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The dandelion: Friend or foe?

Staff writer

Dandelions purportedly were brought to the Midwest from Europe to provide early spring pollen for imported honey bees, and now they are found everywhere in the world.

People either hate them or love them. Though useful and harmless, they are considered obnoxious by those wishing to maintain spotlessly green lawns.

Dandelions are not to be confused with other plants that look like dandelions but have hairy leaves. Dandelion leaves are smooth.

Dandelions have deep, twisted, and brittle tap roots that make them difficult to remove. Any root pieces left in the ground will produce more plants.

Most modern homeowners use herbicides to kill them. Jerry and Enid Cady of Marion use a lawn-care service at Emporia to treat their lawn for weeds and grubs. But dandelions still show up in places that can’t be sprayed such as flower beds and in tree rows. In that case, they dig out the plants individually.

Defense

The best defense against dandelions is to have a healthy lawn. A dense root system and ground cover will not allow dandelion seeds to take root.

Naturists tout the usefulness of the dandelion as an herb, but it has a bitter taste and must be eaten in conjunction with other greens or with vegetables.

Nutrition

The leaves have more nutrition than any store-bought greens. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a serving of uncooked dandelion leaves provides 280 percent of the daily beta-carotene recommended for adults.

Other nutrients include iron, calcium, several B vitamins as well as vitamin C, E, P, and D, inosital, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc.

Some dandelion leaves are more bitter than others, depending on the conditions under which they were grown. Young plants and rich, moist soil are best. For cooked greens, boiling can remove the bitterness in many cases, but the water may have to be changed a few times.

Leaves should be harvested as soon as they appear. Broken into pieces and mixed with other greens and additives such as bacon bits and some form of salad dressing, their bitterness is neutralized.

The yellow flowers, separated from the underlying green parts, also can be added to salads. They sometimes are used to make wine.

Medicinal properties

Like many other wild plants, dandelions have medicinal properties. The official name of the dandelion, Taraxacum officinule, means “official remedy for disorders.”

The milky juice in the roots can be used like medicine. The whole plant works as a diuretic and liver stimulant. The milky white sap that is released when the stem is broken can be used to remove warts, moles, pimples, calluses, and sores. It also soothes bee stings and blisters.

Some people, like Gary and Marilyn Jones of Peabody, who don’t see the need for a weed-free lawn, think dandelions are pretty.

Marilyn said years ago she had a friend of Pennsylvania Dutch origin who used to make a salad of dandelion greens. Marilyn said she has tasted that type of salad and didn’t like it.

In a day and age when our taste buds are geared to flavorful, domestically-produced food and our drug stores are filled with pharmaceuticals to meet every need, wild plants such as the dandelion may be more of a nuisance than anything. But who knows, maybe someday, if all else fails, the lowly dandelion will be called upon to serve our needs once more. No doubt it will be there for us.

Last modified April 22, 2010

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