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There's more to the weed than meets the eye. Delicate salad fixings, boiled greens, sautéed buds, coffee and even wine. Dandelions (from the French, dent de lion, or "lion's tooth," from their jagged leaves) are Maine's secret survival edible, protecting early settlers against scurvy. High in Vitamin A, iron and potassium, with a good content of other vitamins and minerals, they are the first green to appear in early spring and the last to linger in the fall. They can even be coaxed to grow a crop in winter storage.
Although the greens grow bitter with summer they can still be used with a sweetener fall frosts return the leaves to spring-like tastiness. Greens can be used in salads, steaming and in many cooking combinations. Buds are good sautéed in butter. Open flowers are used for making wine. Best of all, dandelions are easy to find.
The plant also provides children some outdoor entertainment making stem necklaces and blowing dried seeds into clouds of "snow." (Don't worry, the wind would do it anyway.)
Rhubarb is really a perennial vegetable that functions as a fruit and was legally declared a fruit in 1947. Little is known about the history of rhubarb except that it probably originated in Tibet, spreading to Europe only about 300 years ago. An enterprising Maine farmer is credited with bringing it to the New World in about 1800 where it became popular for tarts and pies. Every farm once had its backyard plot of rhubarb and many country homes still do. Only the rhubarb stalks are eaten; roots and leaves contain substances which cause severe illness and even death.
The best way to pick rhubarb is by pulling and twisting gently until root and stalk separate. The stalks should be at least 10″ tall and 1″ thick. Stalks are boiled and stewed, often with raisins, and served like a breakfast fruit or made into pies and marmalades. Combined with strawberries, rhubarb is one of the most popular pies in New England.
It's that time of year when going to a Maine Farmers' Market is the best outing of all. Fresh new greens, early vegetables, yummy preserves,
Farmers' markets to check out this week include:
Guidelines for shopping vary. Some markets require ordering (and paying) in advance from individual farmers.
Overrun by non-native, invasive shrubby honeysuckle? Watching it increase every year? Is it taking over your property? Out of control? Useful information on invasive terrestrial plant species and treatment options can be found in the Invasive Plants section of the Maine Natural Areas Program website.