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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Wonderful Taraxacum and Snake Wine

     Taraxacum is a large genus of flowering plants which consists of species commonly known as dandelions. They are native to Eurasia and North America, but the two commonplace species worldwide were introduced from Europe and now propagate as wildflowers although when they are in your yard they are considered weeds. Fortunately there are many products to rid them from your yard though. 
     Both of the common species are edible in their entirety. They have very small flowers collected together into a composite flower head. Each single flower in a head is called a floret. In part due to their abundance along with being a generalist species, dandelions are one of the most vital early spring nectar sources for a wide host of pollinators. Many species produce seeds asexually by apomixis, where the seeds are produced without pollination, resulting in offspring that are genetically identical to the parent plant. 
     In general, the leaves are 2–10 inches long or longer, simple, lobed, and form a basal rosette above the central taproot. The flower heads are yellow to orange colored, and are open in the daytime, but closed at night. The heads sit atop a hollow stem (technically called a scape) that is usually leafless and rises 3/8ths to 4 inches or more above the leaves. Stems and leaves exude a white, milky latex when broken. The flower heads are 3/4 to 2 inches in diameter and consist entirely of ray florets. The flower heads mature into spherical seed heads called blowballs or clocks containing many single-seeded fruits called achenes. Each achene is attached to a pappus of fine hairs which enable wind-aided dispersal over long distances. 
     The dispersed seeds rapidly colonize disturbed soil, especially the common dandelion which has been introduced over much of the temperate world. After flowering is finished, the dandelion flower head dries out for a day or two. The dried petals and stamens drop off, the bracts reflex (curve backwards), and the parachute ball opens into a full sphere.
There are also false dandelions. The leaves of dandelions are smooth whereas those of false dandelions are coarsely hairy. 
     Aside from being obnoxious when they are in a lawn, dandelions are supposed to have several health benefits although these claims are currently being studied for complete validation. They are also rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and detoxifiers.
Some health benefits include: improved bone health, control of diabetes, skin care, treatment of urinary disorders, prevention of acne, treating jaundice, weight loss, cancer prevention, prevention of gall bladder disorders, cures constipation, prevents anemia and regulates blood pressure. 
     Dandelions can also be used as a vegetable and are a good source of fiber. It promotes digestion and in the past, it was used to treat scurvy because of its high levels of vitamin C. It also has healing effects on dyspepsia, infections in the stomach, intestines, and the urinary system. 
     A word of caution: dandelions can be helpful in lowering blood sugar, but for patients already taking blood-sugar modulators, this can result in hypoglycemia. Also, the milk sap of dandelions has been known to cause itchiness, irritation, or allergic reactions on the skin, and should be kept away from the eyes. Finally, there is a rare type of fiber in dandelions called inulin and some people have a predisposed sensitivity or allergy to it which can be quite severe. While adding dandelion greens to your diet in any way, start small and closely monitor your body’s response. 
     By the way, you can't kill a dandelion by pulling it. They produce strong taproots 6-18 inches deep and they can produce new plants even when cut off below the soil.
     Every part of the dandelion is edible: you can eat the leaves as greens either cooked or in salad, you can make dandelion wine, fry the flowers into fritters, make coffee and tea drinks out of the stem and seeds and more.

     Now while on the subject wine, did you know you can make snake wine? It's true. Snake wine is an alcoholic beverage produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol. The drink was first recorded to have been consumed in China around 1040–770 BC and is considered an important curative and believed to reinvigorate a person according to Traditional Chinese medicine. It can be found in China, Goa (India), Vietnam, and throughout Southeast Asia. 
     The first thing you have to do is get yourself a snake, preferably a venomous one. That's because to have their "essence" the snake venom has to be dissolved in the liquor. The snake venom poses no threat to the drinker because it is denatured by the ethanol, its proteins being inactivated by the alcohol although stomach acid does the same thing. 
     Once you have your snake, you are ready to make one of two types of snake wine depending on whether you want to use just parts of a live snake or the entire snake itself. 
Steeped: A whole venomous snake is placed into a glass jar of rice wine or grain alcohol, sometimes along with smaller snakes and medicinal herbs and left to steep for many months. The wine is drunk as a restorative in small shots or cups.
You insert the snakes into the container while they are still alive and drown them. Or, if you are feeling humane, stun it by placing it on ice then gut it, sew it back up. You have to be careful with the later method though because the snake will likely waken and thrash around, before curling into an aggressive striking pose and dying. Gutting is sometimes preferred because the removal of the snake's innards can noticeably reduce the pungent smell of the finished wine.  Putting them in the alcohol live  has an aesthetic advantage because the snakes often die in a coiled position which some people find attractive. 
Mixed: The fresh body fluids of the snake are mixed directly into prepared alcohol and consumed immediately in the form of a shot. Snake blood wine is prepared by slicing a snake along its belly and draining its blood directly into the drinking vessel filled with rice wine or grain alcohol.  
     If you're curious you can watch a snake being stuffed into the alcohol jar HERE.

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