Dandelions divide us. Some see them as obnoxious weeds. And some see them as biodiversity indicators that provide nectar and pollen for pollinators, especially when little else is flowering.
But there is a third option. One all of us might embrace if only we knew more about it. I’m thinking about dandelions for food and drink!
Centuries ago dandelions were commonly eaten as an early spring green. They were part of the wild salad mix most of us would have eaten. And whilst we might consider them a little bitter for today’s taste buds, that have been raised to eat sweeter foods, in those days no one questioned the taste. They were free food you could pick in your garden, in the local hedges or on the commons where our livestock grazed.
But not only could they be eaten, they made wonderful drinks. Dandelions were made into liqueurs, wines, syrups and meads. Dandelion honey was more common than today and the root was dried and turned into a coffee substitute. Maybe not a true substitute as we had no coffee. And dandelion was brewed and drunk long before coffee first appeared in Europe. The first UK coffee shop precedes Starbucks by more than three centuries. It was opened in St Michael’s Alley in Cornhill, London in 1652.
The nation that has really embraced dandelions for eating is France, where it’s possible to buy named varieties and species of dandelions from seed companies and buy leaves in the market. Ditto in French speaking Canada, where I found not only seed, but dandelion and apple juice plus a range of tisanes and powdered dandelion root.
Latin lovers will love the names of some of the species and varieties in my dandelion seed shopping list
Taraxacum officinale ‘Lion’s Tooth’: This is a common variety with deeply toothed leaves, resembling a lion’s tooth, which is how it got its name. The leaves are edible and often used in salads.
Taraxacum erythrospermum ‘Red-Seeded Dandelion’: As the name suggests, this variety is known for its red-tinted seeds, adding a unique visual element to the typical dandelion appearance.
Taraxacum albidum ‘White Dandelion’: This dandelion variety stands out with its white flowers, offering a striking contrast to the more common yellow-flowered dandelions.
Taraxacum palustre ‘Marsh Dandelion’: Found in wetter habitats like marshes and wet meadows, this variety is adapted to thrive in damp conditions.
Taraxacum laevigatum ‘Smooth Dandelion’: Characterised by smooth, hairless leaves, this variety produces red-tinted seeds, contributing to its distinctive appearance.
Taraxacum pseudoroseum ‘False Rose Dandelion’: This variety is known for its pale pink to rose-coloured flowers, resembling a miniature rose. It adds a touch of elegance to the dandelion family.
Taraxacum obovatum ‘Obovate-Leaf Dandelion’: The leaves of this variety are broader at the tip, giving them an obovate shape. It’s an interesting variation in leaf morphology.
Taraxacum leucanthum ‘White-Flowered Dandelion’: As the name suggests, this variety bears white flowers, distinguishing it from the more typical yellow-flowered dandelions.
Taraxacum stellatum ‘Starry Dandelion’: Recognised by its star-like arrangement of outer florets on the flower head, this variety showcases a unique floral pattern.
And if you want to stretch your imagination beyond our normal cuisine consider dandelion fritters, pakora or tempura.
The wonderful thing about dandelions is that many parts of the plant are edible. Even the flower stems can be eaten and I’ve an unusual recipe for lacto-fermented dandelion stems if anyone wants it.
In french dandelions are called pissenlit which refers to its diuretic properties. And the french version of wikipedia explains how they are also very rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C.
And for the time conscious gardener the great thing about dandelions is that they are a perennial. Plus they are a cut and come again type plant, that rewards us the more we harvest them. So no more having to sow seed every year, or run out of salads.
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