Every year we struggle to keep our lawns and gardens free of dandelions. They thrive happily in well kept lawns where there is good soil, enough water and little competition from other weeds since regular mowing keeps the opposition down. As with many plants, the dandelion has had to adapt over the years to survive; particularly when growing in meadows grazed by animals. The immature flowers have learned to hug the ground until ready to open. Then, with an amazing spurt of growth the hollow stalks raise the yellow flowers up to be seen by all. Many a child has picked them at this stage because in their eyes these are truly beautiful yellow flowers. In a few days the stalks collapse so the flowers can turn to seed close to the ground and then as if by magic, there they are standing erect again with the seed heads ready to be carried away by the wind.
You can see why trying to keep dandelions in check by mowing them doesn’t work; the defiant dandelion is determined to survive and if the flowers are removed before they set seed, the roots will send up replacements. If the plant is cut off at ground level, the roots will also send up more leaves and start the plant all over again.
You could look on the bright side of having so many dandelions around, if they haven’t be sprayed with any herbicides they are related to endive and lettuce and the leaves can safely be eaten. The leaves contain vitamin A and C, fibre, potassium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin and calcium. One cup of raw greens has five times more vitamin A than the same amount of broccoli. According to botanist Dr. Peter Gail, author of ‘The Dandelion Celebration: A Guide to Unexpected Cuisine’ this pretty and feisty perennial is “one of the most complete vegetables known to man”. If you’re nervous about digging up the dandelions from your own yard to eat, the broader leaved cultivated varieties can be found at supermarkets but Dr. Gail feels the wild dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) have the best flavour and medicinal benefits.
The dandelion was used by the Egyptians to treat kidney and stomach disorders and throughout Europe the leaves and roots were used to purify blood, relieve rheumatism and heart disease. Canadian pioneers used the leaves in spring for a vitamin tonic and ate them in salads as well the rest of the year.
To harvest the leaves from dandelions begin picking them as soon as they emerge and continue until you find they are getting bitter. Once the plants have flowered, clip the whole thing back to the soil surface and gather the new greens again as they sprout.
With many herbicides being banned dandelions will flourish rapidly so maybe we should be looking at them more closely as an important food source for nutrition.
An unusual perennial with leaves that look like a dandelion and often called the Himalayan dandelion is Oenothera triloba, a member of the evening primrose family. It has buds that look like little okra pods that within 60 seconds open fully at dusk to soft yellow flowers. The seedpods for this plant are not on the stalks from the flowers but found at the base of the flower stem, hidden in the foliage at ground level. They are very easy to start from seed inside in March and are sometimes called night flowers. Most flowers that bloom at night are fragrant to attract insects for pollination but unfortunately these dandelion look-a- likes have no fragrance at all and as far as I know, these leaves are inedible.
Two little dandelions (one turned to seed) hugging the ground that have survived through a couple of snowfalls and freezing temperatures.