Before attacking her perfect lawn with weedkiller to deal with those pesky, recurring, yellow-headed devils, Heather Barron discovers that there is another, more surprising way to eradicate the much-maligned dandelion from the garden

FLOWERS are not just for the garden or to grace the window sill to cheer up a room.

There is a whole array of flowers that can be added to food for colour, aroma and taste. Edible flowers can be used to decorate cakes for a vibrant splash of colour, or tossed into salads for a variety of flavours. They can be included in main dishes, side dishes or desserts; teas and wines, vinegars, oils and preserves.

The most commonly seen are roses, violets and pansies as cake decoration, and nasturtiums in salads, but look out into the garden over the next few weeks and you are likely see one of the most nutrient-dense plants you can eat – the dandelion.

And the best thing of all - you can eat the whole plant; flowers, leaves, stem and roots. This much-derided, prolific ‘weed’ contains iron, calcium, vitamins A, C and K, potassium, folic acid and magnesium. The high-fibre content of the leaves can help relieve constipation, and will help you to feel full, which aids cutting calories and losing weight.

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Pick when they’re young, for a sweeter flavour, as they get bitter as they age, but take note of these points:

• Never pick any dandelions close to a road where they might be affected by pollution

• Never pick dandelions from an industrial area, or any space where previous pollution might have been an issue

• Never pick dandelions from a garden where pesticides and fertilizers have been used

• Always wash greens thoroughly before consuming, and soak flowers in cold, salted water for about half-an-hour to remove any dirt and bugs.

To get the best greens from dandelions, catch them before they produce the yellow flower, and aim for the smaller, inside leaves which will be the youngest and sweetest. These younger leaves are delicious quickly sautéed in butter or olive oil, with a little crushed garlic, then finished with a sprinkling of good quality salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

The larger, outer leaves will be the bitterest, but can be relieved by double boiling for 2 minutes each time, before mixing with butter or double cream and lemon, for a tangy, creamy side-dish.

If you miss this early growth, and your plants have already produced a ‘crown’ (the small round head that is just about to produce the flower), you can still pick and eat that along with the leaves.

Once the plant has flowered, the yellow head can be plucked from the stem, and adds a lovely dash of vibrant colour to food. But use just the flower, not its green base, which is quite bitter.

Flowers dipped in a light batter and quickly fried in hot oil until pale gold make delicious snacks.

Once you’ve devoured everything above ground, it’s time to turn your attention to the root. Dandelion root has been used as a coffee substitute for centuries, while being caffeine-free, and containing more antioxidants and nutrients than ordinary coffee.

Roots will need cleaning really well, probably more than once. When you are satisfied that they are as clean as you can get them, chop them into small chunks, then grind in a food processor until roughly a quarter-inch long. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast in a hot oven for one-and-a-half to two hours, with the door slightly open if possible to allow moisture to escape. Stir frequently and check to prevent burning. Once the root is dry and has reached a deep brown, coffee-like colour, remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Store in an airtight jar, and boil 1 teaspoon of root pieces for each cup of water, or grind and use in a cafetière.

By the start of the autumn, not only will your garden be dandelion-free, you will be much healthier thanks to that versatile little weed.

  • Please note: people with allergies, especially to pollen, should not eat flowers.