Little Mack and I were discussing the other day how beneficial it is to add bitter foods to your diet, even though they may not make your tastebuds sing, exactly. 🙂 We were walking across our place to the chicken coop, and I stopped and pinched off some dandelion greens, and handed him a few leaves. He was interested in what I was telling him, and we munched on the leaves companionably as we strolled out to shut the chickens in. He only spat some of them out. Harvest season is mostly completed here, so it seemed unusually quiet outside, after weeks of heavy combines and tractors and trucks rumbling by on our road. I’ve got to hand it to Mack–he ate the dandelion greens down, mostly. They are bitter.
Amalia is struggling with some health issues, and we’ve been trying to eat as healthy as we possibly can. (Not an easy feat, with chocolate-heavy holidays like Halloween happening around here.) I recently read about Guido Masé, who is a clinical herbalist practicing in Vermont, and he believes that a daily dose of bitterness could eliminate the need for many food-restriction diets. Physician and author Dr. Tieraona Low Dog recommends pre-meal bitter greens for people with food and environmental allergies, gas and bloating, and sugar cravings.
That probably covers quite a few of us, sadly. A friend and I were musing in conversation just today about how many acquaintances we have who are on some sort of restricted diet. There are so many: no-gluten, Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, no-carb, sugar-free, and others. What’s going on with us, anyway?
Wouldn’t it be sweet if we could just add something simple to our diets that would help with all these food sensitivities? Bitter plants are more likely to be highly nutritious, because many phytonutrients have a bitter, sour, or astringent taste. Perhaps part of the problem with our systems if that they are just crying out for more nutrients.
One way to add more bitter foods to your diet is to go out into the yard and harvest some dandelion leaves. The best time to do that is in the early spring, before the yellow flowers pop out, but it’s not always easy to catch the leaves that early. Conventional wisdom says that that’s the only time to eat dandelion leaves. I don’t agree. The second best, in my opinion, is in the fall. The plants are mostly finished with producing flowers, and the leaves are still green and growing slowly and aren’t so filled with the milky sap that makes them unpalatable.
Did you know that European settlers brought dandelions to the New World as a necessity, for medicine and food? In fact, dandelion has been used as a medicine for thousands of years, for numerous ailments. In fact, its Latin name Taraxacum officinale means the “official remedy for disorders.” My own Swedish grandmother used to feed us dandelions when we were kids. Of course we thought this was hilarious. 😉 Dandelions are weeds, right?
They weren’t always thought of in this way.
Isn’t it funny that we have moved so far away from eating plants like dandelion, which grow freely (more freely in some areas than others–cough) all around us.
I hope I’m not overstating too much. 😉
I’ve been going outside in the early morning, when I’m taking care of the animals and the chickens, and I grab a couple handfuls of dandelion greens. I give one handful to my canary, Luciano. He loves them. The other handful I’ll toss in the skillet with our morning eggs, or I’ll toss into our lunchtime salad. My friend Gene has been supplying me with excellent bitter greens, and chopped dandelion leaves fit into salads with the greens very nicely.
Here’s the vinaigrette recipe (adapted from Mark Bittman) that I mix up most often, to go with our daily bitter greens:
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons or more good vinegar — red wine, rice, balsamic, or your current favorite
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 large shallot or several green onions and/or 2 or 3 crushed garlic cloves, (about 1 ounce), peeled and cut into chunks
- 1-2 Tb capers
- 1 T juice from the capers jar
- 1. Combine all ingredients but the shallot (or onions, and/or garlic) in a blender and turn the machine on; a creamy emulsion will form within 30 seconds. Taste and add more vinegar a teaspoon or two at a time, until the balance tastes right.
- 2. Add the shallot (or onions, and/or garlic), and turn the machine on and off a few times until the shallot is minced within the dressing. Taste, adjust seasoning, add capers and liquid, and serve. This is best made fresh but will keep a few days refrigerated; bring back to room temperature and whisk briefly before using. I keep mine in a pint jar with a lid, and give it a shake before I serve it.
Isn’t a funny world? We go to the grocery store to buy tasteless greens with very little nutrition, and then mow off the super-nutritious greens in our yard, because we’ve become unaccustomed to eating bitterness.
Then we (apparently) get sick because we’re not consuming enough nutrient-rich foods like bitter greens. Hmm. Crazy. To make matters even more nutty, the food industry has pretty much bred bitterness out of our food. As a result, we lose out on more than just nutrition. Bitterness is important for liver health, stimulates the liver to produce bile, which aids in digestion and nutrient availability. Bitter foods also can modulate hunger.
And that’s why I hand Mack a handful of bitter greens to eat every day. I’m trying to educate his palate to actually like them, for his own good. But shhhhh. Don’t tell. 😉 What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.
The folks at Fix.com sent me this infographic to use on my blog, and they also gave me permission to use some of the information in this post. Thanks, guys! Also I pulled dandelion facts from one of my favorite books on foraging and wild foods, The Wild Table by Connie Green. Thanks, Connie!
There are still plenty of dandelion greens in our yard, and probably will be until they are covered with snow! I’m planning to pick a quantity of them and dry them, for crumpling up into soups and stews. A nice shot of bitter greens in the middle of winter will not, after all, go amiss.
Have a great day, you!
- Book Report: “Grit to Great,” raising kids with GRIT; also Melatonin and the Longing for Sleep
- Embracing Whimsy: Miniature Plastic Deer Kits and a Giveaway!