Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Dandelion – Weed or Wonder Plant?

They’re sprouting up already.  Should you get the lawnmower out and have at it, or should you smile, grab your shovel and get ready for lunch?  What am I talking about?  Dandelions of course!  I have a bouquet in my kitchen from my daughter.  When she heard me talking about dandelions being edible, she wanted to know if we should eat the ones she just picked!  I smiled at her and told her that just looking at them was good enough for me.  Or is it…  I told myself all winter that I wanted to look more into dandelions as a food source, and here it is, almost spring.  What should I do?  Well, if you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that I love the idea of growing things that I don’t have to work too hard at.  I’m all for those things that provide food for my family year after year – especially if it grows here in our harsh soil and actually won’t stay away even if I ask it nicely.   With that in mind, I think a dandelion salad is in order.  The least I can do is to give it a try.

The early European settlers here in America recognized the value of the dandelion as a food source and even introduced it to the Native American Indians living here.  The great thing about them is that the whole plant can be consumed.  The roots can be roasted and made into tea.  The leaves can be cooked with, or eaten raw in salads and the flowers can be used to make tea or wine.  Not only can the whole plant be eaten, it’s actually very good for you.  Here is a quote from an article on the nutritional benefits of dandelions:

According to the USDA Bulletin #8, "Composition of Foods" (Haytowitz and Matthews 1984), dandelions rank in the top 4 green vegetables in overall nutritional value. Minnich, in "Gardening for Better Nutrition" ranks them, out of all vegetables, including grains, seeds and greens, as tied for 9th best. According to these data, dandelions are nature's richest green vegetable source of beta-carotene, from which Vitamin A is created, and the third richest source of Vitamin A of all foods, after cod-liver oil and beef liver! They also are particularly rich in fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and the B vitamins, thiamine and riboflavin, and are a good source of protein.

These figures represent only those published by the USDA. Studies in Russia and Eastern Europe by Gerasimova, Racz, Vogel, and Marei (Hobbs 1985) indicate that dandelion is also rich in micronutrients such as copper, cobalt, zinc, boron, and molybdenum, as well as Vitamin D.

Here is a link to the whole article:

Here is another article that shows more details about the specific vitamin content in the plant:
As you may have guess from this article, I think it is worth looking into as a food source.  Will they ever become a staple in our house, or will my family just think I’m nuts?  I don’t know, but I read that in some countries dandelions are planted as a crop.  I haven’t looked in any health food stores around here lately, but don’t remember seeing them last time I was there.  I understand that fresh greens are available for sale in some areas.  So there you have it – should you mow them over or have them for lunch?  I don’t know what is best for you, but I do believe I’ll give them a try!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Versatile Okra

Okra is a very nutritious vegetable that is easy to grow in this region of Texas. My experience has been that, once it is planted, the only thing that will keep it from growing is not harvesting the pods. It seems to love our hot Texas summers! One of my biggest complaints is that after harvesting the pods every other day for two months, I’m tired of it. I recently read that the dried, roasted beans can be used to make coffee, so I figured that this year once my family has eaten all the okra we can hold, I‘ve given enough away to make my friends flee at the sight of me, and my freezer is full of the lovely green goodness, I’ll let a few of the plants keep their pods. Once they dry out, you can crack them open, remove the seeds, roast them and grind them up, then brew them for coffee. It’s decaffeinated, but that’s ok. I am very interested to find out how it tastes.

Did you know that you can eat the okra leaves as well as the pods? They can be prepared much the same as radish or beet leaves. Those are the ones that some people steam up or use in various cooked dishes but that my family loves to just toss in a salad. I can’t wait to try them out! Okra is one of the few green vegetables my husband likes and we’ve been growing it for years. Our favorite way to eat it is rolled in cornmeal and fried. It might not be the healthiest way to prepare it, but is sure is good! There are many, many more ways to prepare it that does not involve deep frying. Just look online and pick what looks best to you.

Okra is believed to have been grown and consumed back in ancient Egypt and has since been introduced to almost all warm climates world-wide. It is a very good source of vitamins A, C, and K. It is also a good source of dietary fiber and a few minerals. It has quite a few other nutritional benefits. Here is a more complete list of those benefits. The whole article is interesting but if you want to just skip to the nutritional information, click on the link at the top of the page.

One thing about okra is that it won’t grow until it’s nice and hot out. We have been working hard on our gardens and getting all of our cool weather plants in the ground, but the okra has to wait another few months. I’ll probably plant it early to mid-May. Some people don’t plant it until June, but I’m not that patient. I find that it will sprout and grow a little earlier than that.

If you haven’t tried to grow it yet you should think about it. There are so many ways to use it that everyone should be able to find something they like about it. Hope you found some useful information here. As always, happy gardening!

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Edible Acorn

Did you know that people have been eating acorns for thousands of years?   Koreans and North American Indians in particular still value these nuts as a food source.  As a child, I had been led to believe that people couldn’t eat acorns - they were only good for animals.  Well, my search for perennial food sources has led me to the truth.   They’re very bitter and potentially toxic when eaten raw, but when cooked can be very tasty and nutritious.

The bitter taste comes from tannis.  Yes, this is the same stuff used in some leather making.  The good news is that the tannic acid can be removed without too much difficulty and with it goes the bitterness.  After shelling the nuts, you can smash them up into a meal, wrap it in cheesecloth or some other material and run it under water until the water runs clear.   (A few people have said that placing them in a running stream is a good method for this, but I don’t have one of those, so the faucet would have to do).  At that point, wring it out and allow the meal to dry.  The resulting meal can be used much like corn meal to bake with.  If you prefer to eat the nuts whole, place the shelled nuts in some water and boil them for fifteen minutes.  You’ll notice the water turning brown.  That’s the tannic acid coming out.  Toss the water, add fresh and boil them again for fifteen minutes.  Repeat this process for up to three hours.  You’ll know you’re done when the water boils clear.  When you’ll all done with the boiling process, it’s time to dry them out.  Put them on a baking sheet and bake them at 175 – 200 degrees for about an hour.  That’s it – they’re ready to eat!

Here is an excerpt I found about the sweetest tasting acorns in Texas:

The Texas oaks reported to have the sweetest taste include Emory oak (Q. emoryi), which is so mild it can be used without processing, white oak (Q. alba), plateau live oak (Q. fusiformis), bur oak (Q. macrocarpa), and chinkapin oak (Q. mulenbergii). The acorns of each of these oaks (mostly white oaks) mature in one year, which may account for their lower tannic acid content. Red oak acorns (like Texas Red Oak) take two years to mature.

To give proper credit (and to point you to a very nice article on the subject), here is the link I got that information from:

So there you have it.  Experiment a little and enjoy!

Monday, February 6, 2012


I was browsing around the internet a little while ago looking for some tasty perennial vegetables that might make a good addition to our garden.  I happened upon a nice listing of perennial veggies here:

One of the items that caught my attention was the groundnut (Apios Americana).  Ok, I admit it caught my attention because I wasn’t very familiar with it.  Thanks to the ease of the internet, I now do know a few things about it – and they’re all good!  One of the best things about it is that it is a good food source.  It’s very nutritious, comes back each year, and will thrive in NE Texas! 

So, just what is a groundnut? It is a legume.  You can eat the bean pods that it produces, but it is most noted for the tubers it grows.  One article I read declared “The groundnut is probably the most famous edible wild plant in eastern North America”.   It seems that it was once a staple food for Native Americans and it is speculated that it kept the pilgrims from starving those first winters in the new world.    The first year or two after it is planted, the tubers will be small.  After that they grow larger.  It is not uncommon for them to be as large as potatoes and can get up to several pounds each.  They are sweeter than a potato, with a slightly nutty flavor.  

Just how nutritious are they?  Well it seems that ‘Plants for a Future, a British organization that educates the public on “edible, medicinal, and useful plants for a healthier world,” ranks Apios americana as the fourth-most-important plant in its database of seven thousand.’   That information, along with a lot of the information in this post was taken from this website: 

It sounds like the only drawback could be that it can be a very aggressive grower.  I figure if I can put up with the pokeweed, I can put up with the groundnut!  It can be ordered online from a variety of places.  For a few dollars, my thought is that it’s worth a try.

As always, happy gardening!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Video - Edible Balcony Garden

If you have only a balcony or a small space to grow food in, have a look at what Janet over at Green Urban Living has done with her balcony.  I am amazed at what she manages to squeeze into a small space!