Photo: Steve Bender

If the sight of bright yellow dandelions dotting your otherwise perfect lawn drives you batty, blame it on the Pilgrims. It was they who reportedly brought the plant to America from its homeland in northern Europe in the 1600s. What else would you expect from guys wearing belt buckles on their hats?

Of course, the Pilgrims had good reason for doing so. The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is among the nutritious and useful of herbs, with a long history of culinary and medicinal use. Its leaves, whether boiled or eaten fresh (yum!), are high in potassium, calcium, iron, and Vitamins A, C, B1, and B12. The dried and roasted roots make an acceptable coffee substitute for people who don't like coffee, and the fermented flowers produce dandelion wine and beer. Dandelion tonics are a folk medicine remedy for liver problems. The Old Farmer's Almanac says they also act as a powerful diuretic -- just the thing you want to imbibe before a trans-Atlantic flight. Beekeepers value dandelions as a rich source of pollen and nectar.

This deep-rooted perennial forms a rosette of sharply toothed leaves 6-12 inches long. Their fancied resemblance to a lion's teeth gives the plant its common name -- "dandelion," a corruption of the French dent de lion ("lion's tooth"). Blossoms appear from late winter through fall, carried atop hollow stems 4-15 inches high. They're followed by the familiar puffball seed heads that children like to blow on, releasing seeds to fly hither and yon.

Dandelions are mortal enemies of lawn lovers, who mercilessly execute them with broadleaf weed killers, despite the fact that the flowers are quite pretty. But more and more health-seeking folks grow the culinary types (selected for larger, thicker leaves) found in specialty seed catalogs. Culinary selections such as 'Pissenlit' (I told you they were diuretic), 'Catalogna,' and 'Ameliore' give the best yields and enjoy full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. Pick only young leaves before flowers appear; old leaves, like old girlfriends, can be bitter.

Taking A Break Grumpy will be away for the next two weeks for some well-deserved R & R. Please be patient if I don't answer your comments right away. The future of the world is at stake.