The Lowly Dandelion

I saw the first one last week, just off the edge of the patio, gleaming a bright yellow in the morning sun light  The first Dandelion flower of the spring.  In the current age of herbicides and  efforts to make lawns look like expensive green carpets,  the venerable Dandelion is missing  from the well-kept lawns in most communities.  It is considered a pest by posh lawn growers and has never been easy to control, just one plant in an untreated area will spread like wildfire.

I suppose here is as good a place as any to take a step back and find out just what the Dandelion really is.  No matter how much it is maligned and sprayed with herbicide, it is not, repeat, is not a weed.  This bane of the perfect lawn grower is actually an herb.  It is a medicinal herb used in the form of powders and teas by herbal authorities for a variety of things from curing addiction to weight loss and zits.  Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center classify it as a “Complimentary Medicine” and while there have not yet been any extensive scientific studies done, it is recognized as a remedy for many  different ailments.

Some early studies have been undertaken and indications are that Dandelion may help raise good cholesterol levels and even normalize blood sugar levels.  Do you need an appetite stimulant? Something for gall bladder and liver ailments? How about calming that upset stomach?  It is also high in vitamins A, B and C  and is used as a food and also as a food supplement.   The young, tender leaves , especially before the flowers bloom, make a tasty and nutritious addition to a green salad.

There are many species of Dandelion and it grows world-wide, It is known that North American Indians used it for many ailments and rashes.  A milky substance in the stems will actually kill warts if it is rubbed on them several times causing them to eventually fall off.  I was told by an old aunt one time that her cat had a painful cut on her foot and she gave her Dandelion tea and it cured the pain.

And now for the real reason why I started what sounds like a “Save the Dandelion campaign”,  my short and non-illustrious career as an assistant vintner.  That’s right, I helped my father in spring and very early summer to make the brew that all the city folk who visited Old Landing Road requested.  Back then, of course, we did nothing to “stem” the growth of Dandelion and we had acres of it in the lawn and uncultivated fields.  As  I remember, it was my job to go out on very sunny Saturday morning after the Dandelion were in full bloom and pull bucket after bucket of he flower heads off the stems before the morning dew dried..  I would take them to the barn, dump them out on an old chestnut topped table and help my father pick each and every one of those little yellow petals off of that flower head.

Dad said a little piece of the head wouldn’t hurt too much but no stems…they make it bitter.   My hands would get so sticky, I had to go down the bank to the creek and wash them.  We would build a fire under a very large pot and after the water began to boil, Dad would gather up all those thousands of shiny yellow petals, put them in a cheesecloth bag and drop them in the boiling water.

He boiled them for a while, maybe like an hour, along with pieces of orange and lemon peel and then took the bag out and let the liquid cool down.  I am not sure exactly what else he put in the liquid, besides yeast and the orange peels, but after it cooled he strained it through cheese cloth and he put it into 3 or 4 big ceramic crocks.  I wouldn’t attempt to give you an exact formula since I was just 6 or 7 years old when I began this career outside the law.

There are  many books available and many other sites on the web sharing recipes for all sorts of wines and all types of modern equipment to make the job easier and more productive.  My father drank very little but he loved making Dandelion and Elderberry wine for our relatives from the city.

After weeks of  “racking”, a word I learned later, which consisted of siphoning off the clear liquid and leaving the “lees” another later word, or sediment, you finally had a beautiful, yellow colored liquid in the crocks.  He would put it into bottles while it was still fermenting a little so it would be bubbly when it was uncorked or uncapped.

This was just another of those “labors of love” that people did just to please each other back then, maybe because you had the time and you took it..

Dandelion is available in most forms, incuding brewable teas, pills and liquids.  As always, we suggest that before you start taking anything on a regular basis for a medical problem or as a supplement, you consult your physician.

Don Langrehr

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3 Responses to The Lowly Dandelion

  1. mike says:

    Where can I get me some of that stuff. I remember stories about dandelion wine but didn’t really think anybody drank it. Another interesting note from the Zone.

  2. Anonymous says:

    What a great story! Eye opening not only at the wonderful story of what life was like in the past (can’t wait to share this with my 16 year old!) but also being the gardener that I am… I had no idea as to the possibilities of the “dandelion”! Thanks for sharing…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Things that are taken for granted today by some have left great memories for others. I remember waiting until the dandelion became a ball of fur (which I thought it was)and gently blowing on it so that the seeds would float off into the sky. We would do that as long as the dandelions lasted. What a simple pleasure. Thanks for sharing!

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