Did you know that the dandelion is not a native plant? They were brought here by early European colonists as an herbal plant and escaped to live happily ever after. Lawns lit up with gold splashes are so pretty after a long winter how could people hate them? Its likely more people would tolerate dandelions “naturalized” in the lawn if they didn’t turn into those white fluff balls of seed.
The bees appreciate dandelions too. They are an important source of nectar and pollen in early spring, and get bee colonies off to a good start. Birds like the seeds of dandelions even though they are small. Some farm animals don’t care for dandelion foliage as it’s rather bitter and the plants are often left to flower in pastures to the delight of the bees.
Dandelions are interesting plants. The leaves are grooved and arranged to funnel water to the roots and the root itself is a long sturdy taproot capable of storing water so the plant survives drought well. The dandelion begins flowering when the day length is slightly below 12 hours, stops flowering when the day gets to its longest point and then begins flowering again in autumn when the day length is about 12 hours again.
Dandelion flowers are actually masses of small flowers bundled together and these flowers do not need pollination to set seed, although they appreciate and reward bees for helping with pollination. Dandelion flowers close at night and when rain is coming. The dandelion seed floats away on a tuff of fluff to start new colonies. Dandelions are perennial and if you dig down beneath the snow you can find the leaves still green in winter.
Herbal and edible uses of dandelions
All parts of the dandelion are used in herbal remedies or for food. Young dandelion leaves are used for salads and are grown commercially for that purpose to include in “green mixes.” The buds of dandelions and even open flowers can be used in salads also. The young greens are cooked like spinach, although they are best mixed with other greens as they are bitter when cooked. The flowers of dandelions can be breaded and fried.
Dried dandelion leaves are used as a tea to aid digestion. Dried dandelion leaves, dried nettles and yellow dock are turned into an herbal beer once popular in Canada. The leaves are high in calcium, boron, and silicone and modern herbals suggest them to aid in treating osteoporosis. Dandelion flowers contain high levels of lecithin and choline, two substances modern herbalists use for treating Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders
Dandelion flowers are used to make dandelion wine. (Recipe below).
Dandelion roots are dried and ground and used in a number of medicinal ways. They are a mild diuretic and laxative and are said to help the liver. The dried roots are also used as a coffee substitute. The chopped, boiled and mashed roots are an old remedy for sore breasts and mastitis.
When you pick a dandelion flower the stem leaks a milky sap. That sap is an old remedy for warts and other skin conditions. And that sap can be turned into rubber too. In Germany a manufacturing facility began large scale production of rubber from dandelions a few years ago. They hope to have dandelion rubber tires on the commercial market soon. Besides tires the rubber will be used in many other applications that traditional rubber and latex are used for, such as latex gloves.
As you can see a lawn full of dandelions is like a giant herb and vegetable garden rolled into one! Of course when you pick dandelion parts for eating and herbal use pick them from areas that have not been sprayed with pesticides. Why would anyone want to pollute their lawn with weed killers to get rid of this valuable plant? Don’t hate this valuable and useful plant-think of it kindly and let some live.
Here are some other great things to do with dandelions.
This jelly is sweet and mild in flavor. It won’t be bright yellow though, unless you add a few drops of food coloring. For the best jelly the calyx, the green area on the back of the flower needs to be removed. Do this quickly with kitchen shears or pinch off the green area with your fingers. The petals will then be loose. This will make about 2 pints or 4 half pints.
1 qt. flowers, calyx removed
4 ½ cups sugar
1 ¾ oz. powdered pectin
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 qt. water
Food coloring if desired
Boil the flowers in water for 3 minutes, and then strain off 3 cups of fluid and place in a pot.
Add pectin and the lemon to the fluid you saved. Bring to a boil.
Add the sugar to the boiling fluid and stir to dissolve.
Boil 3 minutes, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens – or jelly stage.
Pour into hot, clean jars and seal.
My grandfather would make wine out of about anything. This wine recipe is a folksy one; there are more professional recipes for dandelion wine too. I kind of think it’s more citrus wine because of the fruit you use, but still it’s a good use for all those dandelion flowers. It’s a fun thing to try and may keep your significant other from trying to poison off all the pretty dandelions.
You’ll need a two gallon or larger crock or glass jar. Do not use metal or plastic that’s not food grade. Heavy food grade plastic buckets could be used. You’ll also need a strainer and some cheese cloth or some clean old nylon stockings.
Pick one gallon of open dandelion flowers, packed. This is a good family experience. It’s best to pick them early in the morning when they have just opened. Of course only collect dandelions from places where you know they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides.
Now sit there and remove all the green parts from the back of the dandelion flowers and save the petals. My grandfather just used whole flowers, but modern wine makers say that leaving the green parts makes the wine bitter and interferes with fermentation.
Put the flower petals in your two gallon container and pour boiling water over them until they are completely covered, about 1 ½ gallons water. Cover your container with cheesecloth or the nylons and let it sit at room temperature for three days.
Put a strainer over a big pot. Pour the fluid through the strainer. Squeeze and mash the flowers against the strainer to extract as much fluid as possible. Discard the mashed flowers.
Clean your crock or jar with hot water and soap and set aside. You’ll need it soon.
To your big pot of fluid add a 3 lb. bag of sugar. (7 cups)
Chop 4 lemons and 4 oranges up into small pieces, rind and all, and add them to the pot.
Boil the fluid in the pot for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, make sure sugar dissolves.
Cool the fluid to lukewarm and add a package of wine or brewers yeast or if you can’t find that, two packages of bread yeast, or about 2 tablespoons of yeast. Stir gently.
Pour into the cleaned crock or jar and cover the top with cheesecloth or nylons. Set the crock or jar in a dark area with an ideal temperature of around 70 degrees. Too cool or too warm conditions don’t allow good fermentation.
The mixture in the crock should bubble and smell yeasty. It’s normal for a scum layer to form on the top, leave it alone. If the mixture doesn’t bubble it isn’t fermenting. In about three weeks, when the mixture stops bubbling, the wine should be ready to bottle.
Pour the wine through cheesecloth or coffee filters to strain off solids. Discard solids. You can taste it now but it’s better to let it age a few months. Pour it into clean bottles or jars and cover with a balloon over the top. This allows some fermentation to occur without breaking the bottle. After a month or so you can cork the bottle/ cap the jar. Keep them in a dark, cool place. You’ll get about a gallon of white wine from this. Folk lore says it should be opened on winter solstice.