This dandelion wine recipe all started with violets. I know that might seem like a strange statement, but violets were my introduction to foraging.
My neighbor introduced me to collecting blooms on the edible flowers list one evening, followed by several days of making violet jam and jelly. I found it so satisfying to create something delicious from a plant that’s considered a weed that I set out with my basket later that week to pick another superstar edible flower; the dandelion.
Everyone with any foraging knowledge knows that dandelions are rich in nutrients. The greens, in particular, have a lot to offer. My grandma and great-grandma both used to cook up dandelion and poke leaves in a little bacon grease regularly. These were staple greens; free and nutritious, to country folk in times past.
I discovered, through a little reading, that the flowers too are nutritious. Real Food for Life tells us that just the yellow petals of the dandelion contain antioxidants (help protect the body from certain cancers), Helenin (helps you to see at night), and vitamins E and B12 (both good for the eyes). This site also claims dandelion petals may assist with pain relief, may improve mood and might even have antibacterial properties. A full nutritional analysis of the whole dandelion plant is available on the website Nutrition and You.
With so much benefit to reap, I was anxious to gather a harvest of flowers and try another recipe my grandparents made: dandelion wine.
It wasn’t difficult to gather a good basket full of blooms. These yellow flowers were everywhere back in April when I started my brew. It was a pleasant evening activity strolling through the yard with my basket. I just slipped the flower heads off, trying not to take any stem with them. I really only needed two cups for my dandelion wine recipe, but I thought I might want to try jelly too, so I picked more.
Starting the Brew
I looked through a lot of dandelion wine recipes to find one to try. I was intrigued by one I found online called Wild Fermented Dandelion Ginger Wine. I liked the sound of adding ginger both for its flavor and its added nutrition.
First I filled a pot with a gallon (16 cups) of filtered water and set it to boil. I kept an eye on it while I prepared my other ingredients. When it came to a boil, I turned off the heat and set it aside.
Then I turned to my flowers. I had to remove the green base of each flower. I used kitchen shears to cut this part off; it wasn’t by any means perfect, but I got most of the green off. On dandelions, green usually equals bitter so it pays to remove as much as you can. I tossed my petals into a measuring cup as I worked. When I had my two cups, I dumped them into a large stainless steel pot.
The next ingredient is ginger, unpeeled. I minced about an inch of it and added it to the petals.
The yeast needs sugar to eat for the fermentation to happen. The recipe called for two to three cups of sugar (for wine) or honey (for mead); I used 2-1/2 cups of sugar. This, too, was added to the pot.
Now I was ready for my water, which was poured over the petal mixture. After mixing it well, I laid a clean dish towel over the pot.
The original dandelion wine recipe I was following said that it might begin to ferment from naturally occurring yeast in the air but if there was no sign of this within 24 hours (such as bubbles beginning to form) to add some yeast. I pitched in about a half teaspoon of bread yeast the next morning to help mine along.
This initial mixture had to sit for three days, with an occasional stir to mix things up. It didn’t look like it was doing much at this point because it was difficult to see the bubbling with all the petals in the liquid.
Moving the Brew into a Carboy
After three days, it was time to strain out the solids and move the liquid to a carboy. I poured the mixture through a fine strainer and sent the solids out to the chickens.
The resulting infusion was a yellowish-brown color in the bowl.
This I poured into the gallon carboy, which I had previously sterilized with bleach and warm water. I added more filtered water until the jug was full to the top. Then I screwed on the cap and stuck the airlock (which had also been sterilized before use) down into it. Finally, I added water up to the fill line in the airlock and then the long wait began.
An Exercise in Patience
When I checked back on my brew later that evening, it was amazing how active the fermentation was! You could see gobs of tiny bubbles fizzing up inside and into the airlock. I was so excited that despite the fact that it didn’t look like anything was happening initially, I seemed to have gotten the process started correctly.
After about a month, the liquid began to clarify into a lovely golden color with the yeast sludge laying at the bottom. It was still bubbling, though, so I had longer to wait.
Finally, after a month and a half, the bubbles were so minimal that I decided it was time for the next step.
Siphoning for Clarification
My wine clarified a lot as it sat, but there was a layer of sludge lurking at the bottom. I needed to siphon it into a new carboy, leaving the sludge behind. I carried my jug over to my neighbor’s house so we could do ours together; she too had started a batch of this dandelion wine recipe.
We cleaned all our materials well then set ourselves up for the siphon; old jug on the table, new jug on the floor, siphon end in the old jug.
We had gotten this special tube with a filter on the end from our other neighbor who used to have a vineyard. The solid tube with filter went down into the wine then you sucked on the flexible tube end to create flow and dropped it down into the empty jug. The hope is that you get all the good liquid and none of the thick sediment.
We couldn’t get the suction going. So we gave up on the solid tube with the filter and just used the flexible tubing, which was much easier to get going.
We just had to be careful to hold the end that was in the original jug up away from the sludge so that it wouldn’t get pulled over into the new carboy.
As the liquid flowed out we tilted the original jug to get as much liquid as possible.
When we finished all that was left in the original jug was a layer of whitish yeast waste and a little bit of liquid that we left so that we wouldn’t pull the sediment out.
The new jug was a little clearer, but not perfect yet. It was time for another long wait.
Our local vintner told us that the wine should sit another month or so to further clarify and see if any more sediment fell to the bottom so I carried my jug back home and set it back in its spot on the counter to wait.
Finally Ready to Bottle!
One evening about two and a half months after the process began it was time for bottling. First I needed to boil the corks. This softens them and makes them more pliable for bottling. So I put them in a small pot of water and set it on the stove top.
The first step in bottling is to siphon the wine one more time, into a big (clean, of course) bucket.
We were able to siphon over a crystal clear wine with no sediment.
Then you taste! If you like the flavor you’re ready to go. If it needs a little sweetening you can prepare a simple syrup with sugar and water and mix it in. I was happy with the taste of my dandelion wine recipe so I left it be. It was dry but with a hint of the sweetness of the pollen in the flowers.
Having the wine in the bucket makes it easier to taste and flavor but it’s also easier to manipulate to get into the bottles. We moved the bucket up onto the higher surface then and set the bottle holder onto the floor.
Now, we got the siphon going again and after pinching the tube off, we added onto the end another little solid tube with a pressure stopper on the end. This went down into the wine bottle so that when you push down on it, the wine flows into the bottle. When it’s just about full, you let up on the pressure and the flow stops but the suction remains. What a neat tool!
Watch how it works…
We filled bottles until we ran out of wine. From my gallon carboy, I got four and a half bottles.
Corking came next. We took the corks off of the stove and dumped them into a colander.
One bottle went back into the bottle holder.
The corker opens to let a cork slide down into it.
Then you squeeze, squeeze, squeeze to compress it and lock the handles together.
After lining the cork up with top of the bottle, we had one person hold the corker stable while another pushed down on the lever to slide the cork in.
And just like that, the bottles were corked.
Watch the whole process…
I finished corking my five bottles. I was so pleased with how my first wine brew came out – so clear and professional looking and it even tasted good.
My friend gave me a great tip: print labels on plain paper and use a regular old glue stick to hold them on. It sticks fairly well and when you’re done it’s easy to pull off so you can reuse your bottles. I promptly made a Phillips Farm Dandelion Wine label.
Infusions and Brews: So Much to Try
It’s truly amazing what you can do at home with just some simple ingredients and a few tools. Infusions allow you to harvest nutrients and flavors from so many plants you are probably already growing. I recently learned how to make white wine vinegar infused with herbs, and I’ve also been experimenting with brewing kombucha with starts with simple black tea and sugar. Kombucha benefits are many from general wellness to acid reflux reduction to cancer prevention.
I hope that you will be inspired by this story to try a brew of your own. What will you start with?