Plant of the Week – Dandelion
Why, you ask, would the gardening guy chose a weed as a plant of the week.
The answer is that the gardening guy looks at weeds in a whole different way. Every plant has its place in the grand scheme of things. Weeds are not part of the plan to cause you heartache and extra work in your garden and your lawn. They have their purpose if you understand what is happening in your landscape. But that is a whole different topic
The topic today is Dandelions. A much-maligned plant in the United States. So much so that it is the star of several commercials for synthetic herbicide manufacturers. But is it the evil villain it as portrayed in the commercials?
I don’t think so. Let’s take a look and see.
Taxonomy and Uses
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a member of the sunflower family. It has a long history of being used as a medicinal plant. The roots and leaves both favorites in herbal treatments. Every part of this little plant is edible. The younger tender leaves are the preferred part and are more pleasing when blanched before use which will help alleviate some of the mildly acrid taste. There are hundreds of recipes available that include soups, stews, casseroles and salads which have dandelion leaves as an ingredient.
Dandelion roots when harvested make a rich aromatic tea which delivers the nutrients as well as the beneficial effects of this healing herb. Dandelion tea is a wonderful pre-biotic. Herbalist also prescribes dandelion tea for a host of other benefits including digestive health, liver health, and skin health.
Herbal Medicine and Nutrition
Herbal medicine is rich with references to the benefits of dandelions. It is said to be good for everything from purifying the blood to settling digestion. There isn’t any reliable laboratory evidence to support these claims, but there is ample evidence of the nutritive value of dandelion. Dandelion greens can provide 535 percent of the daily recommendation for Vitamin K, an important element in bone health and have been reported to help in fighting Alzheimer’s disease. Dandelions are significant providers of Vitamin A as well. Eating dandelion greens supplies fiber, Vitamin C, B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, and manganese. Less abundant but still present in dandelion greens are folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper
In the Garden and Lawn
The long deep tap roots on dandelions help bring all those nutrients to the surface. This vigorous root system is amazing at opening up damaged soil and creating channels for water, and soil creatures to move and work. As the plants die back, the root system begins to decay and turn all those nutrients that were scavenged from far below where regular garden plants seldom reach into the topsoil. The vegetation, when mulched provides another rich source of nutrient for soil building In some regions; dandelions are cultivated with alfalfa and baled. The resulting mix is considered premium feed for livestock.
On the downside, if your soil is unhealthy of left bare for any length of time, you are going to see the growth of dandelion and other weeds. Nature abhors bare ground. Weeds are natures answer to unhealthy bare soil. They are the regeneration crew. If your garden or lawn is weedy, then you need to look for the reason why the weeds are there, and not focus on the weeds.
Unfortunately, dandelions are resistant to the most common organic pre-emergents, most notably cornmeal because the seeds germinate over such a long period and wide range of conditions. The best organic control is to spot spray with vinegar and orange oil. Dandelions have a vigorous and deep root system, and it may take many applications to kill the plant completely. Hand removal is an excellent option and if you are harvesting the greens just one more step.
The System and its parts
Dandelions and other flowering weeds are also the early spring source of food for many of the pollinators that are so vital to our gardens. I know the pretty yellow flowers are considered unsightly in your carefully manicured monoculture (your lawn) and the seed heads are equally repulsive. Just remember that the dandelion you are cursing today is also part of the ecosystem in which we all live and may be more important than you think.
Dandelion Greens Healthy Recipes: Dandelion and Fennel Salad
-1 bunch finely chopped dandelion greens
-½ fennel bulb, thinly sliced
-2 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage
-½ cup bean sprouts
-1 lemon juiced
-1 Tbsp. mirin (found in the Asian aisle)
-1/8 tsp. sesame oil
-1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
-1 tsp. tamari soy sauce
-2 Tbsp. olive oil
-¼ tsp. maple syrup
- Place the salad ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Mix all the dressing ingredients, pour over the top, toss lightly, and enjoy! Makes 4 servings.
(From Healthy Recipes for Your Nutritional Type by Dr. Mercola)
Roasted Dandelion Root Tea
- Locate dandelion plants in an area where it is safe to harvest. (i.e., hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, doesn’t see a lot of pet traffic, etc).
- Carefully harvest the roots, ideally in the fall months. You’ll quickly learn to gently ease the roots from the earth, otherwise they will readily snap off. (Luckily for us as well as the dandelion, the plant will continue to grow even if it breaks off prematurely.)
- Gently wash the roots, leaving as much of the root sheath on as possible. Finely mince the roots and dry them thoroughly. (If you live in a humid environment you may need to use a dehydrator.)
- Once thoroughly dried, roast them in a dry cast iron pan on medium high heat, stirring frequently. You’ll know they are done when they have turned a darker shade of brown and have a rich aromatic smell. Avoid burning them. You can also roast them in the oven at 350 degrees, checking on them frequently to stir and keep an eye on them to avoid burning.
- Once roasted you can store them in a dark, airtight container for up to a year.