This month I’ve been thinking about dandelions. April has brought with it plenty of sunshine and cheerful dandelions have popped up pretty much everywhere. I have to admire this tenacious little plant. Often dismissed as a weed, it’s a thriving ecological and medicinal powerhouse. One of the first flowers to come out in spring, its especially important as an early nectar source for hungry bees waking up from their long hibernation. So welcome this splash of yellow in your lawn and verges to kick start the year for all those beneficial insects.
The dandelion isn’t just one species – it’s actually a group of 240 or so micro-species in the genus of Taraxacum, all similar but slightly different. Have a closer look and you’ll find a lot of variation in the shape and colour of leaves, stems and flowers. But if you get too carried away looking at the differences, you may become a Taraxacologist!
It’s easy to think of the name dandelion as referring to that lovely yellow mane of petals. But it actually comes from the French dent-de-lion, meaning lion’s tooth and referring to the large, toothed edge of the leaves.
As well as being an important food source for insects, all parts of the dandelion are edible for us humans, with long-known medicinal properties. The deep roots that make it so hard to get rid of in your garden can access minerals deep in the soil and mean that the leaves are rich in minerals and beneficial plant chemicals. They can become bitter but tender young leaves can be added to salads. I allow a patch to thrive in my garden so I can forage on it all summer long.
The flowers are soothing and make a useful addition to skin products or herbal teas. And, of course, their traditional use in dandelion wine. I have made this light and delicious summer wine, but you have to remove every bit of green sepal from the petals to avoid it becoming bitter, making the whole process a bit fiddly. I find elderflower an easier bloom for winemaking.
I like to make a dandelion infused oil for use in skin products. Simply add fresh or dried flowers to some grapeseed or other base oil and leave to infuse for a couple of weeks before straining – no need to worry about removing all those green sepals when making this.
I’m impatient and have found that I can get a beautiful infused oil in just a day by repurposing my old yogurt maker that has been hiding at the back of the cupboard for years. Just pop your flowers in the oil, place it in the yogurt maker overnight and hey presto! It makes a bright yellow oil that will add cheer to your homemade balms and lotions.
Check out the other recipe ideas linked at the end of this post.
Even the roots can be dried and ground as a coffee substitute. But be aware of the dandelion’s diuretic properties – one of its common names is Pissabed! Always collect from an area without contamination from pesticides or dogs – and make sure you leave plenty for the bees 🐝
The famous herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote this rather sassy comment about the dandelion in his iconic herbal:
“This herb helps one see farther without a pair of spectacles. This is known by foreign physicians who are not so selfish as ours, but more communicative of the virtues of plants to people.”Nicholas Culpeper
You can find out more about these species and admire their fantastic root systems over on the blog.
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Dandelion salve: https://thehouseandhomestead.com/diy-dandelion-salve/
Scandinavian dandelion syrup: https://thenerdyfarmwife.com/traditional-scandinavian-dandelion-green-apple-syrup-recipe/
Dandelion wine: https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-make-dandelion-wine-1327932
Dandelion wine: https://www.homebrewtalk.com/threads/dandelion-wine.21095/