Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale

Dandelion leaves are a delicious addition to a salad and are used in many parts of the world. I like using them as part of a Spring pesto. They have a mild bitterness and sweetness when they are young as the dandelion plant matures and comes into flower the leaves the bitterness increases. So this is the perfect time to get outside and find the leaves to add to your food.

It’s one of the first plants of Spring and is easily identified. There are over 10,000 different species of dandelion and more being discovered a few years ago a new species was found on St Kilda. They are all edible.

Spring Pesto recipe

As with all recipes this is a guide and enjoy experimenting until you find the taste you prefer. Get creative swap and change ingredients to suit your local area and the time of year. This is a classic spring pesto that I have been making for years and it has always gone down well.

A handful of roasted nuts – I prefer to use hazelnuts as they are native to the UK.
A splash of oil – Use which ever oil you prefer I have to admit to sticking to olive oil most of the time because I like the taste and the quality it lends to the pesto
A squeeze of lemon Juice- Once common sorrel starts to grow I exchange the lemon juice for a few sorrel leaves and add a bit more oil to keep the consistency I like.
A clove of garlic – Once wild garlic appears I use a few leaves of that instead of a clove of garlic.
Dandelion leaves, Nettle leaves, Ground elder leaves adding up to about three handfuls.

Place the foraged leaves and oil into a blender or Nutri bullet and pulse. If it is dry then add more oil. Add the nuts, garlic and lemon juice and pulse again adjusting the oil as needed.
Place into a sterilised container and add a small drizzle of oil on top, this helps preserve it and place in the fridge until needed. It will last up to a month but I’m sure you will have eaten in that time and even made some more!

Please do not eat anything you cannot fully 110% identify. With the recent upsurge and interest in foraging in the last few years there have been an increase in hospitalisations and unfortunately some deaths have occurred. Please do not become one of these cases. If you are unsure ask an experienced forager for advice. I have a page on my website. www.gatheringnature.com that explains the best way to learn foraging and recommended books and websites to learn from. I’m in no way discouraging you from getting out there and learning but please exercise caution. It takes time to learn and that is part of the joy of learning about your local environment and seeing the plants through the seasons.

Dandelion is identified by it’s toothed leaf one common name for it is Dent de Lion. Lions teeth in English. The leaf is largely serrated due to the number of different species it has many different types of serration. It is found in many locations and environments throughout the UK and is often found in fields and cracks in pavements. It is less found in woods although can be seen on the edge of them.
It is harvested at different times of the year depending on which part of the plant you are wanting to use. As with all foraging it is wise to only take a small amount from each patch or plant. If we take too much we can alter the growth of the plant and the speed of that particular patch. The rule of thumb is take no more than a third of anything. This also leaves some for anyone that comes behind you looking for that plant.

Dandelion has many common names and one is Pis en Lit in French which translates as Wet the Bed. This originates from the fact that the leaves are mild diuretic and does make you pee more and reduces fluid build up in the body. Orthodox diuretics that help reduce blood pressure by reducing fluid build up also decrease the amount of potassium. Dandelion leaves contain a lot of potassium and therefore there is no need to supplement with potassium when using the leaves for as a diuretic. I do not know why we have some many French names for this plant! If you are able to enlighten us to why that is please let us know.

Bitterness is useful to digestion in that a plant that is bitter activates the vagus nerve and this in turn releases gastrin. A hormone that helps aid gastric motility. This is why many cultures have aperitives before a meal. Dandelion has this bitter principle.

Dandelion flowers can also be eaten and also make a fabulous country wine if you can leave it for 20 months to ferment.

The root has been used in the past as a coffee substitute it is roasted and actually quite good and is caffeine free. The root contains inulin. Which is a pre-biotic which helps pro-biotics work better. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels. There is a human trial being conducted in Canada that is showing positive results against leukaemia. The humble dandelion has a lot to offer. I hope you will not look at that dandelion growing in the crack in the pavement in the same way again.

Enjoy getting outdoors and discovering the plants around you.

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