The dandelion is beginning its invasion!
If I don't react now the seeds will have covered my garden and vegetable plot within the week. Its true that they are a sunny delight spread across the fields and they are tenacious - flowering from February through to November. The delicate orbs of seed heads are the harbinger of first frosts, the smell of autumnal smoke, spider silk drifting through the air and some birds just love them.
But once they seed and you see the flat rosettes of leaves in the vegetable plot, they become hugely irritating. The taproots grow deep and are twisted and brittle and snap off as you dig them up and like in some horror movie, they start to regenerate from a fragment left in the soil. All the better to eat the little blighters...
|Honey and Yaya appreciate their diuretic properties|
The word dandelion comes from the french or italian, dent de lion or dente di leone and refers to the green toothed leaves. In french they are also called pissenlit and in Ireland they can also be called piss-the-bed too, as the leaves have diuretic properties.
It seems the first medicinal use of the plant was in 10th century england where dandelions milky sap was used to cure warts. Today, the plants are used to treat liver and kidney problems as well as digestive disorders. The plants are a rich sources of vitamin A, B, C and D and minerals such as iron, potassium, zinc and manganese.
Every bit of the plant is edible: collect the leaves for salad in the early spring, when they are the tastiest and before the flowers appear and again in the autumn, after the first frost, when the bitterness disappears. In summer you can sauté the leaves like spinach with capers, chilli and garlic. The flowers can be used to make jelly or a risotto of petals or even wine. The flower buds used as capers, The root is also edible but far too medicinal for my taste.
Today I collect my first flowers and leaves to remind me of springs arrival...
Dandelion Flower Jelly or Cramaillote
400 flower heads
1.5 litres (2.6 pints) water
700g (1.5lbs) cane sugar
First prepare your dandelion petals, Wash the flowers head in cold water to get rid of the tiny insects hiding within the petals. Cut off the end an peel back the green sepals like a hula skirt, freeing the petals.
Keep only the yellow part of the flower.
|Fingers once the work is finished|
Leave them dry for a few hours in the sun or in a warm room to develop the aromas.
Put all the flower heads, water and thinly sliced citrus fruit (pips and all) into a large pan. Cook over a moderate heat for a good hour while making sure the flower heads are immersed in the water. You can start smelling the pollen at this stage...
Take off the heat and leave to strain through a muslin cloth overnight. Add the sugar. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Boil the mixture until the jelly is set which usually takes around 20 minutes. Test the set on a cold porcelain saucer. When ready put the jelly in clean and sterilised pots.
Dandelion, Feta and Walnut Salad
A large handful of young dandelion leaves
100g (3.5 oz) fresh feta
70g (2.5 oz) shelled walnuts
4tbsp olive oil
1tbsp walnut oil
1tsp lemon juice
1tsp balsamic di Modena
Wash the dandelion leaves well in cold water. Roast the walnuts in a moderate oven until lightly golden. Break into pieces by hand. Crumble the feta into large pieces and mix together with the leaves without breaking the feta further or damaging the leaves. Whisk all the dressing ingredients together and add to the leaves with the walnuts. Toss gently.