This past Sunday I had the pleasure of attending a little workshop in my neighborhood about what most of us think of as a pesky weed, the dandelion. The workshop’s focus was how to make dandelion wine! Yes, wine!
I immediately had visions of prohibition and smoked filled speakeasies; throbbing music that make your joints ache. I almost wore a flapper dress and cut my hair into a short bob, but I got a hold of myself and put on jeans and a tee-shirt. After all, it wasn’t a workshop on dandelion moonshine and bootlegging. Nor was it simply a workshop about making wine with weeds, it was also about the medicinal and edible versatility of the dandelion.
The workshop was the brain-child of a gardening club, The Gardens of Newburgh. The club meets often to share botanical tips and to find ways to promote the beautiful gardens in our city. You can visit Garden Newburgh on Facebook and find out more and don’t forget to “like” them, unless of course you don’t like gardens; which would be odd since you’re reading this post. Case Wyse was asked to lead the workshop. Case is a young man who is living in Newburgh volunteering for Americorps VISTA; “a national service program designed specifically to fight poverty.” His work for VISTA also brought him to The Armory Community Garden where I first him.
The workshop was held just around the block from my house at the home of Michael G. As I walked up the long driveway, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of Michael’s home. It is not unlike many of the historical homes in the city. The house and its architecture were reason enough to join this gathering. On the front door of the house was a note that read, “We’re around the back.” In the back was a group of about nine adults gathered around a picnic table. If I hadn’t known better I would have sworn I had just walked into an English garden party.
But then I spotted my neighbors, one of which looks like a more refined version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski, which ironically brought me back to reality. These were the same neighbors who only an hour earlier told me that they couldn’t go to the gathering. I was a bit dismayed at my tardiness because even people who couldn’t go to the meeting got there earlier than me. Case then gathered us in a circle a few feet away from the table and with a big smile on his face he reached down and grabbed a bunch of dandelions out of the ground and told us all to grab a few too.
The first thing I wanted to do was press the yellow flower against my cheek and twist and turn it until my cheek was covered in beautiful yellow rouge. Instead I turned my attention to Case who was talking about dandelions being a compositae plant and that this species of plants were made up of different flowers, ray flowers and disc flowers. Case then peeled away the green layer of the plant where the flower meets the stem and showed us the underneath part of the flower. My knowledge of scientific terms for the parts of a flower are limited so feel lucky that I can name the stem, leaf and flower.
What we discovered by peeling apart the dandelion was that beneath the yellow petals was a row of thin white strands sitting on top of a row of thin green strands. The only part of the dandelion that is used to make wine is the yellow along with the white strands, without any of the greens. Apparently the greens of the dandelion will give the wine a bitter taste. Case pulled out some of the yellow petals and took a bite and said, “If you eat the yellow flower you can taste the sweetness.” We all proceeded to eat dandelion flowers. This is a testament to Case’s passion for dandelions he didn’t even have to persuade us to eat a weed from right out of the ground. I took a bite of the flower and at first I couldn’t taste the sweetness but then with my second mouthful, I tasted the mild sweet taste of the dandelion!
Case went on to state the various medicinal qualities, one being that the roots of the dandelion are used as a liver and blood tonic. The sap of the dandelion is used to treat skin ailments such as eczema and mild acne. He also cited the many nutritional values of the dandelion including its abundance of calcium, Vitamins A, C, and E. And dandelion greens are used often in salads and can be sautéed, adding a little lemon juice helps tame any bitterness. Listening and watching Case talk about dandelions was like listening to an artist talk about his paintings. At one point Case proclaimed his love for dandelions by saying, “This is what is so impressive about dandelions and why I love them! They bloom when the sun comes out and they close when the sun goes down. They are self pollinating and survive in the direst of circumstances.”
After our workshop we all gathered inside Michael’s home to eat lavender cookies and lavender cake, baked by Lily Norton a leading member of Gardens for Newburgh. The conversation drifted away from weeds and soil and eventually led to our love of this city and the ways in which we work to preserve all the good and revive what has been broken. One conversation led to a recent quote from U.S. District Court Judge Coleen McMahon who after sentencing a member of the Bloods called the city of Newburgh “the most pathetic place in New York State.” Clearly the Judge only sees a weed, while the rest of us Newburghers see wine!
To make your own dandelion wine here is one link that can get you started, http://www.wikihow.com/
Make-Dandelion-Wine. You can also visit Pantano’s in New Paltz there website is, www.pantonsbeerwine.com