I haven’t gone to sleep yet; that means it’s still Friday, right? Someday I will just start uploading these waaaay late on Thursday.
Anyhow, today’s post is about dandelions, the Scourge of the Suburban Lawn and my second favorite plant of all-time!
Dandelions are one of the most important plants you could possibly choose NOT to weed out of your lawns. The start with, almost all of this plant is edible. The stems, leaves, roots and unseeding flowers can all be eaten.
The nutritional value of dandelions is through the ROOF. Just two ounces of whole raw leaves gives you more than your complete daily value of vitamin A, and FIVE TIMES your required amount of vitamin K! Those two ounces also gives you a whole gram of protein, often times more which is on-par with some grains. Additionally this plant is packed with vitamins C, Iron, Fiber, Potassium, Antioxidants and Calcium. There are few foods in the world as good for you as dandelion leaves! For animals, that translates into 15% protein and 37% fiber, making this a GREAT feed source too.
In a pinch, the stems of fresh flowers contain a fair amount of sugar, enough to give you a nice boost in the carbs in your diet. The root is a long carrot-like taproot that can be roasted and eaten, or ground and brewed into a dandelion root tea for a coffee-like pick me up!
In a survival situation, dandelions make an excellent food source, giving you more different nutrients in high levels than most things can compete with, if not a lot of calories.
Additionally, traditional medicine across the world used these plants to help with digestions issues, liver problems, there’s even some hint of it making a good diuretic and helping to balance out blood sugar levels… But there’s no scientific proof for any of it. Still, having a solid source of so many nutrients in your diet can give your immune system a SERIOUS boost which can help fix just about anything!
There are no toxic lookalikes in north America for dandelions, although there are more EDIBLE look a-likes such as Cat’s Ears, so this is a great plant for beginners. Even the look a-likes are near impossible to mistake for a dandelion once you know what to look for. I am not aware of any toxic look a-likes in other regions of the world, but I also haven’t searched heavily.
The biggest downside to this plant is it IS bitter. Still, it can be very good blanched and seasoned, as a salad green when young, creamed, or added as part of something else like a pesto. You can even make wine out of it!
The dandelion is a plant we almost all grew up with as a kid, so when I sent my beau out to pick some for our indoor rabbits, I was shocked when he had no idea what to look for and was terrified he’d picked the wrong plant. He grew up in NYC, where there are no dandelions. So for the sake of people like Greg, I’ll give this a thorough description.
Dandelions (or Taraxacum, as those scientists would have us call it) are a member of the same family as Daisies and Sunflowers. (Please take note, don’t eat this if you have daisy or sunflower allergies; you could be allergic to this as well.)
They are typically fairly small in suburbs (leaves being about six inches tops, with only slightly longer flower stems) but this is due to their growing conditions. Left unchecked in only partial sun you may find leaves getting a good 18 inches long, and a good two feet on the flowers. The flowers are quite obvious, being the sunniest, happiest yellow in the world, with thousands of petals all bunched together, coming away from the center. I suppose it’s worth noting that SOME varieties of dandelions ARE different colors but they are pretty rare… I have never ever seen one in person.
Later, as the flower ages it closes. When it finally re-opens it has dozens of small seeds on white fluff that will blow away in the wind, get knocked off by passing animals, etc. etc. to start more dandelions.
The leaves are long an have strange, choppy sides. This is where people get intimidated. I wish I could say something like “they’re round topped” or “they have exactly 4 lobes on each side” or some such, but the reality is there IS NO STANDARD for it.
To illustrate, here are three dandelion leaves from my lawn with a quarter for size reference. As you can see, the leaves are all very different looking, the top two being only a few inches with no leaf half-way down the stem, the other being nearly a foot and thick all the way down. The lower top leaf has six lobes, the other one four, and the bottom one, who KNOWS because it’s got tears in it and the lobes are shallow and haphazard, not eve symmetrical. The topmost one has a very rounded, broad top similar to the big one, but the middle leaf is very sharp and spear-shaped.
The craziest part of this picture is the top two leaves came from the SAME PLANT. The plant was in dappled shade and the middle leaf was in the sun while the other was in the shade. The leaves have a general shape that is easy to recognize, but otherwise they grow crazy depending on the soil type, water levels, other local plants and sun levels. MOST dandelions growing in partial-sun with other plants in good soil will get big and broad like the big leaf, plants growing in poor soil or blasting sun will look like the middle leaf, and anything in-between closer to the top leaf. I have found some that have almost no lobes at all, smooth leaves with just a ripple to the edge, and yes, it was definitely a dandelion.
There are other benefits to dandelions other than it’s extreme edibility and nutrition. Those bright yellow flowers contain massive amounts of pollen and are an extremely important pollen source for bees. As most of us know, bees are in severe decline and pollen sources are becoming more and more contaminated. Dandelions are miraculously untouched genetically, and if allowed to grow without chemicals can give extraordinary nutrition to local bees.
Also, contrary to popular belief, dandelions actually HELP your lawn. Urban legend has it that they will suck up the water/nutrients that your grass uses. Well, remember that long taproot? I have examined a slice out of my own soil and dandelions to confirm, so I know this is true; right where the grass roots ended was where the dandelion root started branching out. This is because dandelions actually draw moisture up from deep within the soil, and as it reaches the delicate leaves at the surface is sheds out some of that deep taproot-absorbed water, actually PROVIDING water to the grass. Think about it, why are dandelions so prolific in healthy lawns or even getting by in dry dirt? How many times do you see dandelions thriving in, say, moss? Never! Because dandelions can not handle lots of surface water. The plant needs the grass to help wick the water away from it at the surface while it drinks deep underneath the earth.
Additionally the help add to the biodiversity in your lawn. If all you have in your lawn is grass, all you will have in your lawn will be grass-killing diseases and pests having a feast. Diseases and pests that effect other species like dandelions help to keep that in check.
So next time you’re walking outside with your Roundup, ready to kill all your dandelions to keep them from taking over with harsh chemicals, consider just picking the seeding flowers. It might sound crazy but if you remove all the flowers when they close up to go to seed the environment gets the full benefit of the plant (pollen for bees, lawn care for you, nutrition for local wildlife etc.), without spawning dozens of new plants. Or consider pulling the whole plant and eating it as a power-packed nutritional rocket to your dinner table!
As always, practice safe foraging. Make a 100% positive ID before eating anything, be aware of any local wildlife and wear gloves.