When you’re a kid, you’re fascinated by dandelions. After they turn from bright yellow flowers to feathery bristles, it’s cool to blow on the odd-looking dandelion flower heads and see them float away in the wind. (Fun fact: the feather is called a “pappus” and it’s there to help dandelion seeds be carried away in the wind.)
When you’re a homeowner, you hate dandelions. No matter how diligent you are with your lawn care, there’s seemingly no way to prevent dandelion blossoms from popping up all over your lawn in the spring.
When you’re into health foods and an all-natural lifestyle, you love every part of the dandelion plant. Dandelion leaves are great in salads or sautéed, dandelion flowers are an interesting addition to fritters and can also be used to make dandelion jelly, dandelion tea has a number of health benefits, dandelion wine is an “off the grid” favorite of some home bottlers and brewers, and dandelion roots can even be used to make a coffee substitute.
And when you’re a honey aficionado, you know that dandelion honey has a very interesting taste with many of the same health benefits as tea made from dandelions – that is, if you can actually find real dandelion honey.
Why Most Dandelion Honey Isn’t Really Dandelion Honey
True dandelion honey is quite rare, for several reasons.
First, the flowers are among the first to bloom every spring, so beekeepers often let the dandelion nectar collected by their honey bees remain in the hive, to be used as food. Second, this honey has a very high sucrose content, so high that it can crystallize right in the honeycomb and be difficult to harvest.
Finally, many other flowers start to bloom before the dandelion honey can be removed from the hive, so it becomes mixed with nectar from other plants and is no longer considered monofloral honey – even though honey with a dandelion count as low as 5% is called monofloral.
The end result is that not very much real dandelion honey is produced each year, even though the plant (known to botanists as taraxacum) grows throughout northern temperate zones. For most beekeepers, it’s simply not worth the effort. If you really want to give dandelion honey a try, though, you can usually find some reputable honey specialists selling it in their online stores or on Amazon.
Many people simply resort to a DIY version of the honey, which (if made properly) is thinner in consistency but surprisingly close to the taste of many commercial vegan honeys. The Internet is full of easy-to-make vegan dandelion honey recipes. In most, you simply:
- Boil and then simmer several cups of dandelion petals (discarding the green parts) with several cups water, a vanilla bean and lemon juice or lemon slices.
- Let the solution steep for a few hours.
- Strain it through cheesecloth and bring the liquid to a boil.
- Stir in granulated cane sugar and simmer until it develops a syrupy, honey-like consistency.
The honey-like dandelion syrup you’re left with isn’t true dandelion honey, but it tastes good and it’s the closest most people ever come to the real thing.
More interested in actual dandelion honey? Read on.
The Interesting Characteristics of Dandelion Honey
Most honeys have the same general appearance; their amber color may range between light dark and very dark, but there’s no question that it’s a shade of amber. Dandelion honey isn’t, at least initially. Pure honey with a high percentage of dandelion pollen is initially bright yellow, just like the flower it’s derived from. As it ages and crystallizes, though, it becomes more recognizable as honey, taking on a dark amber color.
The aroma of this honey is also reminiscent of the flower with a strong dandelion-like smell, but some people describe the aroma as also having less pleasant components (or even nasty ones) like vinegar, chamomile, ammonia or glue.
Dandelion honey has a strong, pungent, moderately-sweet flavor with a definite aftertaste that some call bitter, but others describe as pleasant. When you consider both its aroma and flavor, you have a honey that evokes strong feelings either one way or the other. It’s nearly impossible to be ambivalent about dandelion honey.
You’ve probably already guessed that the honey’s consistency is thick, and the fact that it crystallizes quickly means that it usually adds a noticeable crunch to any food. Recipes that call for honey may not always be the great choice for the use of dandelion honey, since its bitter aftertaste may affect the finished product. It’s better for spreading on bread (particularly toast), biscuits or cheese, or as a substitute for sugar when sweetening tea, if you’re looking for a twist on your tea’s normal taste.
There are no specific nutritional benefits associated with dandelion honey. It’s healthier than sugar when used as a sweetener, but its high carbohydrate and calorie content don’t make it a must-have ingredient for a regular diet. And it does have higher-than-normal levels of Vitamin A, Vitamin K and calcium, but not in large enough amounts to be an important nutritional contributor.
When looking at health benefits, however, the story is somewhat different.
Health Benefits of Dandelion Honey
Just about every honey, as long as it’s not pasteurized and ultra-filtered by the producer in order to make it look nicer on store shelves and crystallize more slowly, has innate antioxidant and antibiotic effects. (If pollen and bee glue (propolis) is removed from raw honey during processing, the honey loses the bulk of its health benefits.)
Dandelion honey is no different; it is a good food for supplying the body with antioxidants that fight free radicals in the body, protecting it from damage and minimizing the development of serious illnesses like cancer. It’s also effective in treating sore throats, colds and other problems caused by bacterial infections.
But the primary health benefit of raw dandelion honey involves the immune system. This honey contains higher levels of apalbumine 1 than every varietal but chestnut honey, and apalbumine 1 is a royal jelly known to bolster the body’s immunity. One other reason that dandelion honey stands out from a health standpoint is its ability to enhance bowel, liver and kidney function, by reducing the acid content of gastric juices by more than 50 percent.
The final benefit of this honey: you can brag to your friends that you’ve tasted it, knowing that you’re probably the only one in your circle who has.