I don’t always eat salads, but when I do, I eat greens from my yard. Yard salads can be some of the most beautiful and spring is a great time of year to put one together. Violets and dandelions are in full bloom right now and my yard is chock full of them. I leave my yard un-mown through late spring (I’m sure much to the chagrin of some of my neighbors), allowing for a healthy carpet of violet and gold. Violet blossoms can be made into a syrup or used as a garnish. Dandelion greens are in my opinion, the best spring greens around, best served wilted in butter or bacon fat if you have it. Dandelion wine is pretty darn good too (stay tuned for a recipe that tastes like liquid sunshine). There are many ways to eat these two species but the easiest is to throw them into a salad.
When picking greens in a yard, there are a few things to consider. One is proximity to the road. Our house sits on the corner of two streets, one being moderately traveled. Heavy metals left behind from passing cars can linger on plants near the roadside. Another concern of being near the road is dog urine. In our neighborhood there are many canine companions relieving themselves up and down the streets (our dog included). You may want to think twice before picking that beautiful dandelion growing three feet from the roadside and putting it into a salad. Between Rover and your neighbor’s Buick, there may be some unwanted seasoning. I like to forage a minimum of ten feet from busy roads, further if it is a heavily trafficked street in town. The street on our south lawn is a dead end and sees very few vehicles throughout the day. Our lawn is also uphill from the road, so runoff would not be an issue. Still, I harvest a minimum of 5 or 6 feet (the length of a typical dog leash) away from the side of the street.
Violets are easy to identify and are ubiquitous, at least in our lawn. The leaves are heart shaped, curling slightly inward at the top of the heart, with small teeth all along the margins. The Man Cub has thoroughly enjoyed learning how to identify and eat violets. He picks one, dutifully holds it out so I can see and says, “Daddy can I eat it?” After the go ahead from me, he pops it in his mouth and says, “I like the violets.” Every time.
Dandelion is equally easy to identify. The leaves are basal and more often than not, deeply toothed. If you cut a leaf and look at the cut end, you should see a milky substance oozing out. Folks who are allergic to latex should avoid consuming dandelions as this milky substance is in fact a form of latex. This sap also is what gives the dandelion its bitter qualities. To avoid leaves that are too bitter, be sure to harvest before the plant blooms. I don’t mind a little bitterness in my salads so long as it’s balanced out with other flavors.
For our salad, the Man Cub and I had a rough ratio of 50% violet greens, 30% dandelion greens, 15% bishop’s weed for a nice carrot/parsley flavor, and 15% garden sorrel, which added a nice lemony sourness to balance the bitter dandelions. A few handfuls of violet blossoms added a nice splash of color and a smattering of smoked trout rounded out our vibrant spring salad.