Despised by many as pesky ‘weeds’, dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) have long been appreciated by herbalists for their valuable healing properties. The 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpepper proclaimed, “You see here what virtues this common herb hath, and that is the reason the French and Dutch so often eat them in the spring.” And indeed, dandelion leaves provide foragers with vitamin and mineral packed fresh spring greens.
Dandelions are also healthy for the soil, their long taproots growing deep into the earth taking up minerals that are made available when the leaves or plants die. The flowers are a valuable early source of nectar and pollen for bees and their pollen provides early food for lady bugs.
I love gathering dandelion flowers in spring. Their brilliant yellow colour and subtle sweet fragrance are a treat after a long grey winter. When the first blooms started to appear I gathered a small basket from the roadside and ditches (my own mossy ‘lawn’ won’t grow them!).
I simmered them gently for a couple of hours and then added the fibre (pre-mordanted with alum) when the bath had cooled. I held the bath just below a simmer for 2 hours. It dyed a beautiful soft golden yellow.
In ‘Craft of the Dyer’, Karen Casselman says that to obtain a bright clear yellow (rather than a golden yellow) from fresh yellow flowers, they should be processed less than 45 minutes from the time the flowers and fibre go into the dye bath to the time they come out, and the temperature should be kept under 190F. I followed this for a fresh batch of dandelion flowers. At the end of 45 minutes the colour was clear yellow but paler than I wanted so I left them in the bath for 15 minutes more and then removed the flowers and let the fibre stay in the bath for 2 hours. This resulted in a beautiful bright clear yellow. You can see the difference in colour between the first bath on the left and the second on the right.