[originally published A Sense of Place, 05/09/13]
And over that potato-field
A lazy veil of woven sun,
Dandelions growing on headlands, showing
Their unloved hearts to everyone.
-from Spraying the Potatoes
by Patrick Kavanagh; 1940
Our gardens are full of Bearnán Bríde – the sunny dandelion. I like to leave them growing because the bees and birds love them, so. I also enjoy making yummy things with their flowers, leaves, and roots. Today I gathered a few bright heads to make Dandelion Syrup!
Here in Ireland, as elsewhere, dandelion has many uses: from children’s games to herbal preparations. The ‘clocks’, or puffy seedheads, were blown to tell the time, with number of puffs signifying the hour. In Dublin, a cure for tuberculosis involved eating a sandwich of bread, butter, and fresh dandelion leaves. Among other things it was used for cuts in Counties Cavan, Wicklow, Limerick and Kerry; for sprains and swelling in Counties Kildare and Limerick; and for diabetes in County Kilkenny. In Ulster they referred to it as ‘heart-fever grass’, and as ‘piss-a bed’ in Co. Offaly.
In ancient Ireland a cure called ‘Diancecht’s Porridge’ was prescribed for fourteen different disorders of the stomach, as well as for colds, sore throats and worms. It was a brew made from a mixture of dandelion, hazel buds, chickweed, wood sorrel and oatmeal.
Foraging for edible and medicinal plants is something I do wherever I live: whether in my urban Austin neighborhood, along a trail in Colorado, or from my Irish hedgerow. It connects me to place in an immediate and sensual way–through body awareness of the local fauna and seasonal rhythms. The beautiful thing about harvesting Dandelion is how prolific they are, and how universal. Bearnán Bríde –‘the indented one of Brigid’–grows everywhere!
Gather as many dandelion flowers as you’ll have the courage to prepare. I collected close to 100. The exact quantity isn’t important as you will adjust the quantity of water anyway. Wash the flowers and separate the yellow petals from the base and green leaves. We use only the petals.
In a saucepan, cover the dandelion petals with water. Stir or press to ensure they are well covered. Bring to a gentle boil, cover and let infuse in the fridge overnight.
The next day, filter the mixture through a fine sieve and press with a spoon to extract all juice from the boiled petals. Weigh the liquid. Add a little lemon juice to taste. Some people boil the syrup again to make sure it is sterile, but others fear this may destroy the more volatile component of the flowers fragrance.
For each gram or pound of liquid, add 0.95 gram or pound of sugar. Too much sugar will prevent the syrup from diluting properly. Too little and it might become contaminated by bacteria.
Mix well and heat slowly until all sugar is dissolved. Filter again and store in a bottle.
The syrup is drunk diluted in cold water – a little glass of sunshine.
You can use more sugar, or a little pectin, and cook a bit longer to make Dandelion Flower Jam.
Come walk with me along this willowed lane,
Where, like lost coinage from some miser’s store,
The golden dandelions more and more
Glow, as the warm sun kisses them again!
For this is May! who with a daisy chain
Leads on the laughing Hours; for now is o’er
Long winter’s trance. No longer rise and roar
His forest-wrenching blasts. The hopeful swain,
Along the furrow, sings behind his team;
Loud pipes the redbreast – troubadour of spring,
And vocal all the morning copses ring;
More blue the skies in lucent lakelets gleam;
And the glad earth, caressed by murmuring showers,
Wakes like a bride, to deck herself with flowers!
Henry Sylvester Cornwell [1831-1886]
Allen, D. & Hatfield, G. (2004) Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition, Timber Press.
Logan, P. (1981) Irish Country Cures, Appletree Press.