I am a woman who finds weeding therapeutic. Something about discerning what is wanted from what is not, something about being so close to the soil, and then the satisfying look and feel of the land when the job is done, knowing the remaining plants will have the room and nutrients to grow well.
Earlier this week, in the late afternoon sunshine, I worked in my front yard by weeding under the Blue Spruce. Very few things grow well under evergreens because of how they change the chemistry of the soil, making it less hospitable. Still, grasses, blue bells, and good old reliable dandelion manage to grow abundantly there.
I stopped thinking of dandelions as weeds years ago when I learned they are really food. Good food. Dandelion is beneficial for the liver, which in Chinese medicine, is known as “The General" of the body. It is said that if your liver is healthy and strong, the rest of your body will follow suit. I plan to treat my liver to these roots.
The good news is that because the soil under the Spruce is mostly built-up pine needles, it’s very loose. Not to mention it smells great. The even better news is that the dandelions relinquish their hold so nicely, emerging with their roots often completely intact. (I have found that Spring and Autumn are the seasons to harvest dandelion. During Summer and Winter, they keep a very tight grip in the earth. Good luck coaxing them out then.) And what roots! Some of them are a pinky-finger-thick, some are longer than my hair. They are strong but supple, full of nutrients, and in this season, the spark of awakening. I know they will stimulate my liver after a long winter of lethargy.
By the time I have pulled them all, I have a sizable pile.
But only the first part of this job has begun. I cover them with water and soak them overnight.
(Forgot to take that photo!)
Not only does this loosen the soil clinging to them but it softens their skins. The next day I scrub them with my veggie scrubber and peel some of the tougher skins away. There are so many that after a while I get selective, choosing to keep the thickest and longest ones. This job requires patience and tenacity, taking an hour at least. I keep thinking of my liver as I feel my hands become prunes from the water, watch as the skin around my fingernails becomes tender and scraggly, especially by my thumbnail which has served as my greatest tool- a piercing peeler.
But there is more to do to complete this job. Time to chop.
I could toss them in the food processor and complete this step in less than a minute. But I like to do it by hand. I like the sound of the blade slicing through the roots, the sight of them getting chunked down, the smell of the earthy roots wafting to my nose. Something about this process that slakes my thirst for transformation. Like all change, this takes a bit of time.
Chop, chop, chop.
Chop, chop, chop.
They all need to be about the same size.
Chop, chop, chop.
And then when they are sufficiently hewn, I spread them out to dry. I use a platter instead of a bowl so that as much surface area of each root is exposed to the air as possible.
They look a bit like chopped walnuts, yes? For the next several days, or however long it takes, I will mix them up with my fingers, pushing them around, flipping them over and over until they are all as dry and hard as pebbles.
When I am sure they are completely dry- because if they are not, they will mold!- in a jar they’ll go, joining the other garden goodies in my cupboard. Like these, which is all that’s left from last Autumn.
And then each time I make rice, beans, lentils, quinoa, kasha, soups, stews, or anything that soaks and cooks for more than fifteen minutes or so, I will add a tablespoon or two of these roots. They will reconstitute as they cook and add an earthy flavor, a bit of texture, and much nutritious goodness to the dish.
It’s not just my liver that is getting nourished. My soul gets fed knowing I wild crafted and processed these roots myself. Something about knowing they came from healthy soil without a trace of herbicides or pesticides. About knowing I appreciate the strength and vitality dandelion brings to my life. Blessed be the roots, ancestors of the plant world. Bon Appetite!