While dandelions are often an unwanted sight in the garden, forager John Wright explains how they’re a surprisingly versatile ingredient in the kitchen…
In its individual detail or when writ large as a field of gold, the dandelion is an exquisitely beautiful plant. But, in its familiarity and habit of infesting lawns and borders, it is a plant viewed with casual contempt and only with a pause to look with a kind eye will the dandelion be appreciated for the lovely plant it is. Kind eyes are not a luxury every gardener can entertain, so if you find yourself unearthing dandelions from your lawn, you will have the chance to enjoy its other virtue – edibility.
The first crop – the young leaves- are intensely bitter and suitable only when scattered sparsely on an otherwise bland salad. Blanched dandelion leaves, however, are more succulent and considerably less bitter. Place a black bucket upside down over a dandelion-rich patch of ground and leave for two weeks. The leaves will be long, thin, pale, and nicer to eat.
In mid-April those splendid flowers appear. Picking, and the subsequent snipping-off of the petals, must be done before 2pm as they close up for an afternoon nap. It is these that make one of the better country wines, though you need several hundred flower-heads to make a standard gallon. A vodka infusion is good – sunrise-yellow, a slight bitterness and a hint of barley sugar. Infuse the petals for two weeks, sieve and add sugar. A syrup can be made by layering petals with castor sugar in a tall jug and leaving for three days. Transfer to a saucepan, add some boiling water, heat, stir, then sieve out the petals.
Should digging up dandelions be a frequent pastime, use the roots to make dandelion coffee. Trim, scrub and dry on a windowsill, then roast for 25 mins at 200C/gas 6, or until smoke (but not flames) appears. Grind and use in the normal way. Not quite the finest Colombian blend, but it makes a great, caffeine-free latte. Dandelions do, however, possess notorious diuretic properties, so take it easy!
John’s new book The Forager’s Calendar: A Seasonal Guide to Nature’s Wild Harvests, is out March 28th