The yellow flowers of the prolific dandelion certainly bring the sunshine to this syrup. It's imbued with hay and meadow-like flavours, which make it a surprisingly authentic substitute for natural honey.
Making dandelion honey is one of those annual rituals, like making wild garlic pesto and elderflower champagne, that become an eagerly awaited waymarker in the foraging year. Like wild garlic pesto, dandelion honey is such a useful recipe to create because it can not only be used “neat” but is also a really versatile ingredient in other dishes. We’ve used it to sweeten our nettle seed and dandelion honey bread as well as showcased it in this gloriously moreish dandelion honey loaf cake.
For vegans, this is a sugar syrup that makes a surprisingly authentic honey substitute, because it is infused with hay-like, meadow and pollen flavours. You can use it in exactly the same way as you’d use honey: in baked goods, to sweeten teas or poured over pancakes or drizzled on crumpets and toast.
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) have a long season, flowering from mid-spring until around October, but they tend to explode onto the scene around mid-April, if the weather is favourable. This aster usually hits its peak around May to June, when its sunburst-like flower heads can be picked in happy abundance. To the dismay of many a flawless lawn lover (which is definitely not us!), dandelions prefer to make their home in an expanse of sun-drenched grass, so they are extremely easy to find. In fact, there are more than 200 dandelion species in the UK. They are viewed as "weeds" (by some but not us) but remember dandelions are also beloved by pollinators, so do leave enough for the bees and other buzzy things if you're foraging early in the season. Also check you are picking from an area that hasn't been sprayed with pesticides.
You'll need quite a lot of flower heads for this recipe, which should yield approximately two 250ml jars. American cups are a very useful way of measuring flowers for recipes, and this uses five — if you don't have a set, then this equates to around 140g-160g. The good news is that dandelions are usually quick to pick, because they are so prolific. You will need to use them quickly to make the most of their freshness and heavy pollen, so pick a day when you are happy to set aside a good 30-40mins prep as the petals need to be removed from the green sepals before using. The sepals can add a bitter taint to the honey, but they can be easily separated, either by pulling or using scissors.
Ingredients (makes approx 2 x 250ml jars):
5 cups (or 140g-160g) freshly-picked dandelion flower heads
1 litre water
Half a lemon, cut into slices
1/4 tsp vanilla bean paste (or half a vanilla bean)
600g granulated white sugar
- Let the dandelions to sit for at least 5mins after picking to allow any bugs to make an exit. There is no need to wash the dandelions as this will remove the pollen. They will be boiled later, so will be sterile.
- Separate the dandelion petals from the sepals either by pulling or chopping with a large pair of kitchen scissors.
- Add the dandelion petals, water, sliced lemon and vanilla bean paste to a large saucepan and then bring to the boil.
- Keeping the lid on the pan, simmer for around 20mins.
- Remove the pan from the heat and leave to sit overnight or for a minimum of six hours to allow the petals to infuse the liquid.
- Line a colander or large sieve with muslin and pour the dandelion infusion through it into a fresh saucepan.
- Gently wring out the muslin to extract all of the liquid and then discard the petals and lemon slices.
- Bring the pan of liquid to a low boil with the lid off.
- Gradually add in the sugar, stirring continually until it is fully dissolved.
- Continue to boil the syrup for around 1hr until it is considerably reduced and has begun to thicken. (You can test thickness by putting a small amount on a spoon and leaving to cool a little).
- Around 15mins before the syrup is ready, prepare your jars by washing them in hot, soapy water and then putting both the jars and the lids in a 160c oven for 15mins to sterilise.
- When the syrup is at the desired thickness, pour the boiling liquid into the hot jars and seal. The honey should keep for around six months.
Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!