The time has finally come; the corn is gone and our fields are our own! We almost jumped for joy when the farmer who leased our land for the season showed up at our door one morning, announcing that he would be harvesting his crop. A few short hours later the tractor noise subsided and we emerged from our house, blinking in the still settling dust, and peered out at our new view. Suddenly we could see the rolling contours of our property, the county road that borders us at the front, and the bright, autumn-hued woods behind. Papery corn husks swirled in the breeze and rattled across the lawn.
What to do now that the corn is gone? The season is too far advanced to plant winter rye and clover cover crops this fall. If we planted now, daytime temperatures would be warm enough to encourage germination, but the first hard frost would kill the tender new shoots before they had time to become established in the soil.
An alternative option we’re learning about is a technique called frost-seeding, which involves broadcasting seeds onto the soil surface in late winter. The seeds are pulled deeper into the ground by the freezing and thawing action of the soil, where they wait until early spring temperatures are warm enough for germination. It’s an easy solution that doesn’t involve any tilling. That’s great for us, because we’d like to avoid tilling as much as possible to reduce erosion and give soil microbes a chance to become re-established.
There’s just one problem: a thick layer of corn stalks and husks covers our entire field, dense enough to stop any seeds we broadcast from ever reaching the soil. We could buy a disc attachment for our tractor and till the corn debris under, but we worry that tilling this fall would leave the soil bare and exposed all winter long, exposed to the elements and vulnerable to erosion. The corn debris may be in the way of seeding cover crops, but it’s actually acting as mulch for the time being. It’s definitely a puzzle (and as always we welcome your suggestions)!
Fall is a time of planning ahead, by preserving food for the winter and planting for the coming year. We were excited when the mailman arrived with our box of garlic cloves from Seed Savers Exchange! Some say to plant garlic just after the first light frost, but I’m told garlic cloves can grow larger if they are planted a few weeks before the first frost. Our garlic planting, like most of our projects, happened precisely when we got around to it. We put about 150 cloves in the ground, hopefully plenty for us to enjoy in the coming year.
A couple of months ago we prepared two large garden areas by covering them with plastic tarps to kill weeds. We created our garlic bed along the far edge, peeling back a section of the tarp to expose the soil. After two months under the tarp the grass was dead, but to our surprise the dandelions still had pale green, straggly leaves.
We knew we needed to carefully dig each dandelion out by hand to prevent the roots from resprouting. As luck would have it, dandelions are actually very useful, not to mention totally free! Dandelions were introduced by early settlers as an edible green and a medicinal plant. If you haven’t tried dandelion leaves in the early spring, you’re missing out. They’re a highly nutritious and tender addition to salads in the early spring before they turn bitter.
Dandelion root tea has a sweet, nutty flavor similar to chicory (the special ingredient in New Orleans-style coffee). Like chicory, dandelion root owes its sweet flavor to the presence of the dietary fiber inulin. Inulin has a number of health benefits such as improving digestion and supporting healthy intestinal flora. Conveniently, inulin dissolves in hot water, making tea an ideal option. Dandelion root is a common ingredient in detox tea blends because it helps support liver function (as someone who enjoys good wine and good bourbon, I’m sure my liver would be happy for a little extra support).
Dandelion root is best harvested in the late fall or early winter, when most of the sugars have been sent to the root instead of allocated to leaf growth. Look for the spear-shaped, toothed (but not hairy) leaves in your lawn and dig the roots with a hand trowel. Of course, if you’re harvesting from a lawn, make sure you choose an area free from any herbicide or pesticide use.
After digging all the dandelions out of our garlic bed we had a small bushel basket full of roots.
The hardest part is getting the roots clean. I soaked mine in a large bowl of water and used a potato brush to scrub the grit from the roots, changing the water whenever it got really cloudy. Let’s be honest, it’s impossible to get every grain of dirt off the roots, but we’re aiming not to have mud in our tea.
The roots are pretty tough, so choose a big knife to chop them into 1/4 inch chunks.
Lay the roots on a baking sheet in a single layer. My small bushel basket full of dandelion roots yielded two full baking sheets once the roots were chopped.
Place in a 250 degree Fahrenheit oven. Stirring every 15 minutes, roast for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until the roots darken to the color of coffee beans. If you’re using multiple baking sheets, rotate which one is on top every time you stir.
Some ovens have a vent for steam to escape, but if your oven starts getting steamy inside keep the oven door slightly cracked to allow humidity to escape. Watch carefully at the end to make sure they don’t burn!
I started out roasting mine for 1 1/2 hours and tried making some tea. I decided there wasn’t enough of a roasted flavor for my liking, so I roasted them for an additional half hour. I think the extra time really improved the flavor.
The dandelion roots shrink considerably as they roast! I ended up with one full baking sheet of roasted dandelion roots, enough to fill a pint jar.
To make tea, steep the roasted dandelion root pieces for 8-10 minutes in hot water, using about 1 heaping teaspoon per cup of water. Another option is to grind it in a coffee grinder and brew it as you would coffee.
My favorite way to enjoy dandelion root tea: mix 2 parts dandelion root chunks and 1 part cacao nibs, grind and brew in a coffee press.
This tea is so nutty and flavorful! I’m super excited to be making my own tea at home. One of our goals in the coming year is to buy less at the grocery store, and coffee and tea makes up an expensive part of our grocery bill. Of course it won’t totally replace coffee because dandelion root doesn’t contain caffeine, but there are plenty of times when a flavorful, non-caffeinated beverage fits the bill.
Mug by Carrie Dawson at Morning Light Studio
Roasted Dandelion Root Detox Tea
- Submerge freshly harvested dandelion roots in water and scrub with a brush until thoroughly washed, changing water as necessary.
- With a large knife, chop roots into roughly 1/4 inch pieces.
- Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.
- Place in a 250 degree F oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes and rotating positions if using multiple baking sheets.
- When roots are completely dry and dark brown in color, remove from oven and allow to cool completely before storing in a glass jar.
- To brew tea, place 1 teaspoon roasted dandelion root in 1 cup of boiling water. Steep 8-10 minutes, strain and enjoy.