By Janelle Eklund
It was a blue sky kind of day with a few puffy fair weather clouds and warm, in-the-sixties temperatures. I pulled into the Copper Center School grounds where sixth, seventh and eighth graders were enjoying the activities of the yearly Youth Environmental Summit organized by the Native Village of Gakona. I strapped on my camera and carried a second lens to capture the outdoor learning adventures they were immersed in. A group of about thirteen young people sat in a circle in a yellow field of dandelions, each holding a piece of paper with plant drawings. They were intently listening to the instructor describe the plants and their edible qualities. Dandelion was on the list. After a phone call making sure the dandelions had not been sprayed with poisons the go ahead was given to try this tasty spring time edible plant - leaves, roots and flowers. It was noted that the leaves made a great addition to a salad with other new shoots such as fireweed and bluebells, which were also on their learning list. After exploring and tasting some of the edible plants the kids 'painted' their faces with rubbings of dandelion blossoms.
Non-native dandelions were introduced to America by Europeans. They loved this plant so much they brought it with them on the Mayflower. Personally I don't see this plant as an invasive. The only places I've seen it is in areas disturbed by humans - yards, roadsides, etc. Lots of people view it as a weed and try to rid it of their lawns and yards by spraying it with poison. The kids asked if it was a weed and were told that it's all how you view the plant. All we need is an understanding of the great qualities this plant has to offer and we would have a different mindset.
The best time to enjoy the fruits of this bright plant is in the spring before they get tough and bitter. Or in the fall when new flowers are forming. One evening I was looking for dandelions to take a photo of as I knew they were out but could find no yellow heads. The next day as the sun did its thing the dandelions responded and opened their bundles of sunny color for all the world to see.
If you cut the leaves off about an inch below the surface you will be rewarded with the pale center of the plant that is very tasty. The leaves, roots and flowers can not only be added to salads but blanched, stir fried, made into tea or other beverages, and added to soups and casserole dishes. Blanching the leaves gives them a mild flavor. The dried, roasted, and powdered roots make an excellent tasting hot drink. A great substitute for coffee.
Why go to the trouble of picking this plant? The leaves have lots of vitamins A, B, and C, copper, phosphorus, potassium, iron, calcium, and magnesium. The skin is a great absorber so making dandelion into a massage oil, a footbath, or facial steam can be soothing and healing since it's packed with all these great vitamins and minerals.
Dandelion root has medicinal qualities and can eliminate excess fluids and toxins. So it is good for the liver and kidneys and helps with gout, edema, rheumatism, chronic constipation, anemia, gallstones, and can lower cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Children seem to really see the beauty in dandelions. It is always a delight to be with the young children near a dandelion patch. They will often run up and offer a beautiful bouquet of yellow joy clutched in their tiny fists. To them this is not a weed - it is beauty to behold.
From my light to yours-
References: Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schofield. See this book for more details on this great plant.
By Janelle Eklund
May 14 and it was a clear sunny day. The wind howled through the night and all day clearing the haze and high thin clouds that hung in the Copper Basin for the last few days. It was a crystal clear evening. As I drank in the clearness of the Wrangell Mountains from a window high in the house it became clear (no pun intended) that a picture was in order. With camera and tripod in hand I walked out into the field in the back of the house and tried to find the right setting. But I was too low and there was nothing to frame the crystal clear mountains. A wide angle snapshot was taken with the field in the foreground, making the mountains look distant. I started wandering closer to the house where it was higher ground, ending up behind the garage. Still not the best view but as I looked on the ground something caught my eye. This area is pretty bare of vegetation having been disturbed when the house was built. Most of the time it is in the shade so in the spring the snow slowly melts and, for awhile, the ground is saturated.
I was totally surprised to see two coltsfoot growing out of this barren little area. This plant usually grows in swampy wet areas. But here was one just emerging out of the ground and another, more taller mature one, in full bloom close by. Guess there was enough moisture to propagate a stray seed in this unseemly area.
In the spring the stems of coltsfoot can be steamed, fried or chopped into other dishes for a pleasant treat. The leaves can be eaten too but they are somewhat hairy and not very agreeable to the tongue. The roots have also been roasted and eaten by Siberian natives.
Coltsfoot is an antispasmodic making it a medicinal plant of choice for coughs, congestion, asthma, lung problems, etc. by making it into a tincture, tea, or syrup. See Janice Schofield's book, Discovering Wild Plants, for a cough syrup made out of the leaves, water and honey. It got rid of a bad cough she had and she was able to sleep. The leaves and grated root can be made into a poultice to relieve bug bites, sores, and pain from arthritis.
The leaves of plants are most often the first signs of growth. But with Coltsfoot they develop their flowers before the leaves. Sometimes you will just see leaves with no flower stem coming from it. These leaves grew from the underground root of the mother flower stem.
Coltsfoot is a pretty safe plant but should be used in moderation. High dosages can irritate the liver.
As we returned home from Glennallen one evening, I noticed lots of coltsfoot glistening in wet areas along the Richardson highway.
It's exciting to see new life wriggling its way out of the ground in all its splendor, and it's interesting to see how things develop from year to year depending on the weather. One year on May 4 we had a big dump of snow and no leaves in sight on the trees. The next year on May 5 the leaves were just opening up on the trees. Although it was a cool day, it certainly wasn't cold enough for snow or lack of plants making their debut. Goodness sake we already had seen 70° temps or close to. Tells me warmth is the key to waking up the plants.
From my light to yours-
References: Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schofield
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.