The Lost Words March: Dandelion
30th March 2020
When is the last time you really looked at a dandelion? Ubiquitous in urban and rural settings alike, you can find them nosily popping out of dry-stone walls, scattered amongst farmers fields and clutching onto pavements lining our town centres. There aren’t many places untouched by their resilient, yellow faces yet; they are often overlooked completely or pulled out before they take over perfectly mowed garden lawns. Take a closer look, find out a bit more about them and you might just be inclined to welcome the next one to pop up into your garden.
Robert Macfarlane’s poem, ‘The Dandelion Spell’ from his book The Lost Words ends with this sentence, perfectly mirroring my own thoughts on this little plant!
‘Never would I call you only, merely, simply, a ‘weed’
(Tick-tock, sun clock, clover and dock)
The name ‘dandelion’ is thought to come from the French name ‘dents de lions’ which means lions’ teeth. Their German name, ‘lowenzahn’ also means the same thing and this is due to the tooth like jagged leaf edges resemblance to the teeth of lions. In France, however, they are known as ‘pissenlit’, which literally translates to ‘piss in bed’ thanks to the plant having powerful diuretic properties!
Dandelions can reproduce by both cross-fertilisation and apomixis, which is plant reproduction without the need to cross fertilise. This process results in clones of the parent plant – which explains how, left unchecked, they can take over a patch of land in very little time! The yellow heads of the dandelion plant are made up of tiny yellow flowers, called florets, and it is each one of these that turns into a seed attached to a tiny parachute. Once the yellow heads appear, they last only a couple of days before closing up to reopen as puffballs, providing many a game at playtime for generation after generation of children. Who remembers ‘telling the time’ by the number of blows it took to blow all the seeds off the dandelion ‘clock’?
For centuries, the dandelion has been used in traditional Chinese medicine as the herbal remedy ‘Pu Gong Yin’, used to treat liver, stomach and lung conditions. It’s also been shown to reduce inflammation in patients who have had their tonsils removed if eaten in soups immediately after their operations. Its leaves can be used in salads raw or sautéed like spinach. Its flowers can be used to make tea. Its root can be dried, roasted and crushed to make an excellent substitute for coffee. Pound for pound, it contains more vitamin A than carrots and is rich in Vitamin C, iron and calcium. Every single part of the plant is edible, and the flowers can also be used to make wine – a fact I have very much welcomed given dandelions spring up in our garden on a daily basis and we are all now in a position to learn new skills within the confines of our home and gardens. See you next year at the village show?!
Home-made Dandelion Wine recipe
- The florets from enough complete dandelion heads to loosely fill a gallon container
- 5 litres of water
- 5kg sugar
- Zest and juice of 4 lemons
- 500g raisins, chopped or squashed by putting in a carrier bag and pounding, or 200ml of white
- grape juice concentrate
- 1 sachet of white wine yeast
- Yeast nutrient
- Boil the water and pour over the florets. Cover & leave for a couple of days, stirring occasionally
- Pour into a large saucepan then add the lemon zest
- Bring to the boil then stir in the sugar until dissolved. Continue to boil for five minutes
- Take off the heat, add the lemon juice and the crushed raisins or grape juice concentrate
- Clean your fermenting bucket thoroughly using a campden tablet, pour in the mix and cover until cool
- Add the yeast and yeast nutrient then cover
- Ferment for three or four days
- Transfer into a demijohn using a sterilised sieve and funnel. Fit a bubble trap and allow to ferment for a couple of months, then strain through muslin several times into a fresh container, leave until clear then bottle and enjoy!
By Lauren Emsley
Robert Macfarlane Twitter: @RobGMacfarlane