Dandelions bloom in an open field in Agnew. (Andrew May)

Dandelions bloom in an open field in Agnew. (Andrew May)

A GROWING CONCERN: An homage to the humble dandelion

“GOLDEN GIRL WITH staying power

Lowly weed or eager flower

Hands of littles

Gather first bouquets

Hands of wishers

Blow seeds away

Hands of gardeners

On the battle lines

Much malign

The dandelion”

Jeanette Painter

Oh the poor dandelion — eaten, boiled, burnt, fermented, cussed at, brewed, chomped and stomped while all the time beneficial to the local wildlife.

In fact dandelions could be considered one of the most successful plants on earth. They are masters of survival as well.

Dandelions are a very large genus of flowering plants known as Taraxacum in the Asteraceae family, which are sunflowers.

They are native to Eurasia and North America.

There are approximately 100 species of dandelions; but the two most common varieties, T. officinale and T. erytho spermum, were introduced to America by early settlers from Europe.

They were brought here somewhat as an ornamental but mostly due to the fact they are completely edible, from flower to leaf and root.

The name itself derives from the French “dent-de-lion” and means “lions tooth,” so named because of their serrated leaves.

Lion’s tooth is an extremely important flower for pollinators like birds and insects due to the heavy nectar value, early and prolific bloom, seed production and hardiness.

And it is the dandelion’s hardiness that is the problem.

Most species in the Taraxacum family are asexual, meaning they do not need to be pollinated to produce seed.

On a wing or a wish, dandelion seeds can drift up to 5 miles in any direction and germinate.

So it’s not just your next door neighbor.

These plants have evolved incredibly well in order to survive because humans, animals, birds and insects eat them and destroy them.

Humans however, do more than eat them and destroy them.

For instance, in liquid form we can drink dandelion wine, brew root beer, make holistic teas and even use them as a substitute for coffee.

Lion’s tooth is an extremely high source of calcium, iron and vitamins A and C.

They can be consumed as a bitter green in salads, blanched or even eaten raw.

They are rich in antioxidants and beta carotene, which is known to aid in cellular protection.

Their roots have been used by humans in medicine for millennium with references from ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and native tribes.

Medicinal usages include the treatment of stomach and liver ailments, high cholesterol and even cancer, although some claims are far better supported by research than others.

Dandelions even live on in mythology as they are considered the only flower that represents the three celestial bodies.

The yellow flower is the sun, the white puffball, which is the seedpod, is the moon and the dispersing seeds that rise in the wind are the stars.

Pretty cool stuff for a much-hated weed.

The Rolling Stones have a song “Dandelion,” so it’s been immortalized in music, too.

Unfortunately for many of us gardening folks it has become the scourge of the gardener — especially in the lawn.

And more unfortunately, we conduct chemical warfare on this flowering plant at the expense of the worms and life in your soil as well as the bees, birds and butterflies.

So as you finish reading the newspaper and go outdoors to enjoy these fine spring days, look differently upon the much-maligned plant.

It has been feeding mankind for eternity.

And hey — do you like butter?

________

Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsula dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

The same Agnew field one week later. (Andrew May)

The same Agnew field one week later. (Andrew May)

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