Dandelions - free food for us and bees

I’ve been collecting dandelions for a few years now to make myself some tasty treats. Why not have a go?

Whenever I go out to collect them, I can't help but be impressed by how incredible these plants are. The way each plant grows, the wind helping to disperse its seeds, then each one like a fairy instructed to set up home and reproduce.

Their bright yellow flowers are a great source of food for bees from early spring onwards - but we can all enjoy them too. Here are 6 tips for making the most out of these lovely weeds.

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A bee on a dandelion flower
Bee on dandelion, by Guerin Nicolas

1. Salad days

Dandelion leaves have a similar taste to rocket, and make the perfect salad. Even better than shop-bought salad, they don't come with the price tag, or over-packaging - and you can pick them as you need them. 

Like most plants, they taste better young - older, larger leaves will taste bitter. Make sure you avoid picking them from places sprayed with chemicals, like parks. Grass verges next to roads are another no-no, as the plants will also have absorbed petrol fumes.

2. Dandelion tea

Dandelions are a diuretic, which means they help stimulate the production of urine, hence their English folk-name of 'piss-a-bed'. They've been used for years, by many cultures, as a tonic to treat kidney and liver disorders. You can buy tea in the shops, or prepare your own drink - find out how to make dandelion tea.

3. Smoothies

Fancy a melon and cucumber smoothie? Or maybe peach, strawberry and pistacchio milk? Add a few dandelion leaves - they're packed with vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Read 10 reasons to add dandelions to delicious smoothies.

4. Coffee without caffeine

For those trying to avoid caffeine try dandelion coffee made from the root.

5. Dandelion wine

When I make it, I use The Guardian's recipe for dandelion wine - it makes six to seven bottles of medium sweet white wine. You can even add lemonade to make a refreshing spritzer.

Dandelion bruschetta, by Island Vittles.

6. Recipes

Here's a few recipes and websites I particularly like, but you'll find plenty more online, or just adapt recipes for rocket or watercress: 

  • Dandelion green bruschetta
    Super easy recipe for a tasty starter or light lunch.
     
  • Eat the weeds
    Excellent blog, including dandelion burgers, dandelion blossom bread, cream of dandelion soup, dandelion and egg salad, and even roasted dandelion root coffee ice cream.
     
  • The Kitchn
    Dandelion and pumpkin seed pesto, crispy pan-friend beans with wilted dandelions, braised coconut spinach and chickpeas with lemon, and plenty more delicious recipes.
     
  • Dandelion fritters
    Well worth the effort!
     
  • BBC Food 
    Great ideas from celebrity chefs for main courses, starters, desserts and summer cocktails.

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