Dandy Lions

Everybody knows the plucky little weed we call dandelion: the bane of any homeowner’s existence, the mark of an unkempt lawn.  Industry experts estimate that half a billion dollars a year are spent on eradicating this little yellow flower from residential lawns alone.[1]   But what if we put down the pesticide for a moment and take a look at this plant before we kill it?

Dandelions filling in the cracks.
(Kudos to whomever spots the plantain plants growing among the dandelions.)

You don’t need me to tell you what a dandelion looks like.  You probably played with dandelion flowers as a child–making necklaces and garlands with the stems and flowers, blowing away the seeds to make a wish, or popping off their heads.  The flowers are unmistakable whether they have gone to seed or simply show their sunny faces to the sky.  The leaves have a pretty distinctive look, as well.  In fact, the name dandelion comes from the old French dent-de-lion, meaning “lion’s tooth”–so named because of the tooth-like edges of the leaves.  Speaking of names, the scientific name for dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) means “the official remedy for disorders.”

The lion’s teeth

So, if dandelions aren’t just for making homeowners mad, what else are they good for?  For starters, they’re good to eat.  That’s right.  Eating weeds isn’t as common as it used to be, but it’s making a comeback.  In fact, dandelions were brought over to the New World as a salad green back in the 1600s.[1]  You may have had dandelion leaves in a salad at a fancy restaurant or heard of folks eating them back during the Great Depression.  There’s a trick to gathering them, though–get them when they’re young.  Like many wild plants, the dandelion may seem a little bitter to our civilized tastes, but if you catch them before they send their flowers up, then you’re in for a healthy treat.  You can eat the leaves raw in a salad or parboil them to use like greens.

A close-up look at a dandelion flower

The dandelion’s edibility doesn’t end there, though.  In fact, the leaves are just the beginning.  The bright, yellow flowers make a wonderful vegetable any time of year.  You can dip them in batter to make delicious fritters,[2][3] toss them in with eggs to make a wild omelet, drop them in soups, or top a sandwich with them.  They not only have an interesting bitter-sweet flavor, they are loaded with vitamins and minerals–as are all the parts of this plant.  In fact, dandelion leaves have more beta carotene than carrots and enough calcium and iron to put spinach to shame.  Wildman Steve Brill calls them “more nutritious than anything you can buy.”  Just look at the list of goodies you get in every bite of dandelion: vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12, C, E, P, and D, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc.[4]  Why buy vitamin pills when you have a free vegetable growing in your yard right now that outshines them all?

I could go on and on about dandelions: how the root can be dried and ground to use as a coffee substitute (just like its relative, chicory,) or how the white milky sap in the stems has latex in it and can be used to get rid of warts.  I could even tell you how the dandelion is actually good for your lawn.  With its long taproot, it breaks up the ground and reaches down to the lower layers of the soil to pull up nutrients and bring them closer to the surface.  The flowers also attract ladybugs which will eat the aphids that plague your garden vegetables and ornamental flowers.[5]  The truth is, there are a lot of reasons I could talk about as to why you should let your dandelions live.  But why talk when you can eat?  Give it a try.

Plant Profiles
The Plant Profiles series comes from a periodic newsletter that my current job produces. I write contributions on plants to put in the newsletter. These contributions differ from the majority of my blogging material in that they do not use e-prime and that I wrote them for an audience that has little to no familiarity with edible and medicinal plants
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14 responses to this post.

  1. Don’t forget dandelion wine. :)

    Reply

  2. Posted by Rix on 08/10/2007 at 7:29 am

    Thanks, Hobo Stripper. I purposely left that out of the original newsletter version since the folks I work with are mostly tee-totalling bible-believers. I figured I was already pushing their limits just my suggesting they eat a weed. I meant to put it in this incarnation, but forgot.

    So, everybody, take Hobo Stripper’s advice, and don’t forget the dandelion wine. In fact, curl up with a good book and sip yourself a glass of some yellow summer sunshine.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Andrew on 08/10/2007 at 11:54 am

    This is great. Most of the information I find on wild plants assumes I’m already into it, which I’m not. An article written for the “ignorant masses” is exactly what I need.
    I hope that in future articles photographs of the plants will be included. My main hurdle in learning about plants is that the sources I find either try to verbally describe them (hopeless) or include sketches that may or may not bear any resemblence to reality. I can usually tell what the sketch is supposed to be if I know the plant, but going the other way usually fails. I know it isn’t really neccessary for dandelions, but for other plants it would be a great help.

    Reply

  4. Thanks for the comments, Andrew.

    I do plan on including pictures in the future. I agree about verbal descriptions. They can help you positively identify a plant that you feel kind of sure about, but they don’t really help you make an ID on something you have no familiarity with. And sketches definitely don’t work as well for me as a good photograph.

    I’ll see if I can find any free pics of dandelions and decorate this post a little more. :)

    Reply

  5. Posted by Rix on 08/10/2007 at 1:43 pm

    Pics have been added. Hooray for Creative Commons.

    Reply

  6. […] « The Morningsider (installment # 4) Dandy Lions […]

    Reply

  7. Posted by neworangutang on 08/11/2007 at 8:34 pm

    Andrew, another idea from a fellow amatuer here, get another guide book. I had trouble for a long time with books purely about edible plants becuase you sometimes just want to find out if the thing you have in your backyard is edible, you don’t go looking for specific plants. My solution was to get a guide book of the plants of my area and then see what was edible after I indentified it (as an added bonus you get to learn about the ecology and botany of your area :)). Just an idea, might not work for your situation.

    Reply

  8. Posted by neworangutang on 08/11/2007 at 8:35 pm

    Oh, as a side note:

    …mmmmmm I love dandelion flowers

    Reply

  9. Posted by Kim on 05/18/2008 at 4:19 pm

    Don’t forget tea. Though I have never tried it…it can be purchased easily on line.

    Thanks for the article. My Dog keeps eating dozens of dandy lions every day. And this is just when I am watching. I was worried until I saw this article. He comes inside now with this thick slobber from his mouth to the floor. I think he likes the tart taste?

    Reply

  10. Love dandelions ~ great post ~ (A Creative Harbor) ^_^

    Reply

  11. always thought dandelions got a bad rap

    Reply

  12. Now those are some interesting facts that I didn’t know about the dandelions. I know that my bunnies love to nibble them.

    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

    Reply

  13. Thanks for the lesson on dandelions. Always wondered how they got their name.

    Reply

  14. yes! so glad more people are coming back to the awareness of these truths!

    Reply

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