Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lion in a Teacup

Since reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book ‘Animal Vegetable, Miracle’ last year, I have become increasingly aware of the ‘food miles’ that are logged up on some of the items I regularly stock in my pantry. The book is the story of her family’s first year of committing to eating only what they can grow themselves or source locally. They allowed themselves one luxury item each, to be sourced through Fair Trade organizations. Barbara chose spices, her husband coffee. I can relate to both those choices. I hoard my Dutch cinnamon like a miser and often take its lid off so I can inhale the warm spiciness. My naturopath, a confessed coffee addict herself, advised me recently that I should give up coffee as part of a detox diet. The first few days were not pretty but I rediscovered a blend of dandelion and chicory root at the local health food store that mimicked the flavour enough for me to pretend it was the real thing. It is a good product but expensive and imported from Europe.

English dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has been encouraged to grow where ever it likes in my garden as a salad green and chicken feed. It is a valuable addition to any diet, containing more nutrients than any other herb, including more Vitamin A than carrots. It is a tonic useful for the liver and gall bladder. Its sappy white juice can be used to remove warts. I had dug a large patch out to make room for more vegetable beds and was busy chucking it to the chickens when I realised it had roots on that the chickens wouldn’t eat.

Trimming and washing the roots, I chopped them into even sized slices and laid them on the racks in my electric food dryer. When dry, they went onto a baking tray which I placed in the oven of my cooling slow combustion stove as I shut it down for the night. By morning the pieces were uniformly dark brown in colour and looked like the stuff in the jar.

The taste test was next. You need to simmer the root for 5 minutes before straining. It can be used a couple of times before loosing its flavour. While similar to the commercial product, mine was a little earthier and lacked the ‘roundness’ of flavour that the chicory root provides. Mixed half/half it was good. If I can beg some chicory root, I will try that next time.

If I chose to, I could drink lemongrass or mint tea all year round as they both grow well. Instead, I chose an interesting experiment to provide one jar of produce, with very little cost to the environment or myself. I will never be able to grow coffee, tea or enough dandelion root to supply my own needs but I feel I am a little more informed about the effect of my shopping choices in terms of the environment.

For more information on eating dandelion, see Cooking with Herbs e book by Nerys Purchon.

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