One of the most common signs of Spring are the little bright yellow flowers that appear to suddenly pop up all around us. Not, not daffodils or tulips – dandelions. Everyone remembers being a kid and very carefully picking the flowers, closing their eyes and making a wish while blowing on the puffballs and watching the fluff gently dance away on the breeze. Perhaps you also remember your parents telling you not to blow the dandelion fluff because it will just cause more of those pesky “weeds” to spread. As a child I didn’t understand this – who wouldn’t want more of these sunny little flowers blossoming in their yards? Now as an adult, I still don’t understand why people fight so hard to get rid of the dandelions in their yards when they are so beneficial in so many different ways.
But let’s back up. Are dandelions weeds? The argument could be made that yes, by its simplest definition, you might be able to call them a weed:
(1) : a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth
especially : one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants
(2) : a weedy growth of plants
Dandelions do grow vigorously. They can overgrow plants and grass. But not valued? If more people knew more about these powerhouse of a plant, they might just think differently.
Did you know that dandelions are more nutritious than most of the vegetables in your garden? The serrated leaves have more vitamin A than spinach, more vitamin C than tomatoes, and are a powerhouse of iron, calcium and potassium and anti-oxidants. But it’s not just the leaves, the entire plant can be eaten! Dandelion flowers can be pan-fried, added to dishes like eggs, or made into syrup. The greens can be used in salads or sautéed and you can make tea from the leaves, flowers, or roots.
Dandelions also have medicinal qualities. The technical term for dandelions is Taraxacum Officinale. The word “Officinale” is used for plants that have uses in medicine, herbalism and in cooking. Medicinally, they can be used as a diuretic, a blood detoxifier, are helpful for good liver function and can also be used to treat digestive disorders.
Most people are so focused on eradicating dandelions from their yards that they most likely don’t know that dandelions are actually good for your lawn. Their wide-spreading roots loosen hard-packed soil, aerating it and helping to reduce erosion. Their deep roots pull nutrients such as calcium from the soil and makes them available to other plants. They aren’t harming your yard, they’re actually helping to fertilize the grass around them!
And let’s not forget the important role they play when it comes to bees and other pollinators. Providing pollen and nectar sources for the early season pollinators is important and an easy way we can do our part to help the dire plight of our little pollinator friends.
If you still feel the need to rid your lawn of dandelions, there are safe alternatives to the harmful chemicals found in pesticides. Even changing up how you rid your yard of them will help the bees, as pesticides are one of the main reasons why we are seeing such a decline in their numbers. You can try hand-pulling dandelions, which works best after a good rain, helping to ensure that you get all of the taproot so they don’t grow back. You can also try mowing your lawn at a higher height and letting your grass grow 3-4″ tall to help “shade out” the sun-loving dandelions. And if you have dandelions popping up in your flower beds, a good thick layer of mulch, 2-4″ thick, should help prevent their growth.
So as you can see, these sunny little lawn warriors can actually be quite helpful. As with many wild things in nature that once were held in such high esteem, dandelions now are seen as pests, despite all of the benefits we can gain from them. Maybe if we tried to open our minds and see them in a different way, we would see that they are more friend than foe and maybe even learn to love them a little.
“Nerdy for Nature” is a new blog segment by Emm Vintner which highlights various nature topics and nature in the news. She hopes you enjoy all of her nerdy musings and carry the info that you might learn, within your day-to-day lives – doing your part to be a steward and caretaker of the Earth and all its inhabitants.