Turning Weeds into Wine

Transform the abundant, tenacious, and underutilized dandelion into a flavorful spirit.

| Winter 2019

dandelion-wine
Photo by Christopher Shockey

In the small Midwestern town where I grew up, there was a clear distinction between weeds and worthwhile plants: Anything that was meant to be eaten was in the garden. What was left was the yard, which was meant to be a sea of untarnished grass. Dandelions were my dad’s No. 1 nemesis, and they made no attempt at camouflage. With their broad, serrated leaves and bright-yellow, silver-dollar-sized blossoms, they seemed to beg for my father’s wrath. Still, I secretly sided with them in the family battle. When a flower made it to maturity, I’d pluck it and carefully pace the yard, blowing the seeds free to land like paratroopers in my father’s tended lawn.

Whether you count the common dandelion as a weed or an edible, you have to give it credit: It’s a plant that’s good at surviving. Taraxacum officinale is the most common variety of dandelion, and it calls most of the planet’s soil home; we’ve all seen a stray golden flower thriving despite being wedged into an impossibly narrow crack in a sidewalk.

The dandelion has a long history of medicinal use by indigenous peoples in North America, Europe, and Asia, and is still beloved by herbalists today. The root is often used in support of digestion and liver function. The leaves are bitter, and also serve to stimulate digestion, as well as the production of urine. They’re also full of fiber — a good source of prebiotics — as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, thiamine, and vitamins A and C. The flowers contain high concentrations of flavonoids and coumaric acid, which are powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents in our bodies.



The flowers can also produce something else for our bodies: a lovely wine that retains many of those beneficial plant chemicals without degradation during the fermentation process. With just a little knowledge of the wine fermentation process, you can turn dandelions into anything from a light pinot gris to a rich sherry that will delight friends and family and have you eyeing these golden blooms in your neighbors’ unmanaged yards come springtime.

Dandelion Brewing Basics

At the most basic level, wine is some form of sugar that’s been converted by microbes into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Whether we call the final product beer, hard cider, or wine, it’s basically the same game. The yeasts require a form of sugar, and an environment that allows them to eat that sugar and produce the alcohol we want. In the case of dandelion wine, the petals don’t have any notable sugar, so what we’ll create is more of an infusion than a wild ferment. We’ll feed the yeasts by adding sugar, and the dandelion petals will add flavor and health benefits. And, since we’re already adding sugar, we can play with the amounts we add and the strains of yeasts we use to get different alcohol levels in the bottle. (If it’s left to the yeasts, they’ll consume all the sugars in your dandelion wine, leaving you with a dry but very tasty libation.) In the “Dandelion Wine” recipe below, the sugar and yeast combination will produce an alcohol level similar to a medium-alcohol, dry, white wine.






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