The (not so) humble Dandelion

I love dandelions, no matter what people say about them being a problem ‘weed’ in lawns etc. I also dislike the term ‘weed’, in my eyes a ‘weed’ is just a wildflower in the wrong place. They also are a strong memory from my childhood; blowing the seed heads to tell the time or to try and get into the mind of a loved one. The memory of being told that if you get the juice on your skin you would wet the bed, this may stem from the French who called the plant ‘pis-en-lit’. In fact, dandelions are well known in herbal medicine as a diuretic, so eating many leaves in a salad before you got to bed may lead to you ‘pis-en-lit’ the bed!

Dandelions stretch way back into history and were known to the Egyptians, Romans and other cultures such as the Persians. In fact, around 900AD the Persians knew the plant as tarashquq, though a hundred years later it was known as Taraxcum. Most people are more familiar with the term Dents de lion (teeth of the lion), again from the French and referring to the leaves.

Native to Europe and Asia and now naturalised in most other parts of the world, it is a member of the Asteraceae family. They prefer growing in full sunlight or partial shade and can be seen in most habitats except those of the polar regions and in dry deserts.

In the UK there are over 230 species of dandelion, most of which require a degree of expertise to tell apart from each other. Despite people wanting them removed from their lawns, dandelions have a number of uses – the leaves and flowers can be eaten in salads; a tea can be made from the flowers and leaves; roots can be dried and used as a coffee substitute; the flowers can be used to make dandelion wine ( highly recommend this!) and the flowers can also be used to make dandelion jelly and even dandelion honey . Finally, the flowers attract a wide range of pollinators and other insects, providing a source of pollen and nectar from early spring.

Going back to dandelion honey, it is not a true honey in the sense of being produced by honey bees but is an interesting alternative that tastes like honey but is slightly runnier but can be used in the same way as traditional honey. A very simple recipe for ‘dandelion honey’ (we do not take any responsibility for people trying this at home, please undertake your own research first) is :

  • Boil and simmer dandelion petals, having removed any green parts, with water and lemon juice / slices
  • Steep the liquid for a few hours then strain the juice off
  • Stir in granulated sugar and simmer until it thickens up
  • Leave in the fridge overnight

Because of the high sugar content this ‘honey’ is quick to crystallise and will give a slight crunch to food. The one downside to dandelion honey is that it can have a slightly bitter after taste, though I really like it when spread on toast! So next time you look out across the lawn and before you dig out the lawn mower, maybe think about collecting a few flowers or leaves for your salad or leave a small area that’s difficult to mow as a food source for wildlife  and maybe, just maybe after reading this you may now see a different side to the not so humble dandelion.

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