When I was a child and asked to help with gardening, I often got handed a special tool designed to pull weeds out of our middle class suburban lawn. The weeds, as it turns out, were Taraxacum officinale, the common dandelion and bane of homeowners since the 1950s when large, green lawns came into vogue.
I once tossed the “dandelion digger” to a neighbor friend, accidentally hitting her in the head with it, breaking skin, drawing blood and making me look like a rotten kid. Upon seeing what I’d done, my mother, who thought I could have put an eye out, punished me with accusations that I’d somehow meant to do it. I still remember feeling that it was all so unjustified, that I didn’t mean to hit the girl in the head with the digger, but looking back, who knows? Perhaps my frustration with the pesky Taraxacum officinale had gotten the better of me.
It turns out that dandelions have no problem settling in and adapting well to unnatural environments such as grassy lawns. When pulled out, if their strong, twisted roots aren’t removed entirely, they simply come back quicker than before. They’re fine with part shade and full sun, loving fertilizer and the ample water given them through automatic sprinkler systems. Thus, they’ve done quite well for themselves.
As a result, many people have bought into the idea that commercial weed killers need to be used to eradicate dandelions. Not only is this costly, the poisons in the products can be harmful to your pets and children. They can seep into groundwater or become runoff in our streams, rivers and oceans. Besides, do you ever really get rid of dandelions, even with caustic weed killer?
A simple, inexpensive alternative – if you must attempt to display a lush, green lawn – is to use vinegar. There are many online sites that detail the use of this basic household ingredient on the weeds you don’t want. (Example – Ed.) The other alternative is to cultivate the dandelions and use them for better health. Yes, you can actually look forward to the moment they appear in spring, because the flowers, roots and greens can all nourish you, and they’re free.
The greens are nutrient-rich and can be sautéed or added to salads, soups, smoothies and vegetables. High in vitamins A and C, and iron, they’re also a good source of folic acid and calcium. Widely prized for the help they give with digestive disorders, they can also nourish the liver, help clean the blood and even ease hot flashes.
I have bought huge bundles of dandelion greens at the store and occasionally seen puzzlement on the faces of young cashiers as they ask me, “What is this?” Dandelion greens, I reply. Yep, I’ve actually paid for them. They’re that good.
The root has been used as a coffee substitute and is also added to stir-fries and vegetables. Regular use of a tincture of dandelion root has been known to lower blood pressure.
Even the flowers have their specialty. Besides beautifying your lawn with specks of yellow (yes!), they can be turned into tea or wine or added to salads. In her book Healing Wise, which details the many uses of dandelion and includes some great recipes, Susun Weed tells us that the flowers of dandelion are a pain reliever, alleviating arthritis, sinus pain, back tension and menstrual cramps.
An official medicine plant (we know this because it has “officinale” in its botanical name), dandelion also restores mineral health to soil that has been abused. A sacred, beloved plant worldwide by those in-the-know, maybe from here on we can view this “pesky weed” with a little more respect.
If you’d like to learn more, pick up a copy of A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants by Bradford Angier. In this book, we find out more about the ubiquitous dandelion, our powerful ally for many ailments. Maybe mother earth knows what she’s doing after all. Now, what to do with those mosquitoes…?
Read more by Dr. Grant on her blog, Dr. Grant Holistic
Image by gari.baldi via Flickr