Dandelions, Taraxacum officinale, are one of the first flowers we see in the spring and also one of the first for emerging insects such as honey bees. I try to leave the first flush of flowers to the insects but after that, dandelions are one of the flowers that can benefit from its habitat being regularly mown or harvested to prolong its lifecycle.
All parts of this plant can be eaten although some are an acquired taste! The bitter raw leaves can be added to salads and are a great source of vitamins (specifically A,C and K) and minerals (iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium). The roots can be chopped up fine, roasted and turned into a coffee substitute and the flowers can be used in a number of applications including wine, marmalade, and if you don’t know what else to do with an edible flower, fritter it.
I’ve never been keen on marmalade but I don’t know if that’s because I’ve actually tasted it and disliked it or if it’s just one of those fussy eating habits you get as a kid that you associate with ‘old’ people. This dandelion marmalade was a revelation to me though and I couldn’t stop eating it and I feel very decadent eating it on sour dough toast, don’t you know. It’s probably because I’m now old. I’ve also used it in a Champagne Cocktail instead of the sugar lump and using Dandelion ‘champagne’ (recipe below).
Dandelion Marmalade Recipe:
500g apples roughly chopped. It is these that contain the pectin that help your marmalade to set so you can use the core and peel too as these will be strained out later.
100ml citrus juice (e.g. lemon, orange, lime or grapefruit) and the rind. If you’re not using fresh fruit and therefore no rind, then add another 500g of apples.
100g dandelion petals (2 x 50g)
500g granulated or jam sugar
Place the apples and fruit rind (not the juice) in a pan with the water and half of the dandelion petals and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to infuse overnight.
The next morning, strain the liquid to remove the petals and chunks of apple and return to the pan. Add the citrus juice and sugar and heat slowly to dissolve all of the sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the remaining dandelion petals and then boil until you reach setting point. It is a boiling liquid at this stage so you will not be able to visually see how thick the cooled marmalade will be so it can be gauged by using a sugar thermometer or you can place a small amount on a saucepan and place in the freezer for fifteen minutes. If it comes out set then you know it has worked. If it is too runny then you need to boil it some more, if it’s too solid then add more water.
500g of dandelion flowers
2 litres of water
2 lemon sliced
You may have already seen the elder flower champagne recipe posted here before and the process is very similar.
Gather your flower heads and leave on a board for an hour to give the insects a chance to wander off on their own accord.
Ensure all equipment is sterilised by swishing in boiling water. I’ve never made this in as large as quantities as I do elder flower champagne so one very large saucepan might be big enough or alternatively, it’s worth investing in a fermenting bucket as it’ll get used later in the spring for elder flowers.
Add 1 litre of boiling water to the pan/bucket and add your sugar, stirring until it fully dissolved. Add a further litre of cold water to bring the temperature down as you are relying on the natural yeasts occurring on the flowers to feed on the sugar and ferment your concoction and you don’t want to kill them by boiling them alive.
Once the water is luke warm, add your flower heads and sliced lemons giving the lemons a bit of a squeeze to release the juice.
Cover the bucket with muslin cloth and leave at room temperature for three days to allow the fermentation process to begin. If you place in the fridge it will slow down and even halt the fermentation so don’t do this unless you know you’re going away suddenly and you don’t want your ferment to spoil.
After three days, use a funnel and the muslin cloth to sieve off the liquid into sterilised bottles. I prefer using glass flip top bottles as this allows me to release the build up of fermentation gas every couple of days easily during the first week of bottling and prevents the bottles exploding. I don’t generally get as much fizz with dandelions as I do with elder flower but each harvest will be different and different geographical areas might naturally get more yeast on the flowers.
Store in a cool dark place. I honestly don’t know how long this will last as like I mentioned, I’ve never made huge batches of it and it gets drunk during my spring walks, but I’ve used elder flower champagne a couple of years later without issue and I don’t see why this would be different. If you know of a reason then be a pal and add a comment as to why.
Oh, and the Champagne Cocktail I mentioned. So, it’s not strictly the classic champagne cocktail which has a sugar cube that dissolves in the glass releasing bubbles but it’s pretty close and as you’re using wild ingredients it has its own ‘wow’ factor. Or for some people a ‘oh my god, what the F is that?!’ factor.
Place the dandelion marmalade (or sugar cube) at the bottom of a champagne flute
Add 2-3 dashes of Angostura Bitters
Add one measure of brandy
Top up with dandelion champagne
Traditionally served with an orange slice or maraschino cherry but when you’re living in a tipi you make do with what’s around you….a pennywort leaf.
…..first reports back suggest it tasted salty.
During the winter months, British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) are busy answering calls from the public informing them of young Grey seals, Halichoerus grypus, injured and stranded, many from the increasing swell we are seeing during the last few years winter storms. In a carefully coordinated effort, volunteers from BDMLR and the Cornwall Seal Sanctuary, Gweek, Cornwall, UK work together to rescue these animals, often requiring scaling perilous cliff faces to reach them. The seals are treated and rehabilitated at Gweek until they are well enough to be released again, where they are flipper tagged to help monitor them in the future, and released back into the oceans from whence they came.
On a morning in late May, I was lucky enough to be invited down (as a member of the Cornwall seal group), to watch these young seals get their first taste of freedom since their rescue. Some charged full tilt to the ocean, whilst others were definitely more hesitant and needed a bit of persistent encouragement. One by one they finally all made it into the open water where hopefully that’ll be the last we see of them. The following video was taken during that release, Grey seal release video
Grey seals are one of the rarest seals in the world, and in the UK we are lucky enough to have 40% of that population right on our doorstep. We have both Common and Grey seals as residents on our coast but in Cornwall we are most likely to see the larger Grey seal, with their sweet dog like faces, along our rocky shores.
If you come across any seals along the coast of Britain, that appear to be injured (some have clear ‘ringing’ injuries from fishing nets and marine litter), then please contact BDMLR on;
Working hours – weekdays.
If you wish to report an marine animal that you are concerned about or have a general enquiry about BDMLR, please call 01825 765546 during office hours 9am-5pm Monday to Friday.
Any messages left on the answerphone will not be checked until the morning of the next working day.
Outside office hours, weekends and bank holidays.
Outside normal office hours and over weekends and bank holidays, we operate a rescue line (no general enquiries please) on 07787 433412.
Please notice that this number diverts to one of our Out of Hours coordinators and therefore cannot accept texts, voice messages or photographs.
“The bees are swarming, the bees are swarming!!” A small group of us had assembled at Nectans Meadow, Devon UK, for the biannual meet up of the Atlantic Coast Friends of the Bees, discussing all things bee related, drinking tea and eating cake. All good meetings should have tea and cake. And bees. Our hosts, Sue and Mick, who have been using natural beekeeping methods in their apiary since they set it up seven years ago, were discussing the finer points of the top bar hive used in natural beekeeping, and Micks new adaptations to it to help the bees, when one of the group rushed in and exclaimed “The bees are swarming, the bees are swarming!!”
We dropped everything and rushed outside to see the meadow sky filled with thousands of honey bees. Swarming happens when the colony becomes too big for the hive and is a means of reproducing. The old queen lays new queen broods and then under the cohersion of the lady workers, is starved to make her light enough to fly and then is not so subtley booted out to make room for the new virgin queen to hatch and take over the old hive. The old queen, in something reminiscent of a Game of Thrones episode, is forced out and approximately half of the workers go with her and scout for a new place to set up a new colony. It is this ‘booting out’ that is effectively the swarm we were witnessing.
Three years ago I undertook some training in natural beekeeping at Nectans Meadow, with Sue and Micks apiary, under the tutelage of the barefoot beekeeper Phil Chandler. During that teaching weekend, we were so very lucky to witness the ‘bearding’ of honey bees under the hive. Bearding is when you see a large clump of bees, in this case around the hive entrance, and is often a means of the bees cooling down. The conditions that lead to ‘bearding’ are high temperatures, over-crowding, lack of ventilation, high humidity or some combination of those factors and during the spring months they may also do this just before they swarm.
This spring, Sue and Mick had seen the bees from one of their hives, the ‘posties’, bearding for several days before we arrived for our meeting. They had a strong inclination that the bees would be swarming soon, but it is something that happens only once or twice a year. For the colony to choose the day that we had our meeting, that we had prearranged months earlier, was insanely lucky and it couldn’t have been planned any better. They even waited for us to finish our tea and cake first.
Part 2 – transferring the swarm to a hive coming soon. To see footage of the bees swarming at Nectans Meadow check out the footage we filmed on our Bee swarming video
We’re currently building our own top bar hives in anticipation for a homeless swarm. Keep in touch as we’ll be offering natural bee keeping and top bar hive making courses in 2017.