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Friday, July 11, 2014

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Dandelions: From Domestic Difficulty to Divine Delicacy


dandelion fieldDandelions are the scourge of the modern landscape. In their quest to take over your lush green lawn, those cunning weeds have evolved sunny flowers and delicate puffballs that are irresistible to human children. Before you know it, your landscape is pockmarked with yellow blooms, gangly dandelion clocks and spiky weeds. You’re on your hands and knees in your yard trying to uproot them with dandelion forks, but for each dandelion plant you uproot, three more emerge.

What you may not know about those troublesome dandelions is that their flowers, leaves and roots are great sources of nutrition. For example, both ancient and modern health practitioners have speculated about possible health benefits of dandelion root tea. They’ve used the tea for supporting gastrointestinal health and to eliminate water weight.  In addition to brewing dandelion root tea, people also enjoy dandelion greens and petals in a variety of dishes. Take a look at a few ways to transform this garden pest into a gastronomical delight.

Dandelion Root Tea
dandelion root teaBefore making your own dandelion root tea, consider trying commercially prepared tea from a trusted resource. The tea may have a slight laxative effect, so you should drink it at night to avoid potential problems during the workday. If you like commercially prepared tea and you want to make your own, try this easy method from Laurie Neverman of “Common Sense Homesteading“:

  1. Assemble your ingredients. You’ll need an ounce of fresh dandelion root, or one-half ounce of dried dandelion root, per pint of hot water. Neverman suggests adding an equal part of burdock root to help the body detoxify.
  2. Pour the water into a non-reactive teakettle or saucepan. Avoid aluminum kettles, which may react with the root and affect the flavor.
  3. Add the dandelion root. Make sure not to chop or cut the root until just before you add it to the water. Waiting keeps vital nutrients from being lost before you make your tea.
  4. Bring the water and root to a simmer. Simmer the tea until it’s lost about one-fourth of its original volume.
  5. Strain the tea. Place a mesh strainer or a couple of layers of cheesecloth over the open top of serving teapot. Pour the tea from the kettle into the pot, and discard the spent dandelion roots.
  6. Serve the tea. You can store dandelion root tea for a short time in the refrigerator, but you should discard unused tea after three days.

Delicious Dandelion Eats
dandelion greensDandelion leaves and petals can be transformed into dinnertime delights. For example, Langdon Cook, author of the “Fat of the Land” blog and several books, suggests making dandelion tempura from flower heads:

  1. Heat the oil. Start by heating some vegetable oil until it’s bubbling.
  2. Mix the batter. While the oil heats, mix three-fourths cups of flour and one-fourth cup of corn starch in a small bowl. In a second bowl, combine a lightly beaten egg with one-half cup of ice-cold water. Then, combine the dry and wet ingredients, adding a bit of extra cold water if needed to give the batter a runny texture.
  3. Batter and fry the dandelion flowers. Roll rinsed dandelion flower heads in the runny batter, shake off the excess and drop the flowers into the hot oil. Remove them from the oil when they’re golden brown, and serve them with other lightly battered and fried vegetables such as zucchini and bell pepper.

You can also pick dandelion leaves, rinse them well and wilt them in a sauté pan. Heat the pan and briefly fry some bacon or pancetta until the fat renders out. Scoop out the meat and set it aside. Sauté the greens in the residual fat until they wilt. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper, add the meat back in and serve them in a bowl for a light summertime meal. Alternatively, add the wilted greens to soups or stir-fry dishes.

A Few Tips
Feel free to pick dandelions from your yard or gather them elsewhere, but avoid places where landscapers have sprayed weed killer. For example, never forage for dandelions near train tracks, interstate highways or telephone poles. Also, check the rules before foraging for dandelions in public parks. By following a few simple tips, you can transform dandelions from annoying weeds to fabulous food.

Dandelion field image by Vince Alongi on Flickr.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Big Food Companies Fighting GMO Labeling


green shopping cartThe battle over GMO labeling is just getting started. Everyone deserves to be able to make an informed choice on whether or not they want to ingest genetically modified organisms (GMOs). If you care about what’s in the food you and your family eat you should really be monitoring and supporting GMO labeling initiatives. Genetically modified crops and plants can contain herbicides, pesticides, PCB’s and all manner of potentially harmful toxins and chemicals that can have an adverse effect on not only those that consume them, but on the environment and other creatures, like honey bees.

Several states, like California (ironically) and Washington have seen big agribusiness lobbyists and their ad campaigns convince voters to act against their own self interest by voting to kill GMO labeling legislation. In New England, Connecticut and Maine have passed GMO labeling laws that will take effect if enough neighboring states join them, as the free thinkers in Vermont recently did.

Giant trade organizations like the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) are also involved in efforts to squash GMO labeling and are planning to sue Vermont to overturn the state’s new GMO labeling law. GMA is also lobbying Congress in support of legislation that would overturn every state’s right to enact a GMO labeling law, while also legalizing the practice of labeling GMO foods “natural”. The mega-food companies are also buying up smaller organic food companies like Naked Juice, Cascadian Farms, Kashi, Honest Tea, Muir Glen, Odwalla, Kashi, Earthgrains, Santa Cruz and Green Mountain Coffee who are now contributing to the bottom line of the pro-GMO family.

usda organic non/gmo

Here’s a list of just some of the big processed food, biotech and agribusiness companies spending millions of dollars opposing GMO labeling in any form. Monsanto alone spent almost $5 million killing the Washington State GMO labeling legislation. Educated, conscious consumers should be taking these companies off their shopping lists and considering boycotting the companies that market and create food products laden with GMO’s. Agribusiness’s efforts to kill GMO labeling laws is an attack on our freedom of choice and consumer access to product information. Here are some of the big GMO backers :

The big anti-GMO labeling cash supporters:

  • Monsanto
  • DuPont
  • PepsiCo Inc.
  • Coca-Cola
  • Nestle USA
  • General Mills

The rest:

  • BASF Plant Science
  • Bayer CropScience
  • Campbell Soup Co.
  • Cargill and Co.
  • ConAgra Foods
  • Del Monte
  • Dole
  • Dow Agrosciences
  • Godiva
  • Hershey Company
  • Hormel Foods
  • Kellogg Co.
  • Kraft
  • Land O’ Lakes
  • Ocean Spray Cranberries
  • Sara Lee (Bimbo Bakeries)

Bottom line – consumers should be able to plainly see on a product’s label if it contains GMO ingredients – it’s called freedom of choice. For more info on the non-GMO movement and to find non-GMO verified food choices, visit the non-profit Non-GMO Project. You can also join the movement to boycott brands that oppose GMO labeling by visiting theboycottlist.org.

Remember, buying certified organic products is also a way to avoid ingesting GMO’s.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

honey bees aren’t the only ones stung by neonicotinoids


honey beeIt’s estimated that a full quarter of the food Americans consumes relies on pollination. Honey bees add more than 15 billion dollars in value to US agricultural crops, according to the White House and the EPA. Yet, here in the US, we continue to spray and insert harmful pesticides, primarily neonicotinoids, on and into, many of our crops and plants. Europe – which is usually ahead of the US on most green issues, including: plastic bags, recycling and food protections, has banned the pesticide.

The EU’s ban has drawn the usual scaremongering by the big agricultural establishment, who have taken the position that restrictions on the use of some pesticides and herbicides will make European farmers non-competitive with foreign competitors, just when they need to be increasing production to feed a growing world population. Nice try guys, but the oil industry model – economics always trumps the environment – is not going to work this time. Destroying the honey bee and pollinator population will have a far greater negative impact (we could lose 50% to 75% of our fruit and veggie production) than losses to pests and insect damage.

Additionally, if something has a negative impact on bees and little critters (birds may also be impacted), what is the potential for negative impact on humans, given long term high dosage exposure to chemicals like neonicotinoids? The chemical penetrates the leaves and is taken up by the plant’s vascular system, turning the plant poisonous to insects eating the leaves, pollen and nectar and if the plant’s seeds are soaked, or the soil is treated with the chemical, with the same result. (more…)

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

planning an eco-friendly cookout


backyard party

It’s that time again, time to hang in the yard or on the patio and start entertaining. We thought we’d provide a few simple tips for making your next cookout a little greener. Here goes:

Decor
Keep it simple and upbeat. Make sure all your table cloths, napkins and decorating accessories are re-usable and/or repurposed. Backyard, patio or deck should be kid-friendly (remove sharp angled decorative items) and feature living plants if possible. Clean out those flower beds and trim grassy areas to provide an inviting environment.

If it’s an evening event string up some energy efficient LED bulbs or solar lights. Avoid those stinky, polluting tiki torches. Fore extra ambiance you can enhance your pool area with solar-charged lighting accessories if that soiree continues after dark.

Grilling
Choose gas, not charcoal – a gas grill will cook foods more evenly and doesn’t require toxic lighter fluid or chemicals to get started. A gas grill burns cleaner and gives off far fewer emissions than a charcoal grill. People rave about the flavor imparted to food (more…)

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How to Avoid GMOs in Your Diet


usda organic non/gmo

Genetically modified organisms are commonly found in our fresh produce and processed foods and therefore easily within our reach in almost every food retail store in the United States. No matter how big or small the location is, whether you are buying a quick snack or dinner for the family, chances are the foods you are purchasing contain some form of a genetically modified organism. With rising concerns about GMOs, consumers are looking for ways to avoid genetically modified food products. This post is my version of a Consumers Guide on How to Avoid GMO Foods and keep your diet all natural.

  • First, the easiest way to avoid GM foods in your diet is to buy organic products. USDA organic products cannot include GMOs. Any product that is organic will have the USDA Organic seal located right on the packaging. Organic foods are GMO-free as well as pesticide, herbicide and fungicide free. The USDA organic seal is the best way to avoid GMO foods, if you see the seal then that product is GMO free. (Currently, food products that contain 95-100% certified organic ingredients can receive the USDA Organic seal of approval.)
  • Another way to stay GMO free is to look for the Non-GMO Project seal. The Non-GMO Project is a third party that will independently verify whether or not a product contains GM ingredients. This project is central to a non-profit organization that is committed to GMO labeling and providing consumers with the education to make informed decisions when purchasing food.
  • Avoid common genetically modified crops in the ingredients of the products you buy. The six most common GM crops are: corn, soy, squash, canola, alfalfa, and sugar beets. If you really want to avoid GMOs in your diet, avoid these crops unless they are certified organic or certified non GMO.
  • Sometimes you just want to enjoy a guilty pleasure, that you know is not healthy. Here are some products that will satisfy your craving while (more…)
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