That’s right. Dandelion. The plant with the cottony white bits you’d kick and blow away. Burdock. A plant you’ve probably heard of but couldn’t identify by sight. Weeds, right? The scraggly, hardy plants that fill wheelbarrows on lawns up and down Britain. Not so. Try delicious ingredients perfect for one of Britain’s most iconic beverages.
American readers might be taken aback by the prospect. Some British readers too. But it’s true. Dandelion and Burdock is a British classic and still sits on shelves in major supermarkets with the imported American style sodas and caffeinated energy drinks that have been blamed for so many health problems in recent years. But this stuff has a very different origin. Like many classic British sodas, Dandelion and Burdock was made specifically for good health.
Dandelion and Burdock shares its origins with similar drinks, such as sarsaparilla and root beer, though other root beverages can’t claim such a holy beginning as the subject of this article. According to myth, in 1265, a beleaguered St Thomas Aquinas stumbled out into the open after a hard night’s prayer, eager for something to sustain him. “Trusting in God to Provide”, he concocted a nutritional beverage from the first two plants he could find.
Many older versions of the drink will not have been so sweet. Modern Dandelion and Burdock’s are sweetened with sugar, or High Fructose Corn Syrup in the worst cases. The early stuff would have included honey or fruit juices, with fermentation bringing a slight alcoholic presence to the party.
Made from fermented botanical roots, these brews were believed to carry health benefits, being good sources of vitamins and minerals. The history of this sort of beverage goes back centuries. They rose to prominence during the late 19th and early 20th centuries along with the Temperance movement who embraced these drinks as their alternatives to booze. Temperance bars would serve their own recipes of these sweet botanical beverages, and they were lapped up by a sober public.
In the late 20th century, Dandelion and Burdock wen’t out of fashion somewhat. The stuff on the shelves was rarely made with natural flavourings and simply wasn’t faithful to the original. The sweet, artificial stuff was ignored by most, but that led to a small revival which caught on once all things retro and vintage became the fashion. Manufacturers like Fentimans had been making versions faithful to old recipes, using fermented Dandelion an Burdock roots to flavour their brews, and they started to see sales soar with the return of retro fashion. Nostalgia is bringing these classics back to us, and boutique producers are bringing them to us packed with quality.
One of the world’s top old-style soda manufacturers is Fentimans, and they produce a faithful version made using dandelion leaves, burdock root and pear juice. It is a glorious return to the stuff of old, bringing the classic, unmistakable flavour of Dandelion and Burdock that every British kid would have tasted in their childhoods, with a rounding anis, cherry note that prevents the sweetness from overrunning the whole thing. An almondy, marzipan element creeps in and mingles with a bubblegummy aroma, with a herbal note providing an spicy, bitter backdrop for all of these parts to build on.
It may sound odd – it may taste like nothing you’ve ever drank before – but this is a British classic and for good reason. Done right, Dandelion and Burdock as a brilliant, refreshing drink, ideal for those with a sweet tooth who want something a bit more punchy than pure sweetness. May the old-school revival continue!Photo Credits Amanda Slater LadyDragonflyCC