Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Dandelions
Most every Southerner we know has memories of blowing the billowing tufts of dandelion seedheads to make wishes and clear all the wispy seeds in one strong breath. The plants make for strong childhood memories, though many grown-up gardeners find them annoyances in the garden. What’s the deal with these plants? Are they weeds or welcome visitors? Turns out, they’re something different to everyone.
According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, "If the sight of bright yellow dandelions dotting your otherwise perfect lawn drives you nuts, blame it on the Pilgrims. It was they who reportedly brought the plant to America from its homeland in northern Europe in the early 1600s." They’re extremely invasive plants, and once dandelions' aerodynamic seedheads are picked up by the winds, they’ll drift widely and spread everywhere.
However, they’re not only invasive weeds. Dandelions are also rather useful. According to The Garden Book, "The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is among the most nutritious and useful of herbs, with a long history of culinary and medicinal use." In fact, dandelion leaves are high in nutrients, including potassium, iron, and vitamins A, C, B1, and B2. For culinary uses, the leaves can be boiled or eaten fresh; the roots can be dried or roasted to make a sort of coffee/tea hybrid; and the flowers can be fermented into dandelion wine or beer.
The Garden Book describes dandelions' appearance, saying, "This deep-rooted perennial forms a rosette of sharply tooth-edged leaves 6-12-in. long," and "blossoms appear from late winter through fall, carried atop hollow stems 4-15 in. high; they’re followed by the familiar puffball seed heads." Even their appearance is a little curious. Some say the yellow blossoms resemble lions’ teeth, which is the association that gives them their name. The French dent de lion, or lion’s tooth, became the "dandelion" of today. It’s the airy tufts that follow the blossoms that are responsible for sending the seeds out with the wind to be carried every which way.
If you’d like to grow them for culinary use, The Garden Book recommends, "Culinary selections such as ‘Pissenlit’ and ‘Ameliore’ give best yield with full sun and fertile, moist, well-drained soil. Pick only young leaves for salads; old ones can be bitter. Culinary dandelions are just as invasive as the common ones, so be sure to remove and dispose of the seed heads before they mature."
Do you think dandelions are pesky weeds, or do you enjoy seeing them pop up in your garden? Do you employ them for any of their culinary uses?