If you can't beat 'em, drink 'em?

dandelion

Depending on your point of view, dandelions are either tasty and beautiful rugged perennials or noxious weeds to be eliminated from your landscape. Either way, they have been used as food and medicine across the globe for centuries. The jagged shape of the plant's leaves gave rise to the French name dent de lion (lion's tooth), which was Anglicized to dandelion. Dandelions are quite nutritious, having more protein than spinach and containing abundant vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C and K, along with calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese. And if you can't beat the weeds, you may as well eat them - or even drink them.

Intrepid gardeners eat dandelions from their backyards, and many people also make tea with the dandelion roots. If you grew up in the upper Midwest of the U.S., you might know someone who makes a light, crisp wine out of the yellow flowers. Both dandelion tea and dandelion wine are experiencing a surge in popularity, according to an article at Today Food. Two main players in the herbal tea market, Traditional Medicinals and The Republic of Tea, have both launched dandelion teas, and Traditional Medicinal's Organic Roasted Dandelion Root Tea is now the top-selling natural tea.

If you aren't a tea drinker, you may want to try dandelion wine. Previously confined to backyard winemakers using old family recipes (often producing a lackluster product), dandelion wine is poised to expand its presence in the wine scene. A few small Midwest wineries (like Maple River Winery in North Dakota) have been producing dandelion wine for a few years, but production and distribution has been limited. That may change with the Murrieta Wine Field, believed to be the first dandelion winery outside the Midwest, which is harvesting its first crop this month in southern California.

Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, Murrieta isn't located in an excellent wine growing region. Because of that, and to set themselves apart, owners Kevin and Christalyn Brooks decided to produce dandelion wine instead. They purchased 80,000 dandelion seeds (who knew you could buy dandelion seeds?) from Oregon to get started. They hope to harvest several crops per year.

So what does dandelion wine taste like? The Brooks describe it as "kind of like chardonnay with a little tea taste to it." They plan to first produce a straight-up dandelion wine-called D'lion, and then expand to dandelion/fruit blends, with rhubarb being eyed as one of the first candidates (although technically rhubarb is a vegetable, not a fruit).

If you don't plan to order wine from the Murrieta Wine Field, you can always make it yourself--a quick Google search yields several sites offering lessons on dandelion winemaking. Or, you could skip the wine and go straight to one of these dandelion drinks from the EYB library:

Dandelion-lime cooler (non-alcoholic)
Dandelion clementine cooler (non-alcoholic)
Cucumber cocktail with chamomile tonic

Will you try dandelion wine?

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