Dandelions are the perfect spring plant. As soon as the ground thaws, you can dig up the roots, chop and roast them to use as a caramelly coffee like tea that will cleanse a whole winter’s worth of toxins from your body. The greens make one of the best bitter additions to salads or spring stir fries. Then there are the flowers. A ripe dandelion blossom smells like the sweetest of honey. They pop up as celebratory reflections of the sun in blossom form – which bloom, close, and give way to the giggling of children as their puffballs are blown into the air, landing somewhere downwind to start the whole process again.
Fried up in fritters, or tossed in raw to brighten a salad are both good ways to eat dandelion blossoms but I prefer to imbibe mine in liquid form. If you’ve never made wine before, this is a simple place to start. First, go out and collect about a half gallon of dandelion blossoms. It’s best to do this in mid-morning once they have fully opened for the day, though don’t kick yourself if you can’t pick any until 3 in the afternoon. For the most quintessential dandelion honey-like flavor, look for blossoms that have fully opened with all of their stamens (male flower part which contains the pollen) exposed.
Next, you will want to cut off the calyx of each blossom. The calyx is the green underside of the blossom. This part is particularly bitter and can leave an off taste in your wine. I have found that the best way to do this is to use a pair of sharp scissors and give your blossoms a haircut while pinching the calyx. The petals and stamens fall into a bowl and the calyx gets tossed into the compost. Once you have your bowl of fluffy yellow petals, pour over twice the volume of boiling water. For half a gallon of petals, you would use one gallon of water. To this, add the juice and zest of two lemons and the same for one orange. Stir, cover, and allow to steep on the counter overnight. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth or fine mesh sieve, pouring the liquid portion into a pot. Bring the liquid to a simmer and stir in 4 cups of sugar for every gallon. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn off the burner and allow the liquid to cool to near room temperature.
Cooling is important because the next step is adding the yeast. If it is too hot then it could kill the yeast. I like to use champagne yeast for an extra bubbly effervescence. Champagne yeast also gives it a slightly higher alcohol content if you’re into that. You could really use just about any yeast you want though. The first batch I ever made I used regular baking yeast and it turned out fine enough. Whatever yeast you use, stir it in well and then pour your concoction into a sterile jug of some sort and cap it with an airlock. If you are making a large batch, you could use a carboy. I tend to make smaller batches and use growlers. This year, I’ve also used half gallon mason jars with special fermenting lids that have an airlock attached. As your wine ferments, the yeast will convert the sugars to alcohol and burp out gasses. With just a lid and no airlock, your glass will likely explode due to the built up pressure of yeast burps. If you go without a lid, then bacteria could enter your wine and turn it to the dark side. There is a ton of information out there on wine making and fermentation. For the sake of brevity, I will stop here and allow you to do further research if you are interested. West coast forager extraordinaire, Pascal Baudar has a new book out titled The Wildcrafted Brewer: Creating Unique Drinks and Boozy Concoctions from Nature’s Ingredients, which is in my opinion the best place to start for foragers interested in brewing.
I allow my dandelion wine to ferment for at least two weeks before I rack it. All you do with racking is siphon off all of the liquid into a new container for further fermentation, leaving the dead yeast and settled solids in the bottom of the old container. I may repeat the process in another two weeks if necessary. After about 5-6 weeks, you should see a pronounced decrease in the rate of gas escaping through your airlock. This is a signal that your yeast has reached its stopping point and can no longer convert sugar into alcohol. It is now time to bottle. Siphon off your liquid one last time into sterile wine bottles or some other sort of container. For an easy travel size while still maintaining a drinkable amount, I gravitate towards growlers.
You could age your dandelion wine for up to or over a year. I would tell you how it tastes at that ripe old age but none of my wine has made it past its first summer. It tastes too good to let sit on the shelf. My wife has best described it as liquid sunshine. I would have to agree. It is a fairly sweet wine, though not nearly as sweet as other recipes on the internet, some of which call for twice as much sugar. It has been through trial and error over the last 6 years that I have arrived to this recipe. It isn’t perfect, but it is darn good. The citrus notes from the orange and lemons come through but do not overpower the honey flavor of the dandelion. There is a definite alcohol nip at the end, just enough to make you think twice before downing an entire batch in one sitting. Still, it is a dangerously tasty wine. I may try tinkering with different types of yeast in years to come, perhaps trying a batch with some of the naturally occurring yeast from the flowers themselves.
I had the Man Cub harvesting blossoms with me this spring and I told him that he could have some of the wine when he was older. About an hour later, he told me, “My body is bigger, and I am stronger, and I am old enough to drink the dandelion wine now.” Maybe by the time he is old enough, the recipe will be perfected.