Funnily enough, or call it serendipity, I received on the same day, an email from my sister complaining about the number of dandelions swamping her Canadian garden.
This winter, there hasn't been as much snow as usual in Ontario - her garden usually looks like this -
and there is now in fact a bit of a drought with no snow-melt to swell all those rivers and lakes.
Ontario is a land of much water, a fact reflected in its beautiful Native Indian tribal place-names.I make no apologies for referring here to a poem I knew by heart as a kid, and loved to recite with its repetitive but infinitely pleasing cadences - The Story of Hiawatha by Longfellow. Here is a brief extract that plays upon the beauty of those old names:
By the shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea-Water, Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis. Dark behind it rose the forest, Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees, Rose the firs with cones upon them; Bright before it beat the water, Beat the clear and sunny water, Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.
But come what may, snow or no snow, rain or no rain, in April the hardy annual dandelions re-appear, in Canada, Cornwall, Corfu and China, and pretty much all over the world..
Dandelion - its English name comes from the French dent-de-lion, a reference to the jagged edges of its leaves.
As kids, we were always told not to pick it or we would wet the bed, and indeed its common French name is pissenlit which means just that.
To the majority of British gardeners it is a tiresome weed to be fought with nuclear weapons if necessary.
But to Greeks, it is a valuable food, there for the gathering in all the places where nutritious herbs and other plants grow wild, on sunny hillsides, in meadows, on any uncultivated land. Its bright golden head appears amidst the swathes of spring flowers, crowning a cluster of leaves and stems that are bursting with valuable nutrients.Spring is the best time to gather dandelions for eating, before the flowers appear, and indeed any other wild greens, with a re-appearance in autumn.
When I went to live at Kanoni, just outside the town of Corfu, after years of living in the town itself, I was stunned by the rich variety of plants, cultivated and wild, that burst into life in March and April each year.
To me, it was just a display of Nature's exuberant beauty, but to my mother-in-law, when she came to stay with us on a visit from Piraeus, it was a glimpse of Paradise.
Like all Greek women, she had been brought up to value the plants and herbs that grew so abundantly in the countryside. Living in a city, she had little opportunity to get out and gather these freely available foodstuffs.
In Corfu, she was almost delirious with pleasure, and together we would set out with sharp knives and bags to gather horta.
She taught me to identify many of the plants that could be eaten, as salads, steamed, sauteed or boiled, or as the filling in pies. Our expeditions were rewarding in every sense, and they brought us into a closer, warmer relationship. We found a way into an abandoned estate, where the old mansion had long ago disintegrated and been reclaimed by Nature, but where orchards and kitchen gardens had been left to their own devices and still flourished in a decadent, overblown way.
Sometimes we found ourselves searching the ruins of ancient Roman and Greek buildings, still not yet excavated - it is said that wherever you dig on the Kanoni peninsula you will strike an ancient building.
Later, when my mother-in-law was too weakened by diabetes to come with me, I used to go out alone to pick horta for her. I was always joined then by Athina, a local woman living in what could only be called poverty, in a ramshackle shed, with her cows and sheep and goats, taking them out to feast on the lush Kanoni pasture every day. Athina was amused with my amateur horta-picking knowledge and did a great deal to encourage and teach me. She was an unmarried woman, the victim of the often cruel old dowry system - no dowry, nu husband. Despite her grimy hands and battered wellies, her grey hair and drab clothing, she was beautiful and had a classic grace about her that was worthy of the goddess for whom she was named.
My mother-in-law not only ate the boiled horta, she also drank the liquid it was boiled in, believing it to be good for her. Judging by the quote from the Spydersden blog with which I am ending my own blog, she was right.
The Ancient Greeks knew the value of wild plants of all kinds, and used dandelion, which they predictably called leontodon, as a medicine for arthritis and rheumatism
When I was first married to my Greek husband, we spent a couple of years in England. I lived in a leafy suburb in Essex. as estate agents like to call such desirable habitats, and it was just a short walk from my home to the country lanes that were still not built upon. Dandelions grew there, leaves about 2 metres long it seemed to me, along with wild parsley, garlic and dill. I had learned that even the thistles had a tender heart that added its own flavour to the tangy mix of greens. I would walk home, the pushchair basket stuffed with loot, to be greeted by the neighbours with jocularity. 'You got rabbits, then,'
'No.' I would reply.' a Greek husband.'
That shut them up.
For those unwilling or unable to go horta-picking themselves, cultivated dandelions, if that is not an oxymoron, can be bought in greengrocers' shops and markets. There are several varieties, but they are all, as far as I know, called radikia.
It gives an extract from the book
Apart from my own photos, I must thank my sister Katy, Frosso and Bob of Spydersden, for the use of theirs.