Dandelions are probably the most well-known of the edible weeds, probably because they're the most ubiquitous, but they are also one of the most bitter of the bitter greens. They, in a way, give edible weeds a bad name. However, they're extremely nutritious, much more so than any storebought greens, and there are many ways to get past the bitterness, including using the right dressings if they're in a salad, blending them with banana in this green smoothie, or you can use the blossoms, as I will show you here, making an awesome naturally carbonated soda.
When you are ready to try it, first make up a batch of this all-purpose soda starter. It takes three days to make it, but once you have it you can use it for nearly any fermentation and it stores indefinitely in the fridge. What it does is jump start the process, sending your fermentations in the right direction from the beginning.
Fermentation is the process of converting sugar to carbon dioxide (bubbles!), lactic acid, and sometimes alcohol. Fermented foods and drinks are part of virtually every traditional diet, and have so many health benefits. For another fermented beverage that's super easy to make, try homebrewed kombucha!
So, once your soda starter is bubbly and ready to use, it's harvest time. Send your kids out to the yard with a big bowl and have them fill it with every dandelion flower they can find. Children love meaningful work, and this is a fun job for them! The ideal flowers to use are fully open, large and clean, but don't worry about using half open blooms; they will still work.
For a one-quart jar I filled this bowl with probably 5 cups of flowers, easily obtainable every few days in the weed-party that is my yard.
The next step is to separate the petals from the stem and as much of the green part as you'd like. Before making this, I had heard that you could only use the petals, none of the green sepals, and fully separating them sounded so tedious. When I recently read that it's just a matter of taste, that the green sepals impart a more bitter flavor, I readily jumped into the project. I don't mind a bit of bitter, especially when I know the source is so nutrient rich. This is how I easily separate the flowers for my soda:
It's repetitive, but virtually tedium-free. I hold the petal section with my left hand and snip the butt-end off with kitchen shears or a knife. I am totally ok with the little bit of green that remains on the flowers, but if you want an extra step, and possibly a way better flavor, it would be easy to peel the remaining sepals off after making this snip.
In the end, you should end up with about a quart of flowers, and some junk ends to toss to the chickens.
The next step is to pour in boiling water. I have lost a favorite jar doing this, so now I, possibly superstitiously, place a metal utensil in any jar before I pour boiling water in it. Apparently, a spoon or whatever in the jar helps to distribute the heat so it's not such a shock to the glass. To play it even safer, I pour in a little water, let it warm the jar, and then fill it the rest of the way. It sucks to lose a good jar!
Filled and hot, cap the jar and set it aside for about 24 hours to make a strong infusion.
The next step is to strain out the flowers. Just pour through a strainer into a clean quart jar. Squeeze the flowers out, as they hold a lot of liquid.
Now it's time to sweeten it. If you want to use a dry sweetener, like sucanat or sugar, you will need to heat the liquid and stir in the sugar to fully incorporate it. Because I have it on hand, I use agave since it can be added without the extra step of reheating the infusion. Stir in 1/4 c of agave, or 1/3 c sugar.
A few days after starting one jar, I found enough dandelions in my yard for a second batch!
After sweetening, let the infusion return to room temperature if it was heated, and then add about 1/4 c natural soda starter for each quart of liquid. Don't add the ginger bug to hot liquid because heat will destroy the starter.
Let this set, covered with a cloth napkin or dishtowel, for 3 days. Stir every 12 hours. Every time I stir a soda, I taste it. It should always taste a little sweet, although this dandelion soda does have a bitter taste as well. If you really think it's turning out horribly, you can always sweeten it more at any point. Fermentation uses up sugar, so it gets less sweet over time.
After 3 days of this, it should be bubbly and ready to bottle. Cap tightly and store another 24 hours at room temperature, in German beer bottles or mason jars.
This last step builds up carbonation so you have a nice, bubbly soda. It's important not to let them go too long or they could explode if enough internal pressure builds up in the bottles. 24 hours will be fine! After this, store them in the fridge, and drink at your leisure. Nik & I hesitantly tried a small amount when we had our first taste... and then we both had a big glass. It's very good, nothing to be scared of, though it does have a mild, bitter flavor and kind of smells like dandelions, for some reason ;)
If you want to try more of a crowd-pleasing soda, check out my recipe for ginger ale. It's easy and unquestionably tasty, whereas the dandelion soda is perhaps more for the connoisseurs and dandelion lovers.
For more info on traditionally fermented sodas, as well as a whole world of other fermentation ideas, check out the original source of my inspiration, two books by Sandor Katz. Both probably available from your local library, but also definitely worth owning. If you buy either through my ad links below, Amazon gives me a tiny bit of cash. Thanks in advance!
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Lacto-Fermented Dandelion Soda
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