dandelion honey is one of the first honey crops of the year.)
And then of course there’s dandelion wine. According to wikihow.com, right now is the optimum time to harvest whole dandelion flowers for winemaking, although (perhaps as something of a salutary warning) the article counsels that “just the petals can make for a less bitter tasting wine.”
Full on dandelion fans might even consider fermenting dandelion honey to make an ancient alcoholic concoction called mead, and then combining it with an infusion of dandelion petals to form dandelion metheglin, which is the generic name for mead combined with herbs — homebrewtalk.com has lots of advice on brewing meads and metheglins.
So could dandelion wines form a hot new trend on the North Fork?
Donnell Brown, executive director of the Long Island Merlot Alliance, confesses she does occasionally indulge in nonmerlot wines (and has even been seen with a beer once in a while.) How about dandelion wine?
“I’d give it a go,” she said.
Adam Suprenant, winemaker at Osprey’s Dominion vineyard in Peconic says he doesn’t plan to start making dandelion wine any time soon, in spite of the abundance of raw material currently inundating the Northeast.
“I’ve never tasted it. My understanding is that it’s kind of an old country thing,” he said. “However, even if you gave it a try, I am certain you could not make a regionally specific dandelion wine so I’m not too worried about competition.
“North Fork winemakers are not going to be shaking in their shoes!”