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Tale of the Dandelion

Nasreddin and The Tale of the Dandelion

When I first encountered Dandelion intimately, I fell in love instantly. Out came my camera, and clicking through the countryside I went, taking snapshots of sunbursts. Only to return to my computer and stare mesmerised at the wonderment in front of me.

I’d blow up the flower pictures until my mind melted in the ecstasy that is only Dandelion. Oh the wondrous Dandelion, how my soul has been graced by your eternal presence.

A Traditional Sufi Tale


A young man named Nasreddin planted a flower garden, but when the flowers came up so did a great crop of dandelions among them.

Wishing to eliminate the unwanted guests, Nasreddin consulted with gardeners near and far, but none of their solutions worked.

Finally, Nasreddin travelled to the palace of the sheik to seek the wisdom of the royal gardener himself. But alas, Nasreddin had already tried all the methods the kind old man recommended to him for eradicating such troublesome weeds.

Silently they sat together for a good long time. At last, the royal gardener looked at Nasreddin and said, "Well, then, the only thing I can suggest is that you learn to love them."

A Little Bit About Dandelion

“Dent de Lion” in French, or rather “Tooth of the Lion”, refers to the jagged teeth along the edges of the leaves.

With over 200 micro-species of Taraxacum officinale, the teeth can vary from tiny to huge depending on habitat, soil, time of year etc.

Although traditionally eaten in Spring time, the leaves I find are at their best after the plant has flowered and seeded and only from plants that have grown under shade, in moisture rich soil and have been quick growing.

This usually means the late Summer, early Autumn growth for the least bitter, most flavoured leaves. Bitterness is reduced by gathering plants in shade. Too much exposure to sunlight means too much bitterness in the plant.

One tip for reducing bitterness in leaves is to store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a few days.

A Traditional Dandelion Leaf Salad

Traditional Dandelion Salad Leaf Recipe

If you want to stick with tradition then a dandelion salad can be prepared in early Spring in the following way:

  • Chop boiled eggs into a bowl, along with sweet, ripe tomatoes, and cubed hard goats cheese.
  • Fry some streaky bacon, and just before serving add torn Dandelion leaves into the pan and wilt as you would spinach, then add to the salad. (My advice when using the leaves is to shred them rather than use them whole.)
  • Dress with a traditional French dressing.

Other Ways to Eat Dandelions

You can also add the fresh, Springtime young roots (thinly sliced) to soups and casseroles.

If you want to harvest the flower heads to make jams, marmalades, vinegars, etc., then you need to do so within three days of them blooming as the flowers quickly turn into seed heads.

In Cambridgeshire it is believed that the best Dandelion wine is made from flowers gathered on May Day.

Traditionally the buds have been used as caper substitutes, and I would suspect that they may have been preserved in salt, rather than using vinegar.

The roots were used as a coffee substitute up until the the Great War of 1914. See my dandelion root coffee recipe.


There is also archaeological evidence from Dolni Vestonice in the Ukraine that Dandelion roots were consumed as food over 18,000 years ago.

Why Dandelion Is So Healthy

In folklore, Dandelion was strengthening to the liver and pancreas as well as being a great blood purifier that filters the toxins and wastes from the bloodstream.

The leaf is considered a diuretic; however, they also contain large amounts of potassium which is good for toning and supporting the nervous system. Unlike pharmaceutical diuretics, Dandelion replenishes any lost potassium that one would excrete using modern diuretics.

About the Author Robin Harford

Robin is a forager and self-taught ethnobotanist. He specialises in wild edible plants and has been running foraging courses throughout the UK since 2008. He travels extensively documenting and recording the traditional and local uses of wild food plants in indigenous cultures.

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Leave a Comment:

14 comments
suzanne cayless says

Hi Robin, Absolutely love the dandelion story,

It reminded me of something (I think you once wrote) along the lines that many of the imported species that we view as ‘invasive’ are just under harvested.

As far as dandelions go, Thank you for the many uses and tips.
The first of your recipes I ever tried was dandelion coffee which was very good.

Suzy

Reply
    Robin Harford says

    Wonderful Suzy… really glad you like the story. Yes I am a big fan of invasive plants as food and medicine, and rather than fear them, we need to be working with them in ways that benefit both species. When it comes in to their season, I will be writing an article on why we need to embrace rather than fear them.

    Reply
Christine says

Love the folklore and the stories that flavour your foraging narratives

Reply
    Robin Harford says

    Thanks Christine, appreciate your kind words and I’m glad that you get something from my missives.

    Reply
Michael says

Hello Robin.
Thanks for the Dandelion story. Very relevant to me at this time as I am presently
cultivating this plant. I have many seedlings in small pots waiting to be put into
the garden.
It is late summer here and days can be hot and very humid. I am going to try planting
in areas that are semi-shaded, or have brief time in direct strong sunlight.

Michael Farrer.

Reply
Julia says

HI Robin, that is the coolest story about Nasreddin and the dandelion from the Sufi tradition. I adore the cultural history that goes along with weeds. Thank you for sharing it. I’ve shared it on my FB page so all can enjoy. One weed we find really hard to love is Convolvulus – in NZ it just becomes rampant. I came up with a strategy though using pigs I want to borrow to dig it where it is creeping across grass towards my fruit trees. Have you heard other non toxic ways besides digging every piece of root out to deal with it??
From my ‘weed’ heaven to yours! Julia

Reply
    Robin Harford says

    Hi Julia, glad you like the story 🙂 Regarding Convolvulus spp. I don’t know of any non-toxic ways to get rid of it. I do have a post regarding Field Bindweed and its historical use, click here.

    I do know that Calystegia sepium (formerly Convolvulus sepium) was used by the Maori as food:

    * Used as a vegetable (COLENSO William 1881. Vegetable food of the ancient New Zealanders before Cook’s visit).

    * Leaves eaten in T’hoe district (BEST Elsdon 1903. Food products of Tuhoeland: being notes on the food-supplies of a non-agricultural tribe of the natives of New Zealand).

    * It has a long, fleshy root, which was formerly eaten (TAYLOR Rev. Richard 1855. Te Ika a Maui. New Zealand and its inhabitants.)

    * Thick, fleshy roots cooked and eaten (TAYLOR Rev. Richard 1870. Maori and English Dictionary. New and enlarged edition of ‘A leaf from the natural history of New Zealand, or a Vocabulary of its different productions, &c., with their native names’).

    * Root ‘long and tough, and got after much trouble. It was quite good to eat’ (MAKERETI (Maggie Papakura) PENNIMAN T. K. ed. 1938. The Old-time Maori.)

    * Roots dried, soaked before steaming. Described by Potts 1879 as ‘floury as a potato with a slight bitter taste’ (POTTS T. H. 1879. Notes from New Zealand. )

    * Root of p’hue a delicacy. Very plentiful. (BEST Elsdon 1942. Forest lore of the Maori.).

    Reply
Kathleen says

Thanks for your many brilliant recipes. Dandelion flowers are also delicious fried in butter, taste a bit mushroomy.

Reply
    Robin Harford says

    After all these years I still haven’t frittered dandelion flowers. Really must try them Kathleen, so thanks for the heads up 🙂

    Reply
Ian says

Many years ago in discussion with a tour guide explaining the history of carp farming and ditch / canal transport by the monasteries around the Somerset levels and as far as Wales, I enquired about a pot, made of terracotta, about 2 feet across, 8 inches tall and with a hole in the middle.
It was described as a dandelion pot. At first I thought this was a little fanciful untill I realised the design was the wrong way up. The use was to find (or plant) a dandelion, encircle it with cow dung and invert the pot over it. Leave it for 2 weeks and hey presto, blanched dandelion tasting (apparently) more of endive which was needed to serve with the carp. I tried it with a builders bucket, it works ! Cheers, Ian

Reply
    Robin Harford says

    Hi Ian, yes that was indeed one of the old ways to reduce the bitterness of dandelion. Must say I find simply learning how to gather it at the correct times easier, but maybe not so pretty as custom made pot blanchers! That idea might incite a revolution with the market gardeners.

    Reply
Florian says

Great post – very relevant information – can’t wait to try them

Reply
Roxana says

Thanks Robin : )

Reply
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