Edible Campus volunteer Isabelle Low writes:

Annoying weed or good for the environment?

Bumble bees, beetles, birds, butterflies and a host of other beneficial insects all look to the dandelion as a source of nourishment in early spring. It is not a preferred food, but it does help fill the gap when other sources are not available and in spring dandelions exist in abundance.

But it’s a pernicious weed, with a long taproot; and its lovely seedheads will quickly spread its seeds throughout your garden. You choose.

It does traditionally have medicinal value. The leaves have diuretic properties. Because of this, they were often in herbal gardens: to treat liver and kidney problems as well as digestive disorders. The plants are a source of vitamins A, B, C, and D, and contain minerals such as iron, potassium and zinc.

I’m more interested in how it can be eaten. Young dandelion greens can be tossed in salads and young leaves can be cooked like spinach. Leaves should be gathered before the plant blooms as they will become increasingly bitter and tough. Or you can make them into pesto with garlic and nuts and oil.

Or go for cooking both the leaves and the flowers and making them into a risotto:

• First, prepare your dandelion leaves and petals. Wash and dry the leaves and chop them fine; wash the flower heads in cold water to get rid of any insects, then cut off the end and peel back the green sepals to free the petals. You’ll need about 150g for four people plus a few extra as a garnish.

• Saute an onion in two tablespoons olive oil with two cloves of garlic for about five minutes, but don’t allow it to brown.

• Add 300g of arborio rice. Stir into the onions and then pour in 125ml of dry white wine. Once absorbed, gradually add a ladleful of stock at a time, allowing the rice to soak up the liquid before adding more. You’ll need around 700ml. The rice will take at least 20 minutes to cook.

• Add 125g of yoghurt, plus 100g of grated parmesan and the dandelion leaves and petals.

• Serve immediately, drizzled with olive oil and scattered with golden-yellow petals.

Or how about dandelion flower syrup? You need:

  • 2 generous handfuls dandelion flowers
  • 750ml water
  • 500g demerara sugar
  • 1 lemon, juiced

Thoroughly remove any stems and leaves (they make the syrup bitter). Add flowers to a saucepan together with the water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve and gently squeeze the flowers to extract the liquid. Pour liquid back into the saucepan and add sugar and lemon juice. The liquid slowly thickens. Remove from heat when you have reached your preferred consistency. When cooled and kept in the fridge your syrup will thicken even more so don’t let it condense too much. Pour syrup in sterilised small bottles or jars and close tightly with a cork or a cap. Refrigerate and use within a few weeks.

Why not try one or more of these soon?