Better reach for the trowel, the gardeners amongst you are probably thinking (or worse, for that can of Roundup). No, no, no, I urge you. Take a closer look at dandelion before you kill him.
Proud and bright like the sun, this really is a beautiful plant. Why, then, is he cast as the villain of the garden while well-behaved plants like petunias are pampered like prize Pekinese? Well, dandelion is not well-behaved. He does not color within the lines. Instead, he grows wherever he wants, popping up like a Jack-in-the-Box just when you think you’ve seen the last of him. Millions of dollars are spent every year in the war against dandelion, yet still he prevails. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a guy I’d like to have on my side.
There is a belief in the herbal community that plants grow where they are most needed. What, then, is loudmouth dandelion trying so urgently to tell us?
For one thing, dandelion is extremely high in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and potassium. The young leaves of dandelions are good in salads. The older leaves are too bitter for some people to enjoy raw (over time you may develop a taste for them), but they are good in stir-fry, omelets, or anywhere else you’d use cooked greens. I use the flowers in fritters, and the starchy roots in stir-fry, boiled like potatoes, or roasted and ground for a coffee substitute. Does it really make sense to buy overpriced vegetables that are grown in depleted soil while killing this nutrient powerhouse that grows right under our feet?
The plant is also a blood purifier and one of our best liver detox remedies. In our polluted modern world, most of us could use some liver cleansing. It also is a powerful diuretic, which inspired its other name of “piss-a-bed.” Both the tincture and tea are used, and are especially helpful for people who are hot and cranky in the summer, and have liver congestion and skin issues. Since I am the type of person who is always cold, I rarely use dandelion medicinally myself; I use “hot” herbs such as ginger or rosemary for cleansing. But I do use the dandelion for food all the time.
So why not give our friend dandelion a chance this spring? You can save hours of yard work, and save on your grocery and vitamin bill at the same time. Do we really need yet another sterile lawn, like iceberg lettuce for the soul?
Like dandelion, we should dare to be bold – kick back in the shade with a cool, refreshing glass of iced dandelion tea while watching the neighbors toiling for conformity. When they tell you you’re crazy, you can just smile and say, “It’s only a weed until you know what to do with it.”
Julia Lupine is a Southwest-based nature writer. She specializes in the relationships between humans and the natural world. Check out her new book Yellowstoned, a quirky illustrated nature book about travels in Yellowstone.
Dandelion Flower Fritters
Oatmeal (or flour)
Rice milk (or milk)
A bunch of dandelion flowers
Olive oil or butter
Gather a bunch of dandelion flowers (as you can see, my recipes are not scientifically exacting). Grind some oatmeal in a food mill or coffee grinder, or for those who are not gluten-intolerant, regular white flour will do. Make a batter with the flour, rice milk, and an egg (to pancake consistency), and then mix in a bunch of dandelion flowers. Fry this in oil and serve with maple syrup (the real stuff, not imitation).