samedi 4 avril 2015
D is for Dandelions
I’ve got a lovely bunch of dandelions
Having been mocked for my support of the apostrophe and membership of the Apostrophe Protection Society (http://www.apostrophe.org.uk/), I have decided to turn my attention to the dandelion. The first question is, who first settled on what is a flower and what is a weed? According to Wikipedia, “A weed is a plant that is considered by the user of the term to be a nuisance.” I have decided to embrace the dandelion. This is not, of course, because we have so many growing on the lawn from Spring onwards that I had to do something drastic. Everyone loves buttercups, primroses and daffodils, so what’s not to love about the dandelion? They are yellow too.
Search for “dandelion” on the Internet and the first hits will tell you how to kill and get rid of them. However, The University of Maryland Medical Centre’s site maintains: “While many people think of the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a pesky weed, herbalists consider it a valuable herb that can be used as a food and medicine. Dandelion is a rich source of vitamins A, B complex, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion leaves are used to add flavour to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots are used in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make wines.”
I have a recipe for some very tasty dandelion jam. We give it to unsuspecting guests who eat it with enthusiasm — even after we tell them what it is.
The dandelion has a bad press here in France too, although dandelion salad is more widely available and you can actually buy dandelions in some markets. The French for dandelion is “pisenlit”, literally wet the bed. This is probably because the plants are a gentle diuretic — the leaves and roots stimulate the kidneys to cleanse the blood and recycle nutrients. Country folk reportedly enjoy dandelions as a spring tonic because they help clear the skin after winter and improve general health. Only the other day I saw a French lady gathering up a bunch of dandelions along the road. I wish I'd had the courage to ask her what she was going to do with them.
I have decided to join The Dandelion Appreciation Society, whose website insists that its members love dandelions and that the plant has “somehow become the quintessential scapegoat for all that is considered to be a ‘weed’ in the world of the sterile toxic green lawn.” It adds: “ We are here to help educate to the contrary. Dandelions are one of the most beautiful and useful plants on the planet.” That’s music to my ears! (http://www.thedandelionappreciationsociety.org/)
The website includes recipes — I can’t wait to try the dandelion flower fritters.
There are also poems and a plethora of dandelion trivia. It will cost me $12 to join.
Incidentally, here’s a tip when it comes to real weeds. If a French person points to something in our garden and tells us it’s a weed, we inform them that it’s a prized bloom in English gardens. And if an English visitor indicates a weed, we say it’s a plant that’s found in all the best French flowerbeds. (English visitors, however, tend to act somewhat unilaterally and will pull it up anyway.)
As my friend Chris from Spain pointed out, “The dandelion has its medicinal properties but it is also such fun when you are young — I spent many an hour puffing the seeds and telling the time from the puffs!” And according to Angela, who lives in Holland, “Dandelions are called horse flowers here, no idea why because as far as I remember, horses aren’t particularly keen on dandelions.”
Now it has been revealed that dandelions can help save our bees. They are, apparently, the bees’ most important spring flower, along with hazelnut catkins so don’t kill those dandelions on your lawn. Let them flower a while before you pick them to make jam or a salad. For bees, dandelion pollen is moderately nutritious and the nectar is abundant. It doesn’t normally produce a “surplus”, i.e. enough nectar to produce honey above and beyond what the bees will use for themselves, so you won’t generally see dandelion honey for sale, but it gives the bees a huge boost and adds to the health and wellbeing of the hive.
So, admit it, dandelions are actually quite pretty, aren’t they…?
Dandelion flower jam
250 g dandelion flowers
1 1/2 litres water
750 g sugar for each 1 litre juice
1 lemon juice
Wash the oranges and cut into pieces without peeling them. Wash
the dandelion flowers and dry them in a soft cloth. Cook them in
the water with the oranges for an hour then strain. Measure the
juice, and then add the lemon juice and the appropriate weight of
sugar. Cook a further hour. Cool before putting into jars. It should set OK,
but if it still looks runny at the end of the cooking time, add some vegetarian gelatin.
· The dandelion is the only flower that represents the three celestial bodies of the sun, moon and stars. The yellow flower resembles the sun, the puff ball resembles the moon and the dispersing seeds resemble the stars.
· The dandelion flower opens to greet the morning and closes in the evening to go to sleep.
· Dandelions have one of the longest flowering seasons of any plant.
· Seeds are often carried as many as five miles from their origin!
· The name dandelion comes from the French “dent de lion” — lion’s tooth, which refers to its serrated leaves.