Dandelions: A new perspective

Forage & Folklore, who host guided nature walks in Suffolk, explain to us why we shouldn’t discount dandelions!

One aspect of our tours that we enjoy most is when we come across a plant that most folks have seen countless times before and never would think twice about, but when we stop and look more closely, we are able to show them how amazing these plants surprisingly can be. There are all kinds of different plants on our tours that exemplify this, but one that we find especially impactful on changing our perception of seemingly “insignificant” local flora is the ever-abundant dandelion. Especially with spring now upon us as the equinox has just passed this weekend, most of us will be out preparing our gardens, flowerbeds and allotments for the warmer days ahead. As we do so, we have a fantastic opportunity to try our hand at a bit of foraging and really reconnect with the land as we reflect on our relationship with nature and our place within it.

Dandelions are fantastic plant to introduce you to the world of forging throughout the spring and summer months. They are instantly recognizable, they grow in abundance, and they have a wide range of amazing uses. From the leaves to the roots and flowers, all parts of the plant can be used. The simplest of course being the leaves, which can be eaten raw or wilted like spinach. In fact, many mammals enjoy eating dandelion leaves such as rabbits and guinea pigs, and I can remember as a child my mother always out collecting the dandelion leaves for our pets. Be warned however, the leaves can be quite bitter so they may not be to everyone’s taste! The flower heads can be used in a number of different ways as well from a simple tea, to making dandelion honey, to battered and fried dandelions fritters.

Our personal favourite use, however, has to do with the roots. If you are pulling up the plant completely, take them to your kitchen, clean the dirt off the roots, chop them up and roast them in the oven until they are nice dark brown. If you steep your roasted roots in hot water just as you would with a loose-leaf tea, you can have yourself a fantastic coffee substitute. Dandelion “coffee” is one of our personal favourite drinks to make and it is well worth the effort!

But if all these practical uses weren’t enough to give you a new perspective on dandelions, there are loads of wonderful folktales and traditional beliefs behind these plants that is sure to make you think twice the next time you pass by this common wildflowers. It is said by some that dandelion wine is actually a favourite drink of fairies. In fact, dandelions have a strong association with fairies throughout history, which is evident from an alternative like name they can go by: “Fairy Clocks”. It is believed that if you take a flower that has gone to seed, you can tell what time it is by how many blows it takes to blow all the seeds off of the stem. And of course, you can make a wish while trying this out! But even more interestingly, if you make yourself a batch of the dandelion root tea described above, some believe drinking it may elicit psychic abilities, and leaving a cup of it beside your bed at night may even work to call in spirits. But be careful not to drink too much dandelion tea! Remember when you were younger and you were told not to pick dandelions, otherwise you’ll end up wetting the bed? Well, there is some truth to this. Dandelions are actually a known diuretic, and another folk name for these plants is “Pissabed”. Maybe a bit crude, but definitely some practical nomenclature!

So when you are out in your gardens this week, when the weather is nice and you are preparing the grounds for summer, have a look around and see how many dandelions are on their way. Leave some to grow for the wildlife, some for later harvesting, and pick a few to try out some of what we have described in this article. Let’s take a moment to think about what else might be just beneath our feet that we never knew could be so amazing. And hopefully, as life begins to blossom once again before us, we can come away with a new reverence for nature that we may not have had before.

Visit Forage & Folklore at https://www.forageandfolklore.com

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