A GROWING CONCERN: Dandelions: Botanical marvel, garden scourge

HERE WE ARE, racing through the month of May. Next week is Memorial Day weekend.

I have seen several postings these last two weeks about bees and dandelions.

Well, since we are memorializing…

How can it be that a plant that has fed numerous races of people for millennia, a plant that was prized for its medicinal purposes over several continents, a plant that was actually brought to America by the earliest settlers due to its being entirely edible and beneficial — how can it be that this plant has become such a scourge upon the landscape?

A plant so vicious and vile that neighbors hate it or at least contemplate vengeance against fellow neighbors because of their failure to control and eradicate this heinous weed.

Of course, this pox upon the land is the dandelion. Why?

Before I get to how we (as a society) came to so demonize this plant, let me first inform you as to why, for so many countless centuries, this plant was a botanical marvel.

The dandelion is known in the botanical world as Taraxacum, which is a huge genus of flowering plant in the Asteraceae family. Taraxacum are native to Asia, Europe and North America and come in a wide variety of species, but the two most commonly known (found in your lawn and gardens) species T. officinale and T. erythrospermum, are now found as weeds throughout the world (and thus part of their demonization.)

Dandelions are tens of millions of years old and have been consumed as food, used in medicine, drank as teas, cooked with as an herb and imbibed as a spirit since recorded time (and most likely before).

In fact, the Latin term Taraxacum originates from medieval Arabic writings.

Dandelions, however, are incredibly nutritious. Just 100g (one good serving) of greens as the base to a salad provides the following percentages of the daily nutritional requirements (percentage in parentheses): Vitamin A (64), vitamin C (42), vitamin K (741), beta carotene (54), thiamine (17), riboflavin (22), b3 niacin (5), calcium (19), iron (24), manganese (16), magnesium (10) and traces of many more.

Full of energy

As you can see, dandelions are very healthy and full of energy.

If blanched, they take away any bitterness, so if you start harvesting your leaves for greens and teas and then pull them, snapping their top root off will greatly arrest their growth. We also, unfortunately, know that just pulling them out will result in most cases in numerous new, small leaves (the tenderest are most delicious) sprouting back.

Unless you dig out the whole tap root, new ones will sprout. But again, they will sprout new lush, tender leaves and the root must recoup, so no flower heads for a long time.

Harvesting them, even if it is for the compost pile (which they are great for), keeps flowers and seeds away.

But if you must, dandelions are bi-annuals, meaning they grow small and produce a tap root, then bloom and spread next year.

We take this into account when attempting to control them.

If you pull them out, you must dig out the whole tap root, and they are long, snake tongued devices.

If you do not immediately lay down grass seed, then 42 new weed seeds will rush into that ground, because weeds really abhor a vacuum.

I say it over and over again every year: Over-seed your lawn every fall (end of October) and spring (March) for a lush lawn.

Grass seed will plug the bare ground areas where weeds could sprout but now cannot, because grass has germinated and plugged the hole.

So love that dandelion, eat it and be healthy, or wage a non-chemical war and use only rye and fescue grass seeds, which is drought tolerant (no watering in summer) and evergreen.

So grow on, you hated weed, thrive for who you are or surrender to a higher art form.

But above all … stay well all!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and 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 [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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