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  • Writer's pictureElle

D is for Dandelions

Updated: May 3, 2023

When we first moved into our house, I could count on one hand the number of dandelions in the garden. At first, I made a few naïve attempts to cut them back or dig them out, though this only seemed to help them multiply.

These days we are overrun with dandelions.They brighten the lawn, emerge from between the bricks of the garden path, and even manage to squeeze through the cracks in the patio.Only the raised beds are sacred, and so we try our best to uproot any dandelions we find lurking among our vegetables, though this is no mean feat: dandelion roots are notoriously difficult to dig-up, and I must confess that I often simply remove the flowers and the leaves.

Just Weeds?

A quick search for “dandelions” into Google and it won’t be long before you find an increasing number of webpages offering advice (and a bewildering array of chemicals) for removing these ‘weeds’ from your perfect lawn: dandelions are apparently a sign of a lazy gardener. Equally, you will also find a large number of websites urging you to see them as more than just a weed, highlighting their impressive health benefits, and their importance to pollinators.

The dandelion is – it seems – a contentious flower.

Dandelions belong to the huge Asteraceae family, which also includes daisies, marigolds, chamomiles, thistles and sunflowers, though its closest relatives include both chicory and salsify, as well as a range of bewilderingly similar Hawkweeds, Hawk's-beards and Hawkbits.

For many of us, the golden-petalled dandelion is synonymous with childhood summers’ days. They flower between spring and late-summer, their lion-like manes growing from small buds, before transforming into ghost-like dandelion ‘clocks’ later in the season: using them to ‘tell the time’ was the essential pastime for anyone under the age of 7 (and secretly still is for me today).

Dandelions as Food

Dandelions aren’t just beautiful; they are also edible. I must confess, though, that my forays into dandelion cooking have – until recently – been rather limited. My first experimentation was to add smaller leaves to salads, which I ate as part of a lunch with canned tuna and homemade balsamic vinegar. I have also used larger leaves more like spinach, as well as adding them to a soup base mostly made from potato and leek.

More recently, however, with rising prices and a scarcity of quality greens in the supermarkets, I have started looking again at the free food that is growing on our doorstop. What better way to keep those dandelions in check than to eat them? They are easy to identify, and the whole plant is edible, so nothing needs ever go to waste.

According to Adele Nozedar in The Hedgerow Handbook (a wonderful book, which I highly recommend), the different parts of the dandelion can all be used for a variety of culinary purposes. Roots can be ground into coffee (more on this later), young buds can be added to pasta dishes, the flowers added to salads. Leaves can be used for tea, or, as I mentioned above, for salads when young, wilted like spinach when they get larger. Apparently, they are delicious “cooked down with garlic and a squeeze of lemon”.

For a while now, I have had my eye on the flower syrup recipe in the Hedgerow River Cottage Handbook (another excellent book for both foraging and cooking): the photograph of this recipe – layers of plucked golden dandelion petals sandwiched with a frothy white surgery syrup – is enough to tempt me. Dandelion-and-burdock cordial is essential in the summer, though I have only enjoyed this shop-bought, and have not made my own.

Sam and I recently treated ourselves to some dandelion coffee from a specialist shop here in Bury St Edmunds (which has sadly closed since). The root is dried, broken into small chunks, and then roasted, ready to grind at home and prepare in much the same way as regular coffee (we used a cafetière). We added a dash of milk and a drop or two of agave nectar (it can be quite bitter) and enjoyed it in our favourite coffee cups. The overall result is remarkably similar to coffee, though obviously decaffeinated, and with a rather earthier aftertaste.

cup of dandelion coffee on a table, next to some dandelions

If you want to give dandelion coffee a try (and we recommend you do) it is more easily found in health food shops, since dandelion root is good for your health, known to reduce cholesterol level, improve digestion and decrease the risk of heart disease. So, while it may not offer the same richness and energy as coffee, its health benefits make it worth considering!

Should you wish to make dandelion coffee completely from scratch yourself, Hedgerow River Cottage Handbook has a recipe for that too, so you can tidy your lawn and maintain good health all in one go!


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