This post is a humble gift to my oldest friend, Rosemary, on her birthday. Dandelions may not be roses or a bouquet of Australian natives, but they are beautiful and they thrive. May such thriving be yours, my very dear friend. Beauty, in so many ways, already is.
In Australia, I’ve always seen dandelions as a rather undistinguished weed. In Warsaw they have been a major pleasure of spring. I’ve watched them waking up in the morning, reaching full splendour as the day moves on, and falling asleep in the afternoon, whole meadows of them flourishing before the lawn mowers get to work. Now, as they seed, they have become that most delicate of things, dandelion clocks.
This morning I saw a woman with a box in Park Morskie Oko collecting dandelions as assiduously as I was photographing them. I discover what I didn’t know before: they are edible. You can sauté the leaves like spinach; eat them raw in salads or boil them; use the flower petals combined with citrus to make dandelion wine; or roast their roots for caffeine free dandelion coffee. Leaves and buds are part of traditional Kashmiri, Slovenian, Sephardic, Chinese, and Korean cuisine; the leaves contain vitamins A, C, and K, and are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese; in herbal medicine they are used as a diuretic and to treat infections and bile and liver problems. Such versatility can’t be ignored.
Richard Mabey’s “Food for free” (thank you Tish, for introducing me to this writer) offers a number of recipes. The simplest suggests adding leaves to a sandwich with a dash of Worcestershire sauce. He quotes a 19th century French chef, Marcel Boulestin, who recommends “a salad made from equal quantities of dandelion ‘hearts’ (unopened flower-buds plus young surrounding leaves) and chopped beetroot.” I’ll wait for their resurrection and maybe harvest and cook – after an extremely thorough wash: I’ve seen dogs in action in the dandelion fields.
As befits a common and prolific plant that’s been around for 30 million years, dandelions have many names. The English name, dandelion, is a corruption of the French “dent de lion” meaning “lion’s tooth”, referring to the coarsely toothed leaves. They are also known as blowball, cankerwort, doon-head-clock, witch’s gowan, milk witch, yellow-gowan, Irish daisy, monks-head, priest’s-crown, puff-ball, faceclock, wet-a-bed, swine’s snout, and wild endive. Different attributes are acknowledged in the names in different languages. In Swedish, they’re called worm rose after the small insects usually present in the flowers In Finnish and Estonian, the names translate as butter flower because of their colour. Their Lithuanian name means milky, referring to the white liquid that is produced when the stems are cut.
The dandelion lawns have been mowed, and now there are only “poor dead dandelions”. Birds have been deprived of many dietary pleasures, although I saw a murder of crows pecking away with some eagerness on the shaved grass.
After all these encounters with dandelions, visual, medicinal, culinary, I’ll never look down my nose at a dandelion again.
Thank you to Wikipedia for information, Snapseed for its image-sharpening capacities, Richard Mabey for recipes and Jude for the inspiration and excuse to record my life as a dandelion devotee.
For more wildflowers, have a look at Jude’s Wildflowers in May posts.