Fri June 15, 2012
You've got to hand it to dandelions. They're transplants from Europe that have adapted and spread very, very well. Anyone who has tried to pry dandelions loose from lawn or garden knows they have a long tap root. Leave any root segment and the plant will rise again.
Deep roots deliver nutrients and moisture, especially important in drought conditions. And to crowd out competition, dandelion leaves spread flat around a plant's base. When the round, fluffy seedhead is ready to release seeds to the wind, its long stem straightens tall above lawn or hayfield. Dandelion seeds soon take to the air. Attached to small parachutes, they spread far and wide to colonize new territory.
As children, we made dandelion crowns and necklaces, and blew seeds to the wind. As adults we yank them from lawn and garden or resort to chemical eradication. That wasn't always the case. Early settlers brought dandelions with them as a medicinal plant for a host of ailments from liver to skin to digestion. Leaves, roots, buds and flowers have a culinary history, as well. As one of the earliest spring plants, their greens were harvested as a welcome spring tonic with few nutritional equals. For calcium alone, one serving of greens equals half a cup of milk. Roots roasted and ground make a decent coffee substitute, so they say. And there's always dandelion wine made from the flowers.
Today, there's a couple dandelion festivals around the country where dishes are prepared that a modern-day foodie just might enjoy. If you are cursing dandelions, or contemplating chemical treatment, it might be time to consider Ralph Waldo Emerson's often-quoted wisdom:
"What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered."