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.

Recipe ideas in tough times

Recipe links:

Most of these are simple easy to make and, mostly with everyday ingredients.

Students are always trying to stretch the budget, just adjust the quantities to suit the amount of people.

Budget meals, the BBC website has always been a good source of inspiration.

More budget friendly meals.

Tesco real food is another good source.

Skintdad is worth a look too.

In the digital age everyone loves an app.

I can personally recommend  “Fitmencook” , it’s a paid for app that’s always being updated and has loads of really great recipes.

Something for everyone.

Step by step with photos and some even have videos.

“Yummly recipes, is another great app.

Free app, try the “Change4Life Smart Recipes”

Towards infinity and beyond – or at least 2030!

So we are nearly at the end of February already , sustainability is still high on everyone’s agenda with the 2030 targets all over the media and politicians from around the globe preaching on how we must hit our targets . 
This got me thinking about where we are and what’s happened so far this year and quite a lot has happened so far. In the U.K. we are just getting over two damaging storms and so far in most of the country we have experienced a mild but wet winter with little snow or frost, especially down here in the south west- a sign of things to come in the following decades. Climate change isn’t going away but may be some methods of protesting or raising voices on this issue aren’t the best .
HS2 has been given the go ahead to proceed, not great for the countryside and the negative impact it will have upon it. The agriculture bill was brought into legislation , there seems to be a mixed feeling in this whereas the environment bill has just gone through parliament for the first reading without any issues . This should have a positive impact when it finally come into legislation , especially with the promotion of biodiversity net gain for developments . 
I can not  work out the global extinction lot and this week , by digging up the  lawn outside of Cambridge university they have not  done themselves any favours. So by digging up grass that absorbs carbon  What they don’t seem to realise is that the lawn will be put back in , using petrol powered equipment, possibly importing topsoil and turf therefore having a larger carbon footprint on restoration . Watching them on the news they remind me of some sort of bizarre cult that do what they are told ( couple this week with the guy that stopped the tube train last year and got beaten up by commuters etc) – and on thinking this I had a flash back to the Simpson’s episode where Homer couldn’t be converted ( ‘the leader is good, the leader is great …….!’ It seems to me that they are going do me the ‘green peace’ route of direct action protesting ….each to their own but I feel peoples opinions could shift against them . 

I have a deep interest in physics and technology and how this can be applied to protect / enhance the environment and reduce the current climate emissions problem . This week research scientists in the USA announced a protein nanowire technology that produces electricity from moisture in the air . It’s at early stages yet but could definitely  be a game changer if it can be scaled up and efficiencies proved. The research in smart materials and their use in environmental sensors and other applications is showing promise as well
Going slightly further  than the U.K., it seems that we are still interested in mining the moon and asteroids for their resources as we are exhausting the ones on the earth . This sort of reminds me of the old Wild West with prospectors staking a claim and setting up camp. NASA are interested in the moons resources especially water, Helium-3 and a range of rare earth metals . There is also interest from other countries and private concerns . If you want any positive news in this , then JPL and NASA day it will take 220 million years to deplete 1% of the moons mass – not good news as not only have we depleted the earths minerals and damaged the environment we are now quoting figures in how long it would take to deplete and other planets resources . 
The next few years are going to be interesting , will we got the targets ? If not , how far off will we be?

Will technology be scaled up and proved to be of assistance? Will we look at mining the moon?  If you go back to the physics and believe in the multi universe hypothesis , is there another version of the earth that has been through a similar situation and has sorted its self out or are there multiple earths that haven’t had such problems …. who knows but the run up to the 2030 deadline is going to be interesting and we certainly need to adapt and make changes  or , in the words of a famous Star trek Doctor – ‘it’s life Jim, but not as we know it !!’

Cardboard and Home-made Napalm.

Clearing out the Loft

Clearing out the loft is a bit of a random thing to talk to about, but there is a train of thought following my efforts.

I have lived in this old house for about twenty-five years and in that time, I have had a bit of an obsession with keeping the boxes that most things come in (the retail packaging).

Now I here you saying, why would you do this?

There is method in my madness and that’s most Electrical items you buy come with a warranty and if you read the small print carefully after you register the warranty online, or years ago by post maybe and there is usually a clause in that requiring to send off the offending item for repair in the original packaging.

Yes, that will be the same stuff that most normal people throw away the day after you buy something.

Now in fairness I think I can count on one hand the times that I have needed the packaging and had to return something for repair or replacement to the manufacturer, usually high value item such as TV’s etc.

The last time being a 42” Panasonic Plasma TV that the mainboard failed in less than twelve months old, now that was one energy sucking beast and you could almost cook on the heat given off by that bad boy.

Now that was a long time ago and also one of the reasons, I changed it was the ever-rising cost of energy and more energy efficient technological advances resulting in a much larger TV, that uses a 6th of the amount of the old Plasma did.

Anyway, I digress and back to the loft and the ever-expanding collection of boxes over such a long period of time.

Like most people I tend not to venture into the loft too much until we reached the point where the box collection was taking up far too much room and let’s face it, in twenty-five years that’s a lot of Electrical devices that had come and gone.

In fact, when I actually started to look through and throw out boxes of items that had long since gone to the Electrical graveyard or just simply been replaced with newer upgraded versions.

Now after several hours (yes there really was that many boxes), cluttering up the top of the landing , all down the staircase and spilled over into the hallway much to my wife’s disgust at the mess , it was time to break down the monster and put out for recycling.

So, the only logical way to do this was break everything down and separate into recyclable and non-recyclable and this is where from a sustainability point of view it gets interesting.

Now most things nowadays you would like to think would be packaged with the environmental impact taken into consideration, wouldn’t you?

Well the Environment was less of a hot topic over twenty years ago as it is today with plastic waste chocking our oceans, it was an eye opener breaking down boxes as to who even many years ago was way ahead of their time in terms of sustainable packaging and who even more recently definitely is sat in the naughty corner in terms on un-recyclable packaging.

On the good list and taking top marks were Dyson, as their entire box and contents was all cardboard, next on a par if not better were Vax as I noticed their inner cartons formed to the shape of the carpet cleaner was all made from formed cardboard pulp.

Same story with PURE the very early pioneers of DAB radios with again all preformed pulp cardboard pulp.

Even Apple and this has been the case for some years are way up there in terms of cardboard packaging of phones, Ipads, in fact pretty much all their product range.

Now onto the Naughty list with overuse of the planets most non environmentally friendly material “polystyrene”, yes that god awful stuff was Panasonic and Samsung (mainly TV boxes), joining them was Sony in the hall of Shame, closely followed by Brother printers and Hewlett Packard.

Now given some of those boxes were a few years, even two decades old, then some can be forgiven and one would hope that they are now promoting more sustainable packaging, but the TV Manufacturers have got a long way to go since those boxes were only two to three years old.

I was pleased that I could put out four large boxes crammed full of Cardboard and another six bags to go to recycling, but far less happy with the five black bags worth of completely non-recyclable Polystyrene that will probably go to Landfill which does make me sad.

As tempting as it was to turn it into home made napalm and sell it on the black market, that wasn’t a viable or legal option.

So, in terms of Sustainable packaging we have still got some way to go and lets hope that manufacturers and retailers can now do the planet a favour and stop using non-recyclable packaging.

Green motoring, how green are electric vehicles?

With the massive upsurge in usage and ownership of electric vehicles, just how green are they really? is a massive hot topic. Yes the car may produce 0 emissions , but if it’s plugged into the grid, then unless it’s renewable clean energy being generated is it really that green ?

There is an awful lot of argument and skepticism that is the emissions from energy generation could be just as much if not more than that of normal petrol or diesel vehicles. Well without getting debunking and quoting stats from reports, let’s look at what we do know and before we get into anything too deep.

Firstly how is the car being powered? Plugin full electric, hybrid PHEV plugin or self-charging hybrid. So let’s take Plugin full electric with no combustion engine at all and just an electric motor totally reliant on batteries, their range and recharge time.

Is the energy Green that powers it?
That depends on how the electricity is being generated and some may argue that Nuclear energy is clean energy, maybe in as much as the emissions, but not the nuclear waste produced as a bye product. Modern reactors we are told are much cleaner than the older ones. 
Wind turbines , yes green and renewable energy. 
Solar farms, yes green and renewable, but you also need to look at the manufacturing process and the expected life of solar panels. 

Biogas, energy made from food waste, green waste and often animal excrement.
Hydroelectric, probably one of the most efficient and cleanest, mainly because of the constant water flow and generation efficiency. 
Wind turbines need wind and that’s not always available all the time, depending upon location, offshore wind farms we are told are more efficent.

Biomass fuel-powered which has been used to convert the old coal-powered stations, or incinerators to generate electricity, although the amount of filtration needed on the incinerator some may argue it’s debatable if that’s a clean source of energy.

So if you plug your car into your house and you have solar panels fitted with battery storage capacity it’s pretty much a self-sufficient charging system. 
Solar panels are most efficient in the day time, so unless you work from home or your workplace has solar-paneled charging stations, then you way up efficiency.

for most of us mere mortals that don’t have access to solar, just make sure your energy supplier puts you on a “green tariff “ where all if not at least the vast majority of the energy is produced by cleaner generation through renewable energy sources.

The batteries required to run the cars are not exactly seen as environmentally friendly in the chemicals and minerals used to produce them. 
Extremely unfriendly to dismantle the end of life and disposal.

Although I understand the network of charging points is growing, I think until we see a dramatic increase in range before a recharge is required maybe self-charging is a better option. By all means if you only make short journeys buy an all-electric car, but the technology is still evolving and getting better which each newer model seeing increased range.

So are Self-charging hybrids the answer?
Self-charging hybrids are great for an awful lot of people simply because there is no need to plug them in, yes it still contains batteries, but much smaller than the full-electric cars require. It still has a petrol engine, which runs more efficiently due to using both under heavy load and increased driving speeds. For urban driving, at lower speeds, it can switch to electric.

Don’t get confused with PHEV which in all honesty is a token effort for most people if they travel a fair distance as the electric range is only on average mostly 30miles before it switches back over into petrol mode. Use both electric and petrol together for super-fast acceleration and it’s even less than a few miles. For me, I can see how company drivers are being swayed by the tax breaks on PHEV, but if a company really wants to make a difference to the environment there may be more efficient ways of reducing their carbon footprint.

So, in conclusion, I feel we have got a long way to go yet before the vast majority of people switch to full Electric vehicles and is it the heart or the mind that drives that decision.

For me personally, it makes more sense, for now anyway, to run our latest addition to the household which is a city car, with a 1.0ltr highly efficient petrol engine, stop-start technology, costs £40 to fill and achieves a whopping 70mpg. So no electric car yet for us anyway.

Balsamorhiza sagittata (Oregon sunflower / Arrowleaf balsalm root)

As mentioned in the previous blog, I am interested in plants that have a range of uses and this year one of the species I am trialling will be Balsamorhiza sagittata. Native to the western areas of the USA and Canada, it is a member of the Aster family.

In its native range it can be found in a variety of habitats ranging from desert scrub to grassland and mountain forests. It is extremely drought tolerant.

It is a perennial, hardy to zone 5 in the UK and has a long tap root which in its native range can reach 2m in length and has large hairy leaves. The yellow sunflower like flowers are 2 1/2-4 inches wide borne on stems that can range from 8 – 24 inches in length. The plant prefers a sunny aspect and will not grow in the shade


Before looking at the uses I would just like to say that this section is for information only and we take no responsibility for anyone trying any of the uses listed below – so that’s the boring bit over, lets look at the possible uses for this plant.

Pollinator plant

The flowers are recognised in its native habitat for attracting many bees


The crown of the root is said to be edible raw and the roots, when cooked have a sweet taste although there are reports of the roots being a little bitter.

To cook, they are best slow roasted. Young shoots are reported to be edible and can be cooked or eaten raw in salads and the young flowering shoots can be peeled and eaten.

The seeds can be roasted and ground into a flour for cooking with or used to make a dough that can be eaten raw. The seeds may also be ground into a coffee substitute.


Native American Indians widely used part of the plant for medicinal purposes including an infusion of the leaves and stems to treat a wide range of illnesses from stomach pain, through to fevers and headaches.  Chewing the roots and swallowing the juice is reported to ease sore throats and toothache.

Chewing the roots and putting the pulp on skin complaints and wounds. The pulp has also been used to cool and repair burns etc.


Sow the seeds in early spring in a greenhouse or inside, apparently the seeds germinate quite quickly if they are only lightly covered with compost. I’m planning to sow successional batches from the end of February into march and see how fast they do germinate here and then planning to grow on both at the allotment and in our flower beds.

Once the plants are large enough, they should be ready to plant outside, again the literature seems to agree that they will tolerate a range of light and medium soil types, which suits the ground at the allotment but soil at home is slightly on the heavy side so it will be interesting to see how they grow in the slightly heavier soil.

There are other Balsamorhiza species that have similar uses but so far, I have not been able to locate any of the seed. If anyone can point me in the direction to obtain seed of the following species, I would be most grateful.

Balsamorhiza deltoidei

Balsamorhiza hookeri

Balsamorhiza incana

Musings, ramblings and a little bit of plant lore

Can you remember as a child, someone holding a buttercup flower under your chin to see if you liked butter or blowing dandelion seed heads to tell the time or maybe to attract the person that you were attracted to?

It’s amazing what pops into my head when I’m traveling long distances on the train!

On a recent journey to Leeds from North Wales, whilst staring out of the window I started to think about my childhood and growing up in the countryside and about the plant lore my grandparents used to talk about.

The history of plants, their uses and plant lore has always fascinated me since I was a child. So much so that it has led me to interests in agroforestry, forest gardens and even a thesis on the import and conservation of medicinal plants in the UK.  On talking about this over dinner with family we began to reminisce further about plant lore and sayings and so this blog was hastily put together to record some of these stories and sayings.

One story I remember from my grandmother was about eating young Hawthorn leaves and how they were supposed to taste like bread and butter with cheese, or as she used to say “a little bit of bread and no cheese” having eaten young Hawthorn leaves, they definitely don’t taste like bread and cheese!

Another story related to my gran being chased out of her house because she had brought in the flowers from Lady’s Smock / Cuckoo flower. The reason being was that it’s a fairy flower and bad things would happen if they stayed in the house!

Going back to my own school days I fondly remember throwing clumps of cleavers not the backs of fellow pupils (or teachers!) or finding them on my own clothing. The story goes that each clump that stuck to someone was the number of boyfriends / girlfriends they had or if non stuck to you then it just got worse……

If anyone watches the Harry potter films, there is a sequence where the young mandrakes have to be potted up and start to scream – white bryony is also said to scream when removed from the ground and is sometimes called false mandrake by mistake.

To end on, a little bit more plant lore and we would be interested to hear of any sayings / plant lore / memories you have  some please comment below.

  • If you pick a speedwell flower, your mums’ eyes will fall out’
  • ‘Daisies keep fairies from your garden’ – hence the wearing of daisy chains to protect people
  • ‘Taking a foxglove onto a boat was considered bad luck’
  • ‘A droopy daffodil is a foreteller of death!’

Sustainable development goals.

Revisiting the sustainable development goals.

Following on from the previous blog  looking at the definition of sustainability  I thought that it would be useful to revisit the sustainable development goals .

The sustainable development goals (SDGs) arose from the report ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ which was adopted by all UN member states in 2015.

The SDGs for a core part of the report and comprise of 17 goals which act as a sort of ‘call to action’ for everyone .
 The SDGs are :

1. No Poverty
2. Zero hunger
3. Good health and well-being
4. Quality education
5. Gender equality
6. Clean water and sanitation
7. Affordable and clean energy
8. Decent work and economic growth
9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
10. Reduced inequalities
11. Sustainable cities and communities
12. Responsible consumption and production
13. Climate action
14. Life below water
15. Life on land
16. Peace, justice and strong institutions
17. Partnerships for the goals

Still with me….? That’s quite a list to remember, obviously climate action had been all over the media recently and life below water has attracted a lot of coverage, especially following on from ‘The  Blue Planet’ series.

Some of the others may seem more obscure in how they fit into the sustainability agenda or how individuals or small businesses can engage with them.

The SDGs can’t be seen as individual silos, independent of the others.

They should be seen as an interacting framework that work as a whole entity and need to engage as many individuals, companies and organisations as possible .

 2030 is not far away, time seems to me to be running out fast and urgent action is needed.

Over the next couple of blog posts I will look at some of the SDG’s in more depth and present some ideas on how to get involved.


Sustainability (or trying to define what it is!)

I’m often asked by friends, family and colleagues, ‘what sector do you work in?’ and my stock answer is sustainability. Over the years I have noticed that some people understand what this is, and some do not. I have also been called a tree hugger in the past, one person has said ‘oh you do green stuff then!’ and others have said ‘that’s nice’!

As sustainability is such a broad discipline, I thought I would try and give a brief definition that hopefully will lead people into further reading and research about the wide-ranging reach of sustainability.

So, what is sustainability? 

One of the more common definitions that you may come across (on numerous websites) is:

‘Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.’

Ok, so now we have our definition, but it doesn’t explain how and where sustainability fits into our everyday lives.

The three pillars!

The concept of sustainability is based generally around three ‘pillars’:

Economic  – so here we are getting into the realms of P&L, ethical businesses, politics and policy etc

Environmental – protecting the planet, conservation, reduction in energy consumption etc

Social – social value, social engagement, reducing poverty, health and wellbeing, equality etc

The three pillars are also referred to as profits, planet and people.

With me so far….. its not an easy topic to fit into a specific pigeonhole.  On top of the definition and the three pillars concept we also need to factor in people’s behaviour and beliefs, attitudes towards the environment and each other. For instance, environmentalists have a different viewpoint to ecologists who have a different stance to say an economist (more on this in later blogs!).

So hopefully this blog will have helped a little with understanding what sustainability is (or just added to the confusion!) and hopefully I will pick up some of the above concepts in other blogs but for now  I will quote a well known saying from Lloyd Lee ‘green is a trend, sustainability is a mindset’

Exciting Times Ahead

Welcome to the first blog from Organeco. It’s been a hectic and slightly traumatic three months since taking the plunge and going live with our website and finally launching the business and a process of trial and error along the way.

However we have undertaken our first bits of work as the new company, including the provision of an Ecological clerk of works to a sub contractor undertaking vegetation removal and working at Forum packaging, installing bug hotels and a pollinator friendly planting scheme.

Behind the scenes we have been frantically tweeting and increasing our social media presence on facebook and linkedin, adding pages to the website and attending networking events in London. There’s been a few minor heated discussions along the way, some near nervous breakdowns and the odd moment of quietness where we can reflect on what we have done in such as short time.

Without the support of friends, family and colleagues I doubt if we would have had the strength to get this far, but we have a strong business ethos and are looking forward to the new year to continue on this journey as we believe that sustainability is not just a box ticking exercise and is a way of thinking.

So for now we would just like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New year and we look forward to working with you in the future.