Because of the early onset of spring, there are more weeds than ever. I have never before pulled so many humongous weeds from the garden.
There is one weed, however, that I was actually looking forward to: dandelions. I have never eaten them, neither raw or cooked, and finally wanted to try them. Yet the dandelion leaves are so tiny and look so tough right now – maybe because it’s been so dry – that I discarded this idea quickly. But then I came across German recipes for dandelion blossom syrup that sounded tempting.
Before I went out foraging, I wanted to make sure that I was not picking something else by mistake. I learned that catsears look a bit like dandelions but have hairy leaves and a solid stem. The good thing is, catsears are edible too, so at least I do not risk poisoning us.
The color of the syrup did not come out bright yellow as I expected, but I like the taste. With seltzer water, it makes a nice homemade soda with a zing.
It goes without saying, dandelions should only be picked in areas away from roadsides, where no herbicides, pesticides or other chemicals have been sprayed, and no dogs like to lift their legs… Also, I recommend wearing a pair of thin (planting) gloves and/or cutting the blossoms off with scissors to avoid bright yellow hands. The optimal time for picking dandelions is at midday in full sun.
What looks like plant surgery is the removal of the petals. I find that using only those, instead of the whole flower head, makes a cleaner, less earthy-tasting syrup. There are two ways of doing this: with small scissors, or by squashing the flower between your thumb and index finger and wiggle it back and forth a couple of times, which loosens the petals and they can be pulled off with the other hand.
All right, it took me at least a couple of hours to turn a large basket of dandelions into a heap of petals. I did not mind. Like snipping off the blossom ends of gooseberries and other lengthy, repetitive mechanical garden-related jobs, it is relaxation time for me, when I can let my mind wander, or mull over something that’s on my mind.
1 pound dandelion flower heads yield a little less than half a pound of petals.
Most recipes call for half as much sugar as liquid. I find that too sweet and use about a third or less, which makes a thinner syrup. They syrup looks like amber-colored honey, that’s why it is also called Dandelion Honey.
Dandelion Syrup (Dandelion Honey)
6 cups loosely packed dandelion petals (8 ounces/225 g)
6 cups (1.5 l) water, slightly more as needed (the petals should be fully immersed in water)
2 to 2½ cups (400 to 500 g) raw sugar, more depending on the desired sweetness
Juice of 2 lemons
1. Do not wash the petals in order not to remove the pollen. Place the petals in a saucepan with a lid and add the water. Slowly bring to a boil, then remove from the heat. Cover and let stand overnight in a cool place.
2. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve. Squeeze the blossoms to extract the liquid. Discard the blossoms. Rinse the pot and return the liquid to the pot. Add the sugar and lemon juice and cook uncovered for 30 more minutes until syrupy.
3. Pour the liquid into sterilized glass bottles and let cool. Refrigerate and use within 3 to 4 weeks. The syrup can also be canned. Pour the piping hot syrup in sterilized canning jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
I am becoming quite fond of dandelions in other ways, too. The vibrant yellow, thick flower heads make a charming little bouquet, especially in combination with Wild mustard, another weed that turns the meadows into seas of yellow right now.