Every year, around mid-May, my husband and I have our annual springtime fight. My favourite day of the year is when the weather warms up enough that all grass finally grows, and the dandelions spring out of the ground, lifting their chipper yellow heads to greet the sun. My husband's favourite day of the year, bless his heart, is the first day he gets to mow all my dandelions down. Therefore, my favourite day of the year is also the day I try to beat him to the yard to save as many dandelions as I possibly can.
Why? What could I possibly want with those dandelions? Well, other than being delicious, cheerful, and a very precise way of finding out if you like butter (What?! You don't know what I'm talking about? I'll tell you at the end.), dandelion heads are used to make dandelion herbal oil. The herbal oil makes a wonderful massage oil for sore, aching muscles and joints. It can also serve as a base for making dandelion salves, lotions and soaps.
It starts with dandelions - pick them bright and beautiful, just the tops. Be sure to pick responsibly. Your herbs should be from an unsprayed area, away from roadsides and farms. Be aware that many parks and households spray their grass in hopes of getting rid of 'weeds', dandelions included. Therefore, you need to be sure that the dandelions are clean and chemical free. Remember - what you start with will end up in the finished product.
Dandelions have some lookalikes if you aren't used to identifying them. There are certain plants that have a very similar blossom. There are certain traits to look for when identifying dandelions. The name dandelion is thought to come from the French Dents de Lion (lion's teeth). This is the first clue when it comes to correctly identifying dandelion. The leaves are 'toothed', deeply lobed, and smooth. The leaves are basal, meaning they only grow at the bottom of the stem, and are arranged in a rosette pattern. There will only be one stem holding one flowerhead. The stem is hollow, and produces a milky sap. The flowerheads contain between 150-200 yellow ray florets and no disk florets. The florets spread outward, like a sunshine. Under the flowerhead are green bracts. If you were to dig up a dandelion, you would find one long taproot. The root, and all parts of the plant, are edible.
Now that you have correctly identified dandelion, ascertained that your patch is clean, and picked them, you'll want to bring them home and prep them. Normally, an herbal oil is made only with dry herbs. Using fresh or 'damp' herbs can encourage mold growth and spoilage in your herbal oil. There are a few exceptions to this, and dandelion is one of them. If dandelion heads completely dry, they go to seed, which is not what we want. That said, wet dandelions are not desirable, either! The solution is to wilt them to get as much of the moisture out of them as possible without having them turn to a white fluff.
Spread the blossoms on a clean, dry surface to dry. This can be a screen, sheet, basket, dehydrator, etc. Using a screen or sheet outside is my preference as it allows any bugs in the blossoms to make a break for it! Be sure the area is warm and dry, with good airflow. Then, you wait! Depending on the temperature, you might want to give it a few hours or leave them overnight.
Once they are good and wilted, it's go time. Place the dandelion heads in a clean, dry, sterile jar. If you're using the folk method, you'll want to aim for about three quarters of the jar filled. The folk method is perfectly fine for this type of infusion.
Next, fill the jar with your carrier oil, right to the top. Try to fill the jar to within an inch of the rim. The less airspace, the less chance of spoilage. If the plant matter is floating, poke it down with a chopstick or handle of a wooden spoon. As for the oil choice, in my case, I used olive oil as it's a good, all purpose oil that has a long shelf life. Some prefer to use coconut oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed or avocado. It really is a matter of preference determined by what you plan to make with the oil later. For a general salve, olive is fine. If you were making a face cream, grapeseed or apricot kernal would be nice! If the plan was to use it in a roller bottle, I'd probably go with grapeseed or fractionated coconut oil.
Finally slap a label on that bottle - name, ingredients, and date. Put a piece of parchment paper over the rim, cap it, and shake, shake, shake. You'll want to keep it in a warm, spot and shake it every day. I keep mine in a kitchen cupboard, the warmest room in the house. If you prefer to make a solar infusion, you can definitely do this! The benefit of this is that the warmth of the sun will accelerate the infusion, and make for a much 'sunnier' oil. However, the warmth is good, the light is not. So, put the jar into a paper bag before placing it on a sunny window sill. That will allow the benefit of the sun's heat without the damage of the sun's light.
After 3-4 weeks, you can expect that it is finished macerating (steeping). At that point, strain out the plant matter with a cheesecloth or fine sieve. The dandelions can be composted. You'll want to keep the oil in a clean, dry, sterile bottle...labeled, of course!
What will you make with your dandelion oil? Let me know in the comments!
Oh, and how do dandelions determine if you like butter? When we were kids on the playground, this was of great concern to us. There was no way to simply *know* if we liked butter. Of course not. So, we would hold dandelion heads under our friends' chins, and ask, "Do you like butter?!" If the yellow of the dandelion was reflected on our friends' skin, then, yes, of course they liked butter! If there was no yellow, then the answer was no. Some of us had friends who would smash the flowerhead into our chins, leaving a semi-permanent (depending on how often you washed your face - not a big concern for a 7 year old) yellow stain on our skin. That meant you were truly a butter fan!