THE dandelion, taraxacum officianale, is one of the most persistent weeds to trouble the tidy gardener. They are practically impossible to get rid of, seeding several times a year and able to regrow in your lawn from the tiniest fragment of root. With their long, fragile taproots, there always will be a bit of root left in the soil no matter how carefully you dig them up. In fact, gardeners are just the mechanism by which dandelions reproduce.

If you can't beat them, you might as well drink them. Actually, every part of the dandelion plant has a use. The root, roasted and ground, substituted for coffee during the war, and it can also be used instead of ginger root for flavouring nettle beer. It is a laxative so best used in moderation. The white sap is used in manufacturing latex: I believe dandelions are farmed for it in Russia to this day.

One vulgar name for dandelions, "piss-a-bed", warns of the diuretic effect if you eat too many leaves, and in fact it was used to treat kidney and bladder infections. The standard English name, dandelion, is of French origin, we were taught in school, from dent de lion, meaning lion's tooth, referring to the long, fanglike leaves. However, I have never heard them called them anything in France but piss en lit.

A handful of young green dandelion leaves, well washed, make a tangy addition to a mixed leaf salad, or can be chopped and added to herb omelette or vegetable soup, or to bulk out cooked green vegetables. You can blanch them for eating by covering a young plant with an upturned flowerpot, which will also protect them from cats. The leaves are best early in the year as they become tough and bitter from about the end of May.

Dandelion flowers are hypnotically wonderful to look at, as complex and symmetrical as chrysanthemums, with a faint apricot and honey aroma. Small black flies love them, as do slugs and snails which sometimes sit amidst the petals soaking up nectar. You have to pick a great many flower heads to make this wine but it is well worth it.

What you really want is a flowery leafy meadow, a good picnic, several baskets, and a number of small and helpful children to do the gathering while the adults sit comfortably picking them over in the dappled shade, but you can't always find a flowery meadow - or helpful children - when you need them. Grass verges and lanes are good, as are the lawns of garden-proud friends, although you must be careful not to pick dandelions where dogs have been exercised.

Dandelion flowers should be gathered on a dry morning after the dew has evaporated, ideally when the flower heads are fully open.

Remove stalks, and as much of the green sepals as possible, because these add a bitter tang to your brew. Hold the petals between finger and thumb and roll off the sepals in an untwisting motion, the reverse of rolling a cigarette. For quantities, treat petals as if they were liquids and measure them by the litre.

With all flower wines, the "body" actually comes from dried fruit or fruit juice, while the petals provide colour and flavour. You can use white grape juice or raisins, but I prefer dried apricots for this one. Dried peaches are good too, but whatever fruit you use must be unsulphurated or it will unbalance the wine.

Honey works well in petal wines, replacing some of the sugar and adding to the flowery scent and flavour. It can make your wine cloudy unless boiled and skimmed first.

1 large saucepan
1 small saucepan
A crock, bucket or container, and something to cover it
1 sieve, lined with muslin
1 mug and a cover
1 funnel
1 demijohn, bung and airlock

For the racking:
1 siphon tube
1 large crock, bucket or saucepan
1 sieve lined with muslin
1 funnel
1 demijohn with bung and airlock.

2.25 litres of dandelion petals, picked over.
2 oranges
1 - 1.25 kilos of sugar (less sugar makes for a drier wine). I use half and half vanilla sugar and raw cane sugar.
5 tablespoonfuls of clover honey
225 grams unsulphurated dried apricots, chopped small.
4 litres of water for steeping the petals, 500 ml of water for the honey, plus a little cool boiled water to top up with.
yeast nutrient
10 grams of dried yeast. Hock yeast is best.

1. Put the petals and 4 litres of water into a large saucepan and bring to the boil.
2. Cool, pour into a crock, and leave to steep for 48 hours.
3. Return the liquid to the large saucepan.

Scrub and peel the oranges, taking care to avoid the white pith. Add the peel to the saucepan.
4. Squeeze oranges, remove pips and add the juice to the saucepan. Bring to the boil.
5. Meanwhile, put the honey and 500 ml of water in a small non-stick saucepan and heat, stirring until the honey dissolves and it boils.

With a spoon, skim off the froth that rises to the surface.
6. Put the honey and water into the crock with the sugar.
7. When the liquid in the large saucepan boils, remove it the heat and allow to cool a little.
8. Strain it through muslin into the crock.

Stir the mixture to dissolve the sugar. Add the chopped apricots.
9. Allow to cool to blood heat. Stir in yeast nutrient.
10. Take half a mugful of the mixture, stir in the yeast, cover and leave in a warm place for 15 minutes. The yeast has begun to work if the liquid becomes frothy and smells of new bread. Stir this into the liquid in the crock.
11. Using a funnel, pour the liquid into a demi-john.

If the level of the liquid is below the neck of the demi-john, top up with cool boiled water. Fit an airlock.
12. Leave in a warm place to ferment.
13. This wine ferments quite vigorously, so it's a good idea to fit a collar around the airlock to catch the splashes, using a piece of kitchen paper inside a tulip shape of foil, held with string or a rubber band.
14. Fermentation slows after about 6 weeks and the liquid gradually clears, leaving a layer of sediment at the bottom and floating pieces of apricot at the top.
15 When you are sure no bubbles are rising, rack and strain the wine.

Sterilise your equipment by immersing in boiling water, in which you have dissolved a campden tablet or a tablespoonful of sterilising powder. Make sure the water runs all through the airlock and siphon, leave to soak for 20 minutes, then rinse thoroughly with clean water.

Racking uses a vacuum and gravity to transfer liquid from one container to the next, leaving the fruit and sediment. The bottom of your full demijohn must be higher than the top of the container the liquid is going into. I generally put the wine on a kitchen worktop and the container on the floor underneath. Put newspapers on all surfaces first, as splashes are inevitable and quite sticky. Move the brew cautiously, so as not to stir up sediment.

Remove the airlock and put one end of the siphon tube into the full demijohn, through the layer of fruit but above the layer of sediment.

Position the other end of the tube over the sieve, which you have lined with clean boiled muslin or a filter paper. Place this above your container.

Suck hard on the end of the tube to draw up liquid from the demijohn. You will get a mouthful of wine, which is a good test of how your brew is shaping up. If it tastes foul or rancid it may be contaminated.

Point the tube over your sieve and let the liquid flow. Good siphons have a nozzle on the end which can be opened or closed, otherwise pinch the end if you want to slow the flow. Little bits of fruit sometimes get sucked into the tube: these can be cleared by blowing through it over the sink. When you have finished, the fruit and sediment should go on the compost.

Funnel the racked liquid into a clean demijohn, top up to the neck with cool boiled water and fit an airlock. Fermentation is likely to begin again: leave for at least four weeks until it stops. Then rack again and bottle.

Store in a cool dark place for at least six months: it should be drinkable by Christmas and delicious by next spring. The wine is golden yellow, fragrant and rather like amontillado. It makes an excellent aperitif.