Edmonton Has a Root Beer Deficiency
In June 2016, the City of Edmonton enacted an Herbicide Ban with the aim to “eliminate non-essential uses of herbicides on city-owned land.” It’s been a year since, and despite the fact that some people are losing their shit, I’m proud of the City for sticking with their decision – going so far as piloting a herd of goats in one city park. But what if an Edmonton Root Beer scene could bring it to the next level?
Now, I’ll admit I’ve noticed an increase in dandelions in City parks, though, as an urban beekeeper, I’m not in the least bit bothered. I like dandelions; they are beautiful to look at, good at breaking up poor and hardpan soils, and edible.
There’s an idea in permaculture design that the problem is the solution. Permaculture pioneer Geoff Lawton famously said “You don’t have a grasshopper problem, you have a turkey deficiency.” In otherworlds, many problems contain the seed of their solution. Rather than fighting against the issue, mean into it.
Young dandelion leaves make a lovely salad-green, and steeped petals make tea and wine. But let’s turn our attention to the root cause of the issue – the roots. Dandelion roots can be roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute or used as a key ingredient of rood beer. So, what if we don’t have a dandelion problem? What if what we’re suffering from is a root beer deficiency?
Drinking Away Our Problems
Burdock (Arctium lappa, Arctium minus)
Dandelion roots can be used alongside another noxious weed that’s taken up residence in Edmonton – burdock.
Locally, burdock is abundant in the River Valley and many of the older neighbourhoods including Old Strathcona, Riverdale, Rossdale, Boyle, and McCauley. Unlike dandelions, Burdock is on the Alberta Noxious Weed List and can get you a bylaw ticket if you have it in your yard.
If you’re not familiar with burdock, it’s a large biennial plant with heart-shaped leaves and purple/pink flower clusters that turn into hooked bracts (burs) when mature (the inspiration for velcro). Like dandelion, burdock has an extensive list of culinary uses. You ca even buy it at many Asian grocery store under the name “gobo root.”
From the City of Edmonton’s website:
Great burdock originates from the temperate regions in Europe. In the Middle Ages, it was favoured as a vegetable and the roots are still commonly used in Asian cooking. It can also be found in a variety of herbal supplements.
Edmonton Root Beer – Dandelion and Burdock
Dandelion and Burdock Beer is thought to have originated in Britain in the middle ages and is made by fermenting a tea made by boiling the roots of both plants. The flavour is “mildly bitter and aromatic. You can buy a non-alcoholic version at some local grocery stores, but we’re going to make the real deal.
The clip and recipe below are from RiverCottage.net, though I encourage your to to experiment. A Google search with yield various iterations on the original recipe; here’s one that also uses nettle, another local noxious weed.
Let me know if you make a batch! I’d love to hear how it turned out. There’s a lot of exploration to be had. How might dandelion and burdock integrate into a traditional brew? I’d love to see a local brew-pub make a batch – Situation Brewing’s daily cask comes to mind. How about a distilled version? Strathcona Spirits make a mean gin that already features “rogue-picked Seaberry (Seabuckthorn) from the streets of Edmonton” – is rogue-picked dandelion and burdock out of the question? An Edmonton root beer scene could be amazing! What authentic Edmonton ingredient or twist would you put on it?
Weeds in the Food Forest
All this begs the question, are dandelions and burdock really weeds, or are they underrated cold-hardy food forest plants?
A Basic Edmonton Root Beer Recipe
Dandelion and Burdock Beer Recipe from RiverCottage.net
Scrub and finely slice the burdock and dandelion roots.
Put them in a large pan, pour on 2.5 litres boiling water and add the carragheen.
Boil for half an hour; experience the aroma of an unpromising vegetable stew.
Take off the heat, add 2 litres cold water, the sugar, treacle and lemon juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Strain the liquid into a clean fermenting bucket, cover and leave to cool.
When your brew reaches room temperature, pitch the yeast.
Cover and leave to ferment for up to a week, until the specific gravity is down to 1010.
If you want to be safe, carefully siphon into strong swing-top bottles at this point.
The flavour of dandelion and burdock seems to follow a bell curve of: too sweet, horrible, really rather nice, horrible, poisonous – with the ‘quite nice’ occurring at the 3–4 week point and extendable by keeping it in the fridge.
The flavour is mildly bitter and pleasantly aromatic.–River Cottage