After a neighbor ratted out Gov. Pat Quinn for the dandelion forest choking his front lawn, Chicago’s pro-dandelion minority — a collection of environmentalists, gardeners, foodies and Greeks — spoke up to defended the yellow flowering yard pests.
“Dandelions are not weeds. They are prairie flowers. Bees love them,” one online commenter posted after my column. “Help save the bees. Don’t cut, pull or poison your dandelions!”
Another commenter, Katie, wrote, “Dandelions are good for your lawn. Their wide-spreading roots loosen hard-packed soil, aerate the earth and help reduce erosion. The deep taproot pulls nutrients such as calcium from deep in the soil. … Dandelions fertilize the grass.”
As the son of a dandelion serial killer I had no idea that dandelions had so many redeeming qualities.
I do remember, however, that my sister Fred always had fun picking dandelions and singing, “Momma had a baby and her head popped off,” just before decapitating the yellow bloom with her thumb.
But, apparently, in addition to saving bees and enriching the soil, dandelions have long been an edible treat that prevents scurvy, blood disorders and depression, reduces cholesterol and high blood pressure, fights off cancer, bolsters the immune system and acts as a mild laxative among other things, according to nutrition gurus and foodie bloggers.
The weeds, er, “prairie flowers,” are the main ingredient in “Horta,” a bitter lemony Greek appetizer of steamed dandelion greens boiled in salted water, tossed in olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt served hot as a side dish.
“Horta was a staple in my grandmother’s springtime diet,” according to a Greek lady who knows about these things. “It’s super bitter. But she lived to 93, so there’s that.”
If you’d rather not spend the afternoon picking dandelions to prolong your life, there’s a few restaurants in town that do it for you.
At M. Henry restaurant in Andersonville, for instance, you can get a fluffy omelette of dandelion greens, caramelized shallots and leeks with a side of potatoes for about 10 bucks.
Plus, if you’re in a pinch or in jail, dandelions — with sugar, yeast, oranges, lemons, maybe some ginger and a handful of cloves — are all you need to make a wine that’s good enough to get you drunk.
For all that, I’d like to apologize to Gov. Quinn for publicly shaming him over his front yard dandelion forest, which was quickly mowed down Thursday.
That wild mess of prairie flowers could have saved the neighborhood bees, enriched his soil, filled his belly, prolonged his life and, after a frustrating legislative session, got him good and drunk.
My bad, governor.