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Dandelions come full circle

Kevin Yarr
by Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca

Maybe you already know that dandelions are an alien invader species in North America, brought here centuries ago on purpose by early European settlers who coveted them as a food source. I have known this for some time, but I still get annoyed thinking about it.

But I was reminded this week how clouds have silver linings when a joint federal-provincial commission on the future of agriculture on P.E.I. released its first report. This report is a snapshot of the current state of the industry; recommendations will come later this year.

P.E.I. agriculture off-course: report

It came as no surprise to anyone paying even casual attention of the state of things that the situation is bleak.
The report did contain some interesting numbers to underline just how bad things are. The industry has not had a profitable year since 2003, and eat-local campaigns, while somewhat helpful, could at best consume only seven per cent of what is produced on this small Island.

So what does this have to do with dandelions?

While still not making recommendations, the commission did begin to suggest the industry needs to radically change direction. Little P.E.I. cannot compete on the food commodities market, so it needs to find ways to set itself apart, and suggested taking advantage of the Island's pastoral landscapes to differentiate itself in the market.

And this brings me back to dandelions, and a farmer named Raymond Loo.

pe-loo-dandelion.jpg
Loo, seen here with a specialized dandelion planter, is selling the flower's roots on the back of Anne of Green Gables (CBC)

Loo has been making connections in Japan over the last few years, working to tie together two of P.E.I.'s most successful industries: agriculture and Anne of Green Gables. He believes he may have hit on a winner with dandelions.

Loo has a contract with a Japanese company to provide about 1,400 kg of dried dandelion root, which the company will roast and grind to make a coffee-like beverage that is popular in Japan. The sale is possible because the company will be able to market the drink as coming from the land of Anne, who is an extremely popular character in Japan.

Farmer markets dandelions to Japan

P.E.I. will need a lot more creative thinking like this to turn the farming industry around, and there is no guarantee of success. The Island's hog processing plant recently closed down after a failed effort to focus on "natural" pork, as produced on pastoral P.E.I.

Owners walk away from hog plant

But no matter how you slice your french fries, it seems the days of 100,000+ acres of P.E.I. potatoes are over.

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Comments

Linda

If you do a bit more reserach you will understand why the dandelion was at one time a prized garden essential. At one time seed catalogues listed many varieties of ornamental dandelions with large flowers in reds, rusty-brown, oranges, and many different yellows. Some had huge sunflower like flowers heads.
More dandelion trivia: the French name for dandelion is pis-en-lit, wet-the-bed in English -because dandelion has been used by herbalists as a diuretic. There is real science to back up this use. We all know that the spring leaves are a tasty and extrememy nutritious salad green. Indeed, there are few green as packed with as many vitamins as the humble dandelion. For people of the 1800's -after a winter of little in the way of fresh food -the fresh green dandelion would have been a delicacy and a cure for the monotonous winter diet. They couldn't just go to the local supermarket for imported iceberg lettuce and a bottle of one-a-day vitamins, you know! Dandelions are still used today by dyers to dye wools a variety of colours using different parts of the plant. You can get green, yellow, tawny brown and magenta from the dandelion. Finally, many parts of the dandelion are edible, not just the spring leaves and the dried root. The unopened flower buds are a tasty vegetable when steamed and the creamy, blanched hearts, near the root and slightly underground are a bitter pungent nibble when freshly picked and eaten raw. You can also make a flavourful and nutritious punch-like drink with the flower heads, or let the dandelion punch ferment into dandelion wine. The entire plant is useful as food, a drug or a a dye and it's easy to see why the pioneers brought the dandelions across the ocean to Canada. I'm quite annoyed by people who consider this important heritage plant a nuisance.

Posted July 24, 2008 06:47 AM

Tanya

Toronto

Thanks for that informative comment, Linda! I'm going to keep a copy of it and show it to all of those people I know who complain about dandelions in their lawn...

Posted July 24, 2008 09:36 AM

Bryan Feir

Toronto

To Linda:

Given that the English 'dandelion' comes from the French 'dent de lion' (lion's tooth), it's kind of ironic that the French themselves no longer use that name... though apparently the Spanish and Portuguese still do.

Posted July 24, 2008 04:39 PM

Marilyn

Ottawa

Dandelions are available daily at the farmer's market in Ottawa. There is a market. One by-product we have tried is dandelion honey. It is yellowish and has a distinctive flavour. It is worth a few extra dimes! I hope Mr Loo, or a neighbour, tries this as well.
MJ

Posted September 8, 2008 06:14 AM

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From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.

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Amber Hildebrandt Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.

Andrea Chiu Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.

Tara Kimura Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.

Andree Lau Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).

Jessica Wong Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.

Kevin Yarr Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.

Elizabeth Bridge Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.

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