It's Time to Give Dandelions Some Love

Maligned as weeds, they have much to offer.

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My wife, Judy, hates dandelions. Every morning, she scans the lawn for their telltale yellow flowers and digs up any she finds. "Why are you so fervent about this?" I ask. "Because," she replies. "they're weeds. They're not supposed to be there."

Let me hazard a guess. You feel just like Judy does. Dandelions must be exterminated. How come? You must admit their flowers are beautiful. And what kid hasn't enjoyed picking a puffball of seeds and blowing them through the air?

Dandelion Flower and Seeds
Srdjan Radevic / EyeEm / Getty Images

If the mere sight of dandelions dotting your lawn results in a murderous rage, perhaps you should blame the Pilgrims. The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) isn't native to North America. The Pilgrims brought it here from Europe for three principle reasons. First, the young leaves make a tasty pot of greens or a salad. They're very nutritious, containing high amounts of Vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, as well as calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, and potassium. Second, you can ferment the flowers to make dandelion wine. Finally, the plant is widely used in herbal medicines.

Dandelions, named for their sharply toothed leaves (a corruption of the French "dent de lion" or 'lion's tooth"), loved North America. Their seeds spread from East Coast to West, greatly aided by our love affair with lawns. Dandelions sprout rampantly in sunny, closely cropped lawns and don't mind being mowed in the least. Flower stems grow progressively shorter the more you mow them. After a while, flowers open at ground level.

I believe dandelions played an integral role in the rise of lawn care services and lawn weed killers. The problem with digging them, as Judy does, is that they have long taproots. Any piece of that root left in the ground grows another plant. Weed killers kill the roots. Nearly every product that targets lawn weeds features a dandelion on the label.

Dandelion hatred is kind of ironic given the widespread concern about declining pollinators. Dandelion flowers are favorite nectar sources for honeybees, butterflies, and moths. Butterfly and moth caterpillars also eat the leaves.

It's high time Judy and everyone else gave dandelions a second chance. For salads and wine, I recommend a French selection called 'Pissenlit' prized for its large flowers and tasty leaves. (Pick only young leaves. Old ones are bitter.) As your enthusiasm waxes, you'll naturally want to associate with other dandelion fans. Check out the Taraxacum Society.

Give dandelions some long awaited love. Just don't dig them too much.

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