Spring is the greatest, right? Everything comes alive suddenly, especially the dandelions. They're instantly recognizable — the cheeriest and most iconic weed. But they're so much more than a lawn pest. Dandelions are used in all kinds of folk remedies and herbal medicine. The leaves are edible. And best of all, the petals can be made into wine!
A bottle of dandelion wine is a taste of spring sunshine that can be savored later on, when winter has set in and you might need a reminder of sunnier days.
I've always wanted to make dandelion wine, but until this year I never got my act together during our brief dandelion season. If you're intimidated by home brewing, it's a fairly simple recipe and would be a good way to get started.
adapted from Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking
Her recipe involves four ingredients: dandelions, sugar, oranges, and yeast. You'll also need a glass fermentation vessel: a carboy, growler, or demijohn that can be fitted with a fermentation lock, which can be found at your local homebrew store or online.
- One pound dandelion flowers
- Six cups white sugar
- Four oranges (organic if possible)
- One teaspoon dried yeast
To gather enough dandelions for a batch of wine, enlist the help of some friends. Have a dandelion party!
Choose a sunny day when the flowers will be wide open and find a lawn, lot, or field where you can be sure pesticides haven't been sprayed. Try to pick the heads and leave the stems behind: they'll just pop off usually. The milky liquid that oozes out of the stems is bitter and the green base of each flower is bitter too, which means that you have to pull the yellow petals off each base. Some people use scissors, but I've had luck pinching the base with one hand and yanking the petals out with the other. If you have to, you can freeze the dandelion petals until you're ready to use them — if you have enough, they can also be made into jelly.
- While you bring a gallon of water to a boil, measure the yellow dandelion heads, discarding as much green leaf as possible without being too persnickety.
- Sterilize your glass fermentation vessel — I use an iodine solution.
- Juice and pare oranges, leaving behind the white pith.
- Pour the boiling water over the flowerheads and leave to steep for two days. Don't exceed the time or what can be a delicious table wine may be spoiled.
- After two days, bring the mixture to a boil, add the thinly pared slivers of the orange zest, and boil for 10 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth onto the sugar and stir the mixture to dissolve the sugar fully.
- Leave to cool. Then add the yeast (activated in a little water) and juice from the oranges.
- Put the mixture into a fermentation jar and fit an airlock. If necessary, add water to bring to full 1 1/2 gallons.
- Siphon off into clean bottles when the wine has cleared — it will take about two months. It should be just right for drinking by Christmas.
Forgotten Skills of Cooking is a great book if you're thinking of getting into making bread, foraging, raising chickens, or making your own dandelion wine and apple cider. I made a double recipe, enough to fill one of the three-gallon carboys we got from a guy on Craigslist. That meant collecting two pounds of dandelion petals, which is a lot! Enlist friends. Seriously.
After gathering oodles of petals, boiling them until my house smelled like a freshly mown field, locating the biggest bowl we own to contain the cooling mixture, and almost losing my organic oranges to rogue snackers, my wine is just beginning to bubble, and now I have to deal with the hardest part of homebrewing: waiting until it's ready to drink.