It’s easy to ignore dandelions as just weeds, but they are also one of the most versatile teaching tools found in the garden. From making jars of delicious dandelion to understanding life cycles and writing poetry; all much more fun than weeding!
Dandelion honey: The dandelion is one of nature’s great survivors and is so much more than just a weed. Its name comes from the French – “dent de lion“, meaning lion’s tooth, as the leaves are deeply serrated – a wonderfully bold and brave name. Dandelions have many uses – they have traditionally medicinal uses. Young leaves can be eaten in salads and stir-fries and are rich in vitamins and minerals. The flower heads can be used to make dandelion wine, while the bitter root can be dried to make a substitute for coffee.
Tastiest of all though is dandelion honey. Make sure you only pick dandelions for edible use in an area that is free from toxins, and leave some flower heads for the bees to make their own honey.
Simply soak two cups of dandelion flowers in two cups of water over night. Strain to remove all the flower heads, and squeeze all the liquid from the petal pulp. Boil the flower water with the same weight in sugar. (Use the fact that 1ml of water weighs 1g to work out how much sugar you need.) When the sugar has dissolved keep mixing until it thickens, heating for longer depending on how runny you would like your honey. Transfer to a sterilised jar and allow to cool. Delicious on campfire toast.
Dandelion journey: Dandelions move through their life cycle so quickly that they offer instant investigations, with simultaneous stages of growth often visible from bud to seed. A patch of un-mown and untended garden will almost always be home to a dandelion or two. Make and label observational drawings or take a series of “time-lapse” photos to chart the life cycle.
Dandelion dispersal: Dandelions seeds are blown by the wind, each seed has its own individual parachute. Wind is one of the main methods of seed dispersal and one of the most interesting to create a scientific investigation around, linking to forces in science, as well as plants. Can you make a parachute for items heavier than seeds, try out different designs, time how long they take to land and describe why the times are different?
BBC science clip – lifecycle of a dandelion: http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/clips/zhrb4wx
Dandelion maths: Dandelions offer a great opportunity to work with really big numbers, scale, and measure in context. One dandelion plant can produce around 2,000 wind-dispersed seeds. Each individual seed head can produce around 50 to 170 seeds, each capable of becoming a new plant. The seeds are carried on the wind and can travel relatively long distances. Estimate the number of dandelions in your garden and calculate the potential number of dandelion flowers they could produce.
Blow a dandelion seed head, watch where the seeds go then measure the distance to where the farthest one lands. Why might this distance change?
Dandelion poetry: Children often call the seed heads dandelion clocks, telling the time by the number of puffs it takes to remove all the seeds and disperse them in the wind, one o’clock, two o’clock… a lovely way to reinforce the language of time. Challenge children to invent a dandelion clock rhyme or a dandelion clock shape poem with the words blowing off the page.