March 24, 2010

Locavore Lore: Cultivate the city of jewels within

Behold the under-appreciated dandelion

Manipura, the Sanskrit word for the third primary chakra, translates literally into “city of jewels.” It’s a beautifully accurate description of this energy center, the seat of our will and inner fires of digestion, as it is indeed a city of jewels, sparkling with possibilities and potential dreams ready to manifest. It’s no surprise that as springtime unfolds, inviting us to a season of rebirth, the earth offers abundant nourishment for our being connected with co-creation. Support for the manifestation of our dreams is proliferating in the carpets of radiant yellow wildflowers decorating meadows and yards throughout the region. Dandelions — both in their visual reflection of many depictions of the third chakra (often seen as a bright yellow wheel) and in their nutritive qualities — are precious compasses for where to direct our intention and our culinary celebrations.

So what are these weedy wizards saying? Eat me! Forget the belief that dandelions are weeds that need to be destroyed; they’re one of the most beneficial plant offerings from the natural world to aid us in transitioning to this new season of abundance and possibility.

Perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood plant in the minds of weedphobics across the country, the determined dandelion is anything but a nuisance. This precious perennial not only grows an impressive root system that aerates and builds the soil, its flowers, roots, leaves and stems provide a wealth of nourishment. High in minerals and vitamins A, B and C, the leaves are excellent in raw salads or steamed or sautéed. They’re tastiest in early spring, but after flowering, their bitter edge can be lessened by cooking them with a splash of vinegar or soaking the fresh leaves in baking soda and water. The roots can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute, and the root crowns can be roasted and eaten like any other vegetable. Dandelions make an excellent wine, and tea made from the roots has been used as a full-system cleanser, blood purifier and diuretic. Also, it’s strengthening for the liver, and the icing on the cake is that planting next year’s crop only requires making a wish as you blow the dried seed heads into the wind.

 

But before we get too earthbound by the abundance of these terrestrial treasures, let’s not forget the cosmic forces that help make it happen. Attuning to the earth’s seasonal offerings also aligns us with the galactic adventures affecting our planet. Dandelions not only strengthen the organs connected with the third chakra, thus strengthening our will and powers of co-creation, they also guide our awareness to this area, reminding us of the wellspring of seasonal support streaming in from the cosmos. In addition to the equinox that was on March 20, the following new moon in Aries will bring abundant support for personal creation, so now is the time to fuel your will and stoke those inner fires.

Although dandelions are the belle of the ball right now, some other dance partners worth noting will soon be emerging from the soil. The mild-flavored, slick-leaf plantain, whose striated leaves have an interesting texture, are a great complement to other greens. The seeds also are used to make a roasted flour, and the whole plant is used in teas to reduce fever and support internal cleansing.

However, first prize goes to purple nettle, whose downy leaves and tiny snapdragon-esque blossoms have won my heart. With a woody, earthy flavor, it may be a “food of the future” due to its hardiness and high-antioxidant properties. It’s wonderful for bees and butterflies, and when made into a tea, it can be an excellent internal cleanser. Also, its bruised leaves can be applied to the skin to stop bleeding.

With all of this delicious nourishment and healing offered in abundance by the natural world, can life get any better? Yes. Since this taste of seasonal magic may kindle a longing to learn more about the intricate connections between humans and plants, it’s a good time to embrace the opportunities beyond the wonders of wildcrafting and see what other treasures thrive in this sacred soil. Fortunately, there are some incredible community offerings directed at nurturing the green thumb in all of us.

Sustainable Agriculture of Louisville (SAL) is launching a training program for aspiring farmers, urban agriculturalists and food-justice proponents and organizers. The seminars take place Monday evenings from 7-9 p.m. at Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church (142 Crescent Ave., www.crescenthill.org). This seven-month program will address the decision to farm, acquiring the means of production, location, housing, income and lifestyle; soil fertility stewardship; crops, animals, fish, fungi, from cattle to honey bees; direct marketing strategies; political economy and food justice; and business planning for farmers.

The training is already underway, but newcomers are welcome to stop in and audit any of the sessions for a suggested donation of $10-$15. To find out more information or to attend a class, contact SAL coordinator Stephen Bartlett at sbartlett@ag-missions.org or 896-9171, or talk with member Amanda Fuller at abfuller@gmail.com or 452-6770.

If you can’t make it to a class but want to dip your toes into the waters of local gardening, stop by the Community Garden behind Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 28, for garlic planting with SAL members. In addition to helping with the planting, you can check out the tender young sweet peas, lettuce and kale. If you think you have spring fever now, the intoxicating magic of these beauties may send you into full-blown garden ecstasy.

So whether you’re feasting on wild gifts from the forest or a carefully planned garden, remember you’re fueling the creation of your highest dreams, so savor the journey and manifest a miracle.