Our meadowlands are beginning to bloom, although one flower is oft overlooked in the sea of yellow. Amid the buttercups, primroses and celandines is the humble dandelion, whose profligacy and resilience seem to overshadow its beauty.
The dandelion responds each day to the warmth of the sun, splaying open ligulate petals and pushing its stigmas skyward. The flower head then follows the sun west before closing at dusk – tightly packed like a paintbrush dipped in butter.
The flowers are rich in nectar, making them a popular food source for insects, and they have also been long used in wine making. The pipe-like stalks are hollow and contain a latex milk once believed to cure warts.
The toothed leaves may be eaten as a salad plant, especially when young, but their astringency does not appeal to all tastes. They are rich in vitamins A and C, while the shape is believed to be the source of the plant’s etymology – the French name dent de lion literally meaning ‘lion’s teeth’.
The most versatile part of the dandelion is surely the root. It is used in beers and cordials, often alongside that of burdock, while if dry-roasted and ground it offers a surprisingly tasty alternative to coffee. This drink may be caffeine-free but might still wake you up at night as the dandelion often has a diuretic effect.