Why not start with just one plant and make it sticky!

Dandelion flower head

Learning about plants can seem like a very daunting task when you are just starting out, but the most important thing is to take the first step. I recommend students on courses to start with what is familiar and expand from there. We can all identify at least one plant, so why not make those that are familiar the starting point? From a bushcraft and survival perspective there are key features that you will want to know and these can be unlocked by asking the right questions. In this article I will be focusing on the widespread and common Dandelion Taraxacum officinale, I will be focusing on the questions I should be asking, how the answers are relevant to Bushcraft and how I can make the information sticky and memorable.

I think I can safely assume that we all know what a dandelion looks like during some of the stages of its growth but let’s unpick this common plant to understand it in more detail. Dandelions Latin name is Taraxacum officinale. Taraxacum is derived from an Arabic word “tarakhshagog” meaning bitter herb and officinale refers to the Latin word for ‘medicinal’ or of the ‘apothecaries’. The etymology of a plant is very useful in understanding it in more detail as the name is often descriptive of its properties or sometimes where it is likely to grow. In this instance it is true that dandelion is a bitter herb and it has some medicinal qualities. The French call it ‘Dante de Lion’ meaning lions teeth as the leaves are said to resemble the teeth of a lion.

Dandelion leaves - tooth of a lion
Dandelion leaves – tooth of a lion.

The French also call this plant ‘Pissenlit’ meaning wet the bed which leaves you in no doubt about its medicinal properties!

It belongs to the daisy family Asteraceae formerly known as Compositae; this is a clue as to the formation of the flowers.

The dandelion flower is made up of lots of individual flowers known as florets or ray flowers. They each have a stamen with pollen, nectar and a single petal. The flowers are therefore composite, hence the old family name Compositae.

Dandelion flower head
Dandelion flower head.

This is very obvious when the dandelion clock develops. Look closely and you can see the many seeds which have been produced from the multiple flowers or composite of flowers.

Dandelion seed head - clock
Dandelion seed head – clock.

Like many of the daisy family flowers the dandelion flower closes up at night time and opens again during day time.

The leaves are bitter but are great as a minority leave in a salad when they are young or as a wilted green mixed with other foraged leaves such as nettle tops. Eating too many leaves will encourage you to pass urine as the French name Pissenlite so directly describes. I enjoy them best when mixed with other leaves. The roots make a great coffee substitute when dried slowly and ground up.

I am a great believer in practicing what you preach and love to wrap a story around a plant to make the information more memorable and sticky. This is most poignant in the case of Dandelion honey which up until this year I had only ever read about and never tried. Here is a very simple recipe for dandelion honey for you to try.

Start by picking approximately 300 open, fresh flower heads and rinse in a colander. Place in a litre of cold water and bring to the boil with a sliced lemon and orange. Gently simmer for half an hour and then leave to steep overnight.

Making Dandelion Honey
Making Dandelion Honey.

Strain the liquid in a muslin and add 1kg of sugar to the mixture and gently simmer for an hour or so until the mixture reduces and thickens.

Strain the liquid
Strain the liquid.
Add the sugar and simmer
Add the sugar and simmer.

Once the liquid has thickened it is then ready to decant into jars and hey presto you have dandelion honey. It has a lovely bitter note that combines nicely with the sweetness. It is great in hot drinks especially filter coffee. It is also a story to wrap around your learning and help to make the details of the plant more memorable!

Decant into jars - delicious
Decant into jars – delicious.

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