Dandelion Taraxacum officinale
Along with daisy this is about the only wild flower that everyone recognises yet few people look closely at the beautiful flower. One of the handful of wild plants where all parts (root to flower) are edible, although the raw leaves are an acquired taste.
What to look for:
The rosettes of jagged green leaves are distinctive enough even before the bright yellow pom-pom flowers appear. Then come the seed clocks with their amazing parachutes. When damaged the plant exudes a bitter white latex (milk).
Where to find it:
Lawns, grassland, waste ground, raised beds; basically anywhere there is space to grow and not too much shade.
When is it about:
Although the leaves can be found all year round, they are only worth eating in the spring. The flowers are most abundant in late march and April. The roots are best collected in late autumn or winter.
Recipe: Dandelion Jelly (taken from Hedgerow – River Cottage Handbook No.7 by John Wright)
1 litre (13⁄4 pints) good-quality sharp cloudy apple juice
80g (3oz) Dandelion petals (from about 350 flowers -snipped off with scissors!)
Juice of 2 lemons
750g (1lb 11oz) jam sugar (sugar with added pectin)
Pour apple juice into a saucepan, then stir in 60g of the Dandelion petals. Bring to simmering
point and remove from the heat. Cover and leave to infuse overnight. The next day, strain the infused juice through a sieve to remove the petals. Return the liquid to the pan, add the lemon juice and heat slowly to boiling point. Then add the sugar, stirring gently until dissolved. Finally sprinkle in the remaining dandelion petals. Increase the heat and boil rapidly for 6- 7 minutes or until setting point.
Remove from heat and skim off any scum with a slotted spoon. Pour into warm sterilised jars, cover and seal. Makes about ten 125g (41⁄2oz) jars. This recipe is very labour intensive, but it is worth the effort as the Jelly is lovely especially on a scone. Make sure you process the petals as soon as possible otherwise the flowers will close up making the job even harder!
Note: Do not eat any wild foods unless you are 100% certain about your identification.