26 Apr Foraging Dandelions in the UK: A Guide to Edible and Delicious Wild Greens
Dandelions are a common sight throughout the year in the UK, especially as the early spring starts to take hold. Their bright yellow heads bring vibrancy to a world that is lazily stirring from its winter snooze. Did you know that plant, often considered a weed, is actually a delicious and nutritious wild food source? If you’re wondering what, when and how to forage Dandelions. This is our guide to making the most of them.
What are Dandelions?
Dandelions are a common wildflower found throughout the UK, known for their bright yellow flowers and fluffy seed heads. They belong to the Taraxacum genus, which includes over 200 species of plants.
Dandelions are a perennial plant, meaning they can live for several years. They have a deep taproot that can reach up to 10 inches deep, which helps them survive in a variety of soil types and conditions.
Dandelions are often considered a weed due to their ability to spread quickly and easily, but they have many benefits as well. They are an important early source of nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators, and their leaves and flowers provide food for various insects and animals.
Dandelions are also edible and have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries. Alongside their use in the kitchen, they can also make a natural yellow dye for clothes.
If you get a spare minute of a sunny day it’s worth finding a patch of dandelions and just spending a bit of time watching the amount of pollinators that come and forage from their flowers. It’s a myriad of bees coming in all different shapes and sizes.
I also like to think of dandelions as the original solar panels. If up early on a spring morning you’ll find all their flowers folded in on themselves, with their bright yellow petals hidden from view. As the light starts to hit the plant they unfurl almost as though paying an earthly tribute to the sun by mirroring her brightness.
How to identify Dandelions?
I’m sure you’ve seen these plants many times, but just in case… Here are some key features to help you identify dandelions:
- Leaves: Dandelion leaves are deeply lobed and toothed, and grow in a rosette at the base of the plant. They are hairless and have a slightly shiny surface.
- Flowers: Dandelion flowers are bright yellow and have numerous petals. They grow on a single stem and can be up to 2 inches in diameter. After the flowers have bloomed, they turn into white, fluffy seed heads.
- Stems: Dandelion stems are hollow and hairless, and can grow up to 18 inches tall. They exude a milky sap when broken.
- Roots: Dandelion roots are long and tapered, and can grow up to 10 inches deep. They are usually brown on the outside and white on the inside.
Why Forage for Dandelions?
There are several reasons why you might want to gather dandelions:
– They are free and abundant. Many people consider dandelions as weeds as they have an incredible knack for surviving a wide range of soils. As such, they can be found almost everywhere, from city parks to rural fields. Just remember, if you’re picking some make sure they’ve not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides and try to avoid areas where lots of dogs may have been…
– They are a nutritious food source. Dandelions are high in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as calcium, iron, and potassium. Adding wild greens to your diet can have lots of benefits and often they can be more nutritionally dense than cultivated plants.
– It is thought they have medicinal properties. Dandelions have been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, from digestive issues to skin problems.
When are Dandelions at their peak?
The best time to gather dandelions is during the spring when their bright flowers begin to emerge. They often peak around St George’s day which is said to be the traditional time to start picking the flowers for Dandy wine. Really though, throughout the early spring the ground will be ablaze with dandelions ripe for picking.
Which Parts of a Dandelion are Edible?
All parts of the dandelion plant are edible, but some are more palatable than others. Here’s a guide to which parts are edible and how to prepare them:
Leaves: Dandelion leaves are the most commonly used part of the plant. They can be eaten raw in salads or cooked like spinach. To harvest dandelion leaves, look for young leaves that are tender and not too bitter. You can also blanch the leaves to reduce their bitterness.
Flowers: Dandelion flowers can be eaten raw or cooked. They have a sweet, honey-like flavour and are often used to make dandelion wine or jelly. To harvest dandelion flowers, pluck them from the stem and remove the green base.
Roots: Dandelion roots can be roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute. They can also be cooked like a vegetable. To harvest dandelion roots, dig them up in the autumn or early spring when they are at their strongest. Remember though, it is illegal to uproot plants without the land owner’s permission.
What Can You Make with Dandelions?
Once you’ve harvested your dandelions, you can use them in a variety of ways. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Dandelion Salad: Toss dandelion leaves with other greens, such as rocket or spinach, and top with a light vinaigrette. Add some roasted beets or goat cheese for extra flavour.
Dandelion Pesto: Use dandelion leaves instead of basil to make a unique and tasty pesto. Add some toasted nuts, garlic, and cheese for a classic pesto taste.
Dandelion Wine: Make your own dandelion wine by fermenting dandelion flowers with sugar, yeast, and water. It’s a sweet and floral drink that’s perfect for spring.
Dandelion Honey: Known as ‘poor man’s honey’ this is a great vegan alternative to traditional bee’s honey. We’ve got a guide on our Instagram for how to make this delicious jelly which is up here.
Foraging for dandelions in the UK can be a fun and rewarding way to connect with nature and add some wild greens to your diet. Just remember to only gather plants from safe and sustainable areas, and be sure to identify the plants correctly before harvesting.