May 18, 2020
For the past year or so I have been thinking much more about using what I already have. This could refer to my clothes, materials or the land (for example I kept my old sitting room curtains a while back with he view of making a coat from them one day). I have always been interested in growing things, foraging and living off the land. It is a very romantic notion and to truly live off the land as out forebears did is a very hard life but I enjoy finding out ways I can use what I already have.
A couple of weeks ago I saw on Instagram a few posts about making dandelion honey or syrup and making pesto out of dandelion leaves. I have never tried eating dandelions before although I have always known they are edible. They are considered a weed here which seems to lie in wait and spring up and scatter its delicate feather like seeds all over your lawn as soon as your back is turned. I mentioned to my Dad I was going to make some dandelion honey and the next time he came back from his walk with the dog he presented a carrier bag full of flowers and leaves!
First of all I set to making the honey. It’s the flower part only you need for this as its the pollen that gives the honey its flavour. I separated out the yellow petals from the plants and weighed the harvest. This is quite a time consuming job and made my hands pretty stained so do it when you have a bit of time and wear gloves if you don’t want yellow hands!
I used this recipe from Elizabeth’s Shetland Kitchen Diary ; as I didn’t have as many petals as she used (you need a lot as they are so tiny), I worked out how much water I needed as a proportion of her recipe, weighed the water and added the same weight of sugar.
I got three jars of the “honey’“ and it is lovely, you can really get the flavours of the lemon and dandelion pollen coming through. I have it on my porridge in the morning with a dollop of stewed rhubarb from the yard and it is really good spread onto fresh bread straight out of the oven. When I ate that I was instantly transported back to Sunday teatime as a child!
I often make pesto, usually with kale, basil, parsley or sooriks (wild sorrel). I was inspired by a post on Instagram by Suzi Walker of Island Botanicals in Shetland who had made pesto using dandelion leaves, wild garlic and nettle. There is no wild garlic near where I live so I made the pesto with dandelion leaves, nettles and sooriks (wild sorrel).
The recipe below gives a good start for quantities but I tend to add more oil or more greenery until I get the colour and consistency I want.
50g whole almonds
1 garlic clove, crushed
A big handful each of dandelion leaves (I used the smaller, younger ones) nettle tips, and sooriks (wild sorrel) leaves
150ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil (you might need to add more to make the pesto runnier)
Salt (to taste)
Place the almonds into a food processor and pulse until the almonds start to break up. Add the crushed garlic and pulse again. Add the greenery and some of the olive oil and pulse. Add more of the olive oil and the salt until you obtain the consistency and taste you want.
It is lovely on pasta, on flat bread or on new potatoes, or served as a condiment aside fish or roast vegetables. It makes quite a big batch which will keep in the fridge for a week but I like to freeze it in portions (I have a tray I used for weaning, each compartment holds about a tablespoon which is a perfect sized portion), once it is frozen I put it into a bag in the freezer and and have homemade pesto all through the winter months.
As I hadn’t used many leaves in the pesto I still had a bag full (the bag had been stuffed quite tightly!) Rather than just dumping it I thought I would try it as a dye for yarn, I hadn’t tried dandelions before or heard of anyone doing so. I poured boiling water over the leaves and left it for a couple of days (just because my dyed pots were being used for other things). Once I had a free dye pot I transferred the plant material into a drawstring cotton bag, and put that together with the dandelion infused water into the pot and added more water. I heated it slowly and once it reached 80oC I held it there for an hour before switching off the hob and allowing it to cool overnight. The next morning I removed the dandelion bag and added skeins of damp Langsoond yarn that had previously been soaked in a solution of (10% weight of fibre) Alum (Aluminium sulphate). The alum acts a a mordant which helps to set the dye in the yarn and improves colour fastness. Again I heated the pot and once it reached 80oC I held it there for an hour before switching off the hob and leaving it to cool overnight. The next day I removed the yarn from the pot, rinsed it and hang it up to dry. The result is a soft creamy yellow that sits well with my other naturally dyed shades.
This yarn and other naturally dyed yarn will be on sale on my online shop in my next shop update, I am hoping it will be this coming weekend but I haven’t set a time and date yet as its very hard to plan things at the moment and I need to make sure I am ready! The best way to find out when the update will be is to sign up to my newsletter on the website.
The stewed dandelion leaves then went onto the compost heap to provide some nutrients for plants in the future.
Isn’t it amazing what you can do with a bag of “weeds”?!
“But a weed is simply a plant that wants to grow where people want something else. In blaming nature, people mistake the culprit. Weeds are people’s idea, not nature’s.” ~Author Unknown