The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

Dandelion Wine Part III: New Recipes and Insights May 18, 2015

I’ve posted on Dandelion wine before on this blog, and I wanted to follow up on my previous posts on dandelion wine – making the wine and racking/bottling. I’ve also written more generally about the dandelion as a beneficial plant–so why not 4th post on the glorious dandelion!

In this post, I wanted to spend some time talking about dandelion, review the last two years of dandelion winemaking adventures, share two new recipes, and talk about some flavor tests. For basics in how to make dandelion wine, please refer to my first two posts on the subject (linked above).

Bottled Dandelion Wine!

Bottled Dandelion Wine!

Some Thoughts on Dandelions

I want to speak briefly about the spiritual side to brewing dandelion wine. First of all, dandelion is a plant that so many hate and eradicate. Many poison the land to get rid of it–instead of learning about why its growing, what it does for our landscape, and how it may benefit us and wildlife (see photo below). By reclaiming this plant in various ways, we help heal the abused relationship that humanity has with dandelion and deepen our connection to the land. Its also fitting that dandelion is a very medicinal plant–healing the digestion and clearing the liver, primarily. And digestive  issues are plaguing so many, especially because of industrialized food. I also think that from a sustainable perspective, we take something that is unwanted and turn it into something that is very wanted–alcohol. What a way to reach out to people–through wine!  I am convinced that if I share enough bottles of the stuff, I can convince people to treat their lawns and dandelions just a little bit differently–and so I keep brewing the wine.  For these reasons, I love dandelion in all her forms, and I love the wine, food, and medicine that she creates.

Wild Turkey Feasting on Dandelion

Wild Turkey Feasting on Dandelion – Wildlife need the dandelions too!

Two Dandelion Wine Recipes

In 2013, we brewed our first batch of dandelion wine–a whopping 5 gallon batch of  using the #1 recipe listed from Jack Keller’s Winemaking site. It turned out beautifully–sweet, strong, reminding us of the sunrise. Very smooth. In 2014, we decided to try two new recipes of our own creation, based on Jack Keller’s.  Both turned out amazing–so here they are 🙂

 

D&P’s Dandelion-Ginger Sunshine Wine

This recipe makes a 5 gallon batch, which is well worth making. You can reduce this to 1 gallon if you want by dividing everything by 5. A 5 gallon batch gives you approximately 24 bottles of wine, enough to drink and share!

 

  • 15 quarts dandelion flowers (no stalks, just heads)
  • 5 lb sultanas (golden raisins)
  • 5 gallons water
  • 15 lbs sugar
  • 10 lemons
  • 5 oranges
  • 2.5 cups chopped fresh ginger
  • yeast (1 package, wine yeast)
  • yeast nutrient

 

Pick the flowers on a sunny day when they are open and full–you usually have about a week window of time to pick before they go to seed (in my part of the country, Zone 6b, this is usually early in May). Do not pick the stalks, but a bit of greenery around the head is fine. Using a VERY large vessel or several smaller ones (I use my pressure canner and huge stockpot, you could also use a brewing bucket), boil 4.5 gallons of water and pour the boiling water over the dandelion flowers. Cover with a towel and tie the towel to the pot using string or yarn (see my earlier post for photos). Let it sit for two days, stirring three times a day. You’ll see it start to ferment and start to smell like wine after a day.

 

After the two days, bring flowers and water to a low boil (you will likely need to split the batch into two pots to do this). Thinly peel or grate oranges and lemons (avoiding any white pith), and cut up the ginger into small chunks, and add to the mixture. Also add the sugar at this time. Boil for an hour, then let cool to lukewarm (70-75 degrees Fahrenheit) and pour back into your brewing bucket, cover, and let sit in a warm place for three days.

Getting ready to bottle!

Getting ready to bottle!

 

Then, strain your dandelion mixture and put into a secondary fermentation vessel, like a 5 gallon glass carboy.  Add all of the raisins (I do this with a funnel–and its tedious), top off the carboy with water till its 3″ from the top, then fit with the fermentation trap. You’ll see the yeast going crazy over the sultanas–it’s really fun to watch. After a month or so, the wine will clear (that is, everything, including the sultanas and yeast, drops to the bottom and the wine gets much less cloudy). Strain and rack, again topping up with any additional water to get 3″ from the fermentation vessel. Wait another month or two till fermentation ceases completely, then rack again, again topping up with water. Wait another two months or longer, then bottle. At this point, you are about six months in–bottle it and wait another six months before tasting. If you wait even longer, it will just continue to get better and smoother with age. Sometimes, we forget to bottle it and even if you leave it racked, it ages and tastes really good by the time we bottle it :P.

 

The addition of the ginger in this wine is awesome–its smooth, complex, sweet, and quite alcoholic!  Its seriously some of the best wine we’ve ever had!

 

Dandelion Bitters Wine

 

This wine has less of a complex flavor than the Dandelion-Ginger above, and it has just a tiny hint of bitterness from the dandelion–which is a fantastic thing for after dinner to get the gastric juices flowing (bitter flavors stimulate digestion). So we see this as a really medicinal and fantastic wine–herbalist approved :). Its doesn’t get as clear as the Dandelion-Ginger wine, but its still sweet, strong, and wonderful.

 

  • 15 quarts dandelion flowers (no stalks, just heads. No need to pick out flower petals)
  • 15 lbs sugar
  • yeast (1 package, wine yeast)
  • yeast nutrient

 

Follow all directions above, omitting the ginger, oranges, lemons, and sultanas. Ferment and enjoy!

Dandelion Bitters Wine ready to bottle!

Dandelion Bitters Wine ready to bottle!

Taste Tests

All three wines (including the original dandelion wine recipe we tried two years ago from Jack Keller’s site) taste great. We like the Dandelion-Ginger Sunshine wine the best because the ginger gives it a really nice flavor, not too strong, but just adding that little amazing extra zing to make it an A+. But any of the three are great–and the longer they sit in the bottle, the better they get. I still have about 8 bottles left from 2013, and they are seriously so amazing (and a very hot commodity when people find out you have it).

 

Here’s a photo of the difference in the color and clarity between Dandelion Bitters (left) and Dandelion-Ginger Sunshine (right). The Dandelion-Ginger Sunshine wine really clears nicely.

Taste tests - the clearer one on the right is Dandelion-Ginger Sunshine

Taste tests with Paul

As my bottles safely age in my pantry, I am once again reminded about the lessons that time and patience bring. I hope that more people take up brewing with dandelions (or cooking with them, or anything else)–its a great alternative to mowing them or spraying them with chemicals. If we can get enough people to do this, dandelions will be cultivated once again in our fields and lawns, rather than hated. And then their sunny, golden heads can serenade the spring!

 

Ode to the Dandelion May 26, 2014

I remember a sunny day not too long ago in early May when I was visiting my parents in western Pennsylvania. Everywhere we drove, dandelions were growing, their beautiful, bright yellow heads serenading the sun. After one of the coldest winters in modern history, seeing fields and lawns full of dandelions reflecting back the light of the sun was a blissful experience. “Here we are!” the dandelions cried out. “We are bringing sunlight and spring back into the world! Hear our song!” And I could tell they were doing just that, their sunburst flower heads reflecting the warmth and heat, welcoming spring to the lands once again. As we were driving, I remarked to my parents how nice it was that people were letting them grow instead of mowing them or putting chemicals on them. The photograph is below–this was one of the fields that I saw.  However, I had spoken too soon–not a day later, fields and lawns I had photographed full of dandelions were mowed, one after another.  It seemed that everyone took that day to mow down their dandelions, spray them, and then the fields left their magical dandelion state and went back to mundane green.

Fields of Dandelions...mowed hours later!

Fields of Dandelions…mowed hours later!

The dandelion, perhaps more than any other plant, instills hatred and virility across the US landscape. The dandelion seems to be enemy #1: Americans and other industrialized nations spend millions of dollars and dump millions of petrochemical weed killers on getting rid of dandelions.  In my few short days visiting my parents, I witnessed people digging them out, mowing them down, spraying them, and expressing frustration and anger at the sight of them. In some townships and developments, they are banned from the landscape. A friend tells me how her subdivision has banned the dandelion and anyone who has them growing in their yard can be fined up to $100 a week. The irony of all of this, of course, is that the reason this plant is in the US at all is because our ancestors brought it here due to its highly beneficial nature.

 

Why is there such hatred for the dandelion today, when in previous generations, it was a revered plant? I think there are a number of underlying factors.  First, the perfect (tame) green lawn is an incredibly powerful myth that people hold onto, something they strive to have, for reasons largely lost on me. The dandelion challenges that myth and requires work to remove; it challenges the idea that we can tame nature.  Second, we have a profound lack of knowledge about about the role of the dandelion and how beneficial it can be to the land, the insects, and ourselves.  Third, the linguistic framing of the dandelion as a “weed” masks its beneficial nature–weeds are pests, unwanted plants that plague humanity….if only they realized that settlers brought the dandelions here in the first place due to their beneficial nature!

 

In this post, I’m going to present an alternative view to the dandelion, and discuss its important role in our ecosystem and in our own lives.  If we want to shift to more sustainable practices and a more spiritual way of interacting with the land, we need to start seeing dandelions as allies, not enemies.  And allies they are, providing us with land healing, nutrition, medicine, beauty, whimsy, and even wine!

 

What is a Dandelion?

A dandelion (taraxacum officinale) is a hardy perennial wildflower that grows across temperate regions in the Americas, Asia and Europe.  It often appears as one of the first flowers in spring, although can be found blooming throughout the summer months.  The dandelion is naturalized to the North American region, being brought here by European settlers, who found dandelions to be so useful that they  planted dandelions wherever they went.

Yard full of dandelions!

Yard full of dandelions!

 

Why does the Dandelion grow in your lawn?  What is it doing there? Why is it important?

Before I get into the specific benefits of the dandelion, the issue of the lawn must first be addressed. The lawn itself is an attempt to put nature in an unnatural state that requires fossil fuels and many human hours of labor to maintain.  The lawn is the largest “crop” in cultivation in the USA, yet it produces no food. The dandelion’s role in the ecosystem is a restorative plant: it comes in and attempts to restore the lawn to a more natural state, to heal the damage that has been done.  It does this in at least three ways: through rejuvenating the nutrients in the soil, through reducing soil compaction, and through preventing soil erosion.

 

Dandelions, according to Gaia’s Garden: A Home-Scale Guide to Permaculture, are helpful plants that rejuvenate damaged and compacted soil.  When we strip the soil bare (say, at a construction site or in a new subdivision where the current practice is to remove all topsoil and sell it), dandelions and other rejuvenating plants (burdock, yellow dock, yarrow, clover lamb’s quarters, ground ivy, etc.) start growing to begin to regenerate the soil. These plants are the first of many that will eventually grow, but these plants job is to bring nutrients from deep below the soil, to pull in nutrients from the air into the soil, and generally build soil health.  If this bare soil was left on its own, eventually dandelions would give way to larger shrubs and bushes, eventually trees and forest would move in (and dandelion would be long gone).

 

In addition to regenerating the land in terms of nutrients, one of the things that dandelion is particularly good for is breaking up compacted soil.  Most of the “lawn” spaces are repeatedly driven over with heavy machinery, causing substantial soil compaction. To see how compacted your soil is, go and try to stick your fingers down in your soil.  If they don’t slide in easily, the soil is likely compacted (compare this to a freshly turned garden soil).  Because of soil compaction, its very hard for many plants to establish root systems. Therefore, one of the most important roles dandelion plays in our ecosystem is to break up compacted soil with its deep taproot.

 

That same deep taproot and carpet of dandelions can help quickly prevent soil erosion and the loss of nutrients from the soil.  Soil erosion is a serious issue–in our nation’s history, the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s was largely caused by poor soil erosion control (wind erosion).  This led to substantial crop and farm failure and contributed to the worsening of the Great Depression.

 

Understanding a bit about the soil quality, soil compaction, and soil erosion, we can now understand why dandelions show up in so many lawns!  They are attempting to heal the soil so that other plants can grow.

Other Benefits of Dandelions for the Land

In addition to building healthy soil, the dandelion has numerous benefits for other creatures in the landscape.  Bees and insects of all kinds depend on it for survival, as do various other animals.

As a beekeeper, I welcome the dandelions at the start of spring.  After a long, cold winter, all of the bees are hungry; dandelion provides them with the earliest source of nectar and pollen. Pollen is a critical part of the bees’ diet; pollen provides protein that the bees use as a food source and to raise their own young.  Without the pollen in the early spring from dandelions and other flowers, bees might sacrifice protein in their own bodies to raise their young.  Considering the plight of the bees, especially the honeybee, anything we can do to aid in their survival (such as letting dandelions grow) is critical.

Furthermore, if one mows a field of dandelions in full bloom, one risks killing thousands and thousands of bees–domesticated honeybees as well as wild pollinators like bumble bees or mason bees.  We need those same bees to come along and pollinate our tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, and many other plants later in the season, and they form a vital part of our ecosystem!  For the sake of the bees, don’t mow down that field or lawn of dandelions!

 

Harvesting Dandelion

In the sections that follow, I’ll describe some recopies using the different parts of the dandelion plant–this info on harvesting will help you understand how to ethically and safely harvest. When harvesting any wild food/medicine, you want to be very careful about where you harvest.  Harvesting from your neighbor’s lawn, when your neighbor sprays every few weeks, is a very bad idea.  Likewise, harvesting too close to an old house (that may have had lead paint) or by the roadside (that once had cars with leaded gasoline) is likewise not a good idea.  I usually harvest my dandelions from inside my organic garden–encourage their growth on the edge of my garden to attract pollinators, and when the stray ones grow up in my beds, I pull them out.

 

If you are going for the root, you’ll obviously be harvesting the whole plant.  I suggest harvesting roots early in the spring or late in the fall if you can do so–the energy of the plant is in the root during these times.  Once the root sends up its greenery, you lose some of the energy of the plant into the greenery and seed production.  With that said though, roots can be harvested all through the spring, summer, and fall.  To clean the roots, you can wash them easily with a big bucket and a hose outside–rinse them off till the dirt is gone.  I usually go through several changes of water and use a scrub brush and they are clean.  What you do with the roots at that point is up to you (see “Dandelion as Medicine” and “Dandelion as Food” below).

 

The greens are best harvested in the spring, as the plants are shooting up their new growth.  If you are harvesting greens, the rule of thumb is that the younger the greens, the less bitter they are.  The energy of the plant is in the greens at that time. You want some of the bitter nature of the plant (more on that below) but too much bitter may not be so palatable!  Again, you can harvest from any safe place and then wash them lightly.

 

I don’t really think in most places you can overharvest dandelion to the point of threatening the plant.  Do be aware, however, of how many dandelions are in the immediate area (especially if you are digging roots) and harvest only as many as you need.  Do also be aware that bees and other insects need them as a food source, so harvest with that in mind.  I have an abundance of dandelion in my yard, so I harvest as much as I’d like, knowing there will always be more!

 

Fields of dandelion

Fields of dandelion

Dandelion as Medicine

The way that I use dandelion most often is as a medicine.  Dandelion’s entire plant has medicinal qualities.

Bitters. One of the primary medicinal qualities of a dandelion is that it is a bitter. Bitters are found quite a bit in the wild, and as humans evolved, we most certainly ate a lot of bitter foods (just go sample any number of wild greens and you’ll get exactly what I mean).  But when we cut bitters out of our diet, our digestion began to suffer.  My herb teacher, Jim Mcdonald, describes bitters as stimulating all digestive functions, including the stomach acids, saliva, stomach enzymes, hormones produced in the stomach, bile, and so on. Each of these, in turn, help break down food and add to digestion and overall gastrointestinal well being.

Bitters should be seen as a tonic, that is, they are something we don’t take only when we are sick, but rather something we take every day to help keep us in optimal health.  I take my dandelion bitters before each meal–in order for the bitters to be effective, you have to taste them.  A few drops of my dandelion root tincture on my tongue (see recipe) will help my digestion each day!

Beyond the immediate physical benefits, I there is also a spiritual side to the bitters.  You are taking and extracting the essence of a plant, preserving it in alcohol, and then taking that plant as medicine.  This puts you in communion of the plant (even more so if you harvest/grow the plant itself).  This has powerful spiritual implications for those who choose to seek them.

 

Dandelion Root Tea

Another way to take your daily dose of dandelion is through tea.  Here are two kinds of recipes:

Fresh tea: The fresh tea is simple to make–dig up a number of roots (which shouldn’t be too difficult). Wash your roots, chop them up, and bring them to boil with several cups water (think about 1/2 tablespoon root per 1 cup water). Boil for 40 minutes and then enjoy.

Dried Tea: The dried tea can be enjoyed the same way as fresh.  After harvesting, you can chop and dry out the dandelion root.  I usually just let it air dry, but you can also use a dehydrator.  The dried root tea can be prepared like the fresh tea.  Also consider adding other medicinal herbs to your blend!

 

 

Dandelion as Food

Dandelion can be ingested in many ways, the health benefits of which I discussed under “dandelion as medicine.”  The nutritional value of dandelion plants are also quite high–they are high in vitamins A, B, C and D, and contain potassium, zinc, and iron.  This makes them an all-around great food and drink.  Again, remember that dandelion is a tonic plant, which means we want to be taking it often!

Roasted Root Coffee: The dried and roasted roots also make a great tea (although its a little more like a coffee, and some people drink it as a coffee substitute–coffee, like dandelion, is also a bitter that “moves” you!)  Again you’ll want to dig up as many roots as you’d like.  Now you’ll want to chop them.  To chop them quickly, you can use a food processor.  Set your oven to 250 degrees, and lay your roots out on a baking sheet (or several).  Over the next two hours, check on them fairly often, stirring them to ensure an even roast.  When you have them to the desired darkness, you can pull them out of the oven.  Before serving, I usually grind them up further in a coffee grinder so that I get a nice ground.  You want to store the grounds  in an airtight container (like a mason jar).  You can use 1 tablespoon (level) for 1 cup of coffee. You’ll want to boil it for 10-15 min (not just brew like regular coffee).  Add cream and honey!  Delicious!

Dandelion Wine:  I have also had the joy of making dandelion wine, detailed in two posts here and here.

 

Dandelion wine fermenting....

Dandelion wine fermenting….

There are many other ways to enjoy dandelion in the spring, especially the leaves, which can be used in salads, stir fried, sauteed, made into fritters, etc.  An online search will reveal many more recipes!

 

Shifting Consciousness: Dandelions, Whimsy, and Magic

I remember as a child how I would go out into a field of dandelions, pick one seed head after another, and blow them all away.  Dandelions have a very whimsical quality to them.  As they take flight, they appear like little fairies.

Dandelions are truly a plant of the sun–their flowers open when the sun is out, and close at night or in overcast or rainy weather. The seed heads, however, have a lunar quality–they appear like a full moon, and stay that way regardless of the weather or light or darkness, until the wind (or some child) comes and blows them away.  At this point, the seeds take flight; a delicate umbrella carries off the tiny dandelion seed to new ground.

What I’ve been attempting to convey in this book is the importance of shifting our own consciousness, of understanding dandelions as more than just a “pesky weed” but an incredibly important plant ally that gives so much to the land and to us if we only allow it.  I encourage you to spend some time and sit with the dandelion plant.  Watch her softly move in the breeze.  Watch her seeds take flight.  Dig one up and examine her deep taproot, turn it into medicine, and see the dandelion as a magical, incredible plant that she is.

 

Making Dandelion Wine Part II: Racking and Bottling March 21, 2014

A delightful nine or so months ago, I posted about attempts at the first batch of dandelion wine.  In today’s post, I’ll talk about what has happened since that first post and the process that we went through to finish off our wine.

Yes, a real rack of bottled wine!

Yes, a real rack of bottled wine!

I have talked at length about different preservation techniques on this blog.  There is such magic in growing, foraging, harvesting, and preserving one’s own food and drink.  When you pop the cork on your own homebrewed wine, or you unseal a jar of fresh black raspberry sauce, it is like nothing else you have ever experienced.  Food bought at the grocery store begins, more and more, to look like soggy cardboard and tasteless drivel masquerading as something edible.  This is not to mention the pesticides, GMOs, and other additives foods, even fresh foods like lettuce, now have all through them.  And the fossil fuels required to get them to the store, to harvest them, to package them…the list goes on and on.  Real food, that we grow and preserve ourselves, comes as a labor of love and a connection to the sacred landscape.  As I continue further into this journey, I can taste, smell, and experience the difference with each mouthful.

 

This 5 gallon batch of dandelion wine has certainly been a labor of love.  Truthfully, when I decided I wanted to brew a batch of dandelion wine last year, I had no idea what I was in for!  After making our wine in late May, we waited three full months for the primary fermentation to cease (this is when the wine stopped having crazy amounts of bubbles).  At this stage, we were supposed to rack it (meaning transfer it from the primary fermentation vessel, with all the raisins and yeast that settled to the bottom) to a secondary fermentation vessel and then wait two months so it will “clear” and then bottle it.  Well…erm…we waited a little longer than 2 months after the initial “racking” into secondary fermentation.  We waited more like 5 more months.  We got so busy with the apple harvest, and then the winter holiday season, that we just finally got around to bottling the stuff.  But it was very much worth the wait!

 

I’m going to walk you through step by step our process of bottling the wine. At this stage, the wine has been allowed to do its initial fermentation (in a glass carboy) and then we “racked” it, or transferred the liquid (but not the yeast sediment at the bottom nor the raisins in the liquid) into a 2nd glass carboy where it fermented and “cleared” (meaning the yeast sediment dropped to the bottom). We were left with a 5 gallon batch of yellow wine with a fine layer of yeast sediment on the bottom.

 

Here we start by doing a lot of sanitizing of our bottles and our bottling bucket. This allows us to be sure there isn’t any bad bacteria in the bottle or bucket that could screw up our wine. Potassium metabisulphite is used as a sanitizing agent–you mix some up in water, spray it, and add more water, and swish it around.  You let it sit for 10 minutes then rinse really well.

Cleaning equipment (the bathtub works great for this)

Cleaning equipment (the bathtub works great for this)

Sanitizing bottles

Sanitizing bottles

While the sanitizing is ongoing, we also soaked our corks (they require a 20 minute soak) to get pliable. They did not want to be covered in water in a bowl, so I stuck them all in a jar and that worked well.

Soaking Corks

Soaking Corks

Once our equipment was prepped, the real fun began. We had to transfer the wine into the bottling bucket and avoid the layer of yeast that landed on the bottom of the wine. Gravity and some equipment from the brewing store does most of the job for us.

I am transferring the wine!

I am transferring the wine!

Once the wine is transferred (which takes about 15 min), we had to make sure that we got the last good drops.  Here, my brew mentor and dear friend, Paul, is siphoning out the last of the wine and trying not to stir up the yeast on the bottom of the glass carboy.

Getting last bit of wine

Getting last bit of wine

Before we bottled the wine, we decided we better have a taste. The wine was not bitter at all–it was sweet and quite strong!  I don’t drink much at all, so it was an experience for me!

Tasting the wine

Tasting the wine

To bottle the wine, the bottling bucket has this neat little wand that you simply place into the bottle and push up slightly so that the wine will flow into the bottle. Then you pull it out and it is ready to cork. So simple!  I realize how important good equipment is to this whole process!

Filling bottles

Filling bottles

After that, you cork the wine using the nifty corker (I borrowed the bucket and corker from friends since I am new to brewing).

Corking the wine!

Corking the wine! Its not really as hard as the expression on my face suggests.

After that, there is nothing else to do but let it age in the bottles another 6 months to a year and create a nifty label (which I haven’t yet done).

Yay! My first bottle of wine!

Yay! My first bottle of wine!

We stored the wine on its side in a dark, cold closet. If the wine doesn’t sit on its side, the corks may dry out.

23 bottles of wine!

23 bottles of wine!

Winemaking was an epic adventure.  It did require some initial investment for equipment, but now that I have the equipment, any additional batches of wine are going to be cheap to produce!  I also am happy to say I’m following in the footsteps of my ancestors–my grandmother on my father’s side loved making dandelion wine, and made it in gallon batches with a giant balloon on the top to regulate fermentation. I’m told by my parents that her wine was quite strong and quite tasty. I think I’ll drink some of my wine in honor of my grandmother this Samhuinn. And from the sound of it, my wine is going to be just as strong as hers was!

 

Making Dandelion Wine – Photos and Step by Step Instructions May 23, 2013

Yard full of dandelions!

Yard full of dandelions!

I’ve decided to learn how to make wine from  the dandelions in my yard! Why? When John Michael Greer was here a month ago, he suggested various kinds of reskilling to help us transition to post industrialism. One of his suggestions was to learn how to brew something because everyone always wants a good brew–and so, I am.  I figured that now is as good of a time as any to learn to make some wine!  Lucky for me, one of my good friends brews beer often, so he helped walk me through the process.

 

Additionally, dandelions get a bad rap in our society–Americans and other industrialized nations spend millions of dollars and dump millions of petrochemical weed killers on getting rid of dandelions. But as the book Gaia’s Garden: A Home-Scale Guide to Permaculture describes, the dandelion is an incredibly important plant. Its deep tap root breaks up compacted soil, it is full of nutrients, and it works to heal the lawn. To me, if we are going to shift to more sustainable practices and a more spiritual way of interacting with the land, we need to start seeing dandelions as allies, not enemies.  And allies they are, providing us with nutrition, medicine, beauty, whimsy, and yes…wine.

 

So, in this blog post, I wanted to talk a bit about the wine-making process from the perspective of someone completely new to home brewing.  I’ll talk about our process, the terminology, etc.  Let’s start with a few initial considerations:

 

1. Find a brewing mentor.

Honestly, the brewing process for the first time is a bit overwhelming.  I read and read online, and it was hard to understand the recipes because of the unfamiliar terms.  I think if I had bought a wine making book, maybe this wouldn’t have been quite the case.  Regardless,  I mitigated the problem by asking a good friend, Paul, who had years of brewing experience to help me through the process.  Since my friend did not have wine-making experience (but extensive beer/cider brewing) he was excited to learn about wine too (and of course, he’ll be getting quite a few bottles of the end product!)

 

2. Find a good recipe.

You’ll also need a good recipe.  I’m using Dandelion recipe #1 from a winemaking site.  I decided I was going to brew a 5 gallon batch so that my friend could have some.  Brewing a larger batch involved some simple mathematics to take the recipe from 1 to 5 gallons.  My friend also read online about the recipes and found forums where people discussed their experiences–this is also a good thing to do prior to starting.

 

3. Get your brewing supplies.

Lovely, sunny dandelions!

Lovely, sunny dandelions!

You want to get some supplies for brewing–its good to go to a local home brewing business and you can ask questions, get a kit, etc.  I purchased a 5 gallon glass “carboy” (which is just a big jug), a siphon to help remove (“rack”) liquid, some equipment for straining, a big funnel, some sanitizing agents, yeast, and yeast nutrient (and cheesecloth, which I forgot).  I purchased these supplies from a place in Ann Arbor, MI, called “Adventures in Home Brewing.”   I paid about $50 for everything including two glass “carboys” of 5 gallons each.  Most of this stuff is entirely reusable–the whole process is cheaper than I thought it would be. The staff were knowledgeable and very friendly. If you don’t have a local supply store, they have reasonable rates for online purchases.

 

4. Get your recipe supplies.

I also had to purchase the food materials for my recipe, which included 10 lemons, 5 oranges, 15 lbs of sugar and 5 lbs of golden raisins.

The process (so far)

Picking dandelions!

We spent a lovely, sunny hour and a half or so picking 60 cups of dandelions in my organic garden and yard.  You want to pick from an area that is not sprayed with chemicals.  Pick them when they are in full bloom (in Michigan, this is in early May).  We were able to pick enough dandelions for our brew in one day; people with smaller yards or less dandelion bounty may need to pick for a few days. This is better with friends and chickens to keep you company!

 

The brewing process

I’m now going to go through the basic process for this recipe using step by step photos.  I have to wait over a year to know if this is ultimately successful, but I’ll occasionally update the blog (this post) to let you know how things stand!

This is what 60 cups of dandelions looks like!

This is what 60 cups of dandelions looks like!

I boiled a little under 5 gallons of water and poured it over the dandelions.  Then it sat covered in my kitchen for two days before the process continued on.

The dandelions in a huge pressure cooker

The dandelions in a huge pressure cooker, ready to cook.

After the 2 days, we boiled the dandelions with sugar and the lemon/orange rinds (no white pith).  We added in the juice at the end of the boiling process. After boiling, we waited till it cooled to about 75 degrees (which took about 4 hours) and then added the yeast (this is special wine-making yeast).

Yeast!

Yeast!

The whole mixture sat for three days covered, fermenting.  It remained surprisingly warm, and bubbled and made little popping noises when you got up close.  Here’s a picture of the canner with the cloth cover.

Sitting for 3 days in an open brew!

Sitting for 3 days in an open brew!

After three days, we uncovered it.  The photo below is of my friend, Paul, taking a big whiff of the brew.  It already tastes and smells like wonderful awesomeness.

Smells like booze!

Smells like booze!

To extract the liquid and begin the first “racking” process, we began by using this cool siphon thing that Paul told me to buy to pull the liquid out of the bottom of the pressure canner and into our “carboy” (that’s the 5 gallon glass jug).  This process was really easy and fast–so I would definitely suggest the $12 investment in this little tool.  The liquid was a lovely yellow color and smelled awesome!

Siphoning the liquid

Siphoning the liquid into the carboy under Paul’s careful supervision.

I did forget to buy a cheesecloth, but we sanitized a clean cotton pillowcase and used that to strain out the remaining liquid from the dandelions.

Straining the dandelion brew

Straining the dandelion brew

We added the raisins using the funnel. Once everything was done, we put this neat little cap on it that allows the jug to breathe without adding in any spores from the atmosphere.  Now I just wait till the wine “clears” before racking it a second time.

Neato thing I forgot the name of.

Neato thing I forgot the name of.

We put it in a warm spot upstairs. This is how it looked this morning, about 12 hours after the process was complete.  Its bubbling and going crazy, and you can literally see the yeast eating away at the rasins.

"Racked" dandelion wine!

“Racked” dandelion wine!

The next step is to wait till the wine “clears” then strain it again, transferring it into another clean, sanitized vessel.  Then we wait more time before bottling it.  After bottling, I have to wait at least six months, but preferably, a full year, before drinking it.

 

So far, this process has been fun and exciting.  I’m certainly glad to have friends who have done this before, however, because wine making can be quite intimidating when you are first starting out!  But I’m very excited to put these dandelions to use and make my first brew :).