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If dandelions were rare, we’d call them by their Latin name, Taraxacum officinale and pay big money for a single plant.
Wildlife loves their cheerful yellow flowers, dandelion clocks tell the time when we’re tiny, its roots improve the soil, and the whole plant has been used as food and medicine since the year dot. The dandelion’s survival techniques have kept it going for over thirty million years, so let’s face it, you’re not going to beat it now.
We’re all unwilling experts in its cultivation, so instead of fighting a war you’ll never win, why not put down that expensive poison spray, and learn to love them?
Dandelions deserve more credit!
Dandelions are part of the huge daisy (Asteraceae) family, and their name comes from the French for the lion’s tooth (dent de lion) shape of their jagged leaves. Another French term, pisenlit, is a translation of the common English name, wet-the-bed.
It’s no wonder the dandelion has been used as a diuretic in medicine since ancient times!
The bright yellow flowers provide a welcome energy boost for insects—especially my honey bees—from late winter onwards, when other sources are scare. Dandelion flowers fermented with lemon juice, sugar and yeast, make a country wine with a beautiful colour, an acquired taste, and quite a kick.
Gardeners hate the dandelion’s long, thick tap root, but it does have some good points.
While it’s drilling towards Australia, the plant breaks up hard-packed layers of soil, drawing nutrients from much deeper down than many other plants. As a result, dandelion leaves are packed with vitamins A, C and K, as well as calcium, potassium, iron and manganese, but all this goodness gives them a bitter taste. The Victorians got around this by covering dandelion crowns with several inches of sand, encouraging the plants to send up tender, pale shoots in search of light.
These add a chicory-like tang to salads and sandwiches. Those nearly indestructible dandelion roots can also be roasted, ground and used as a coffee substitute, though that’s probably like saying a glass of dandelion and burdock can be mistaken for cola!
Dandelions soon sprout again if you don’t extract every bit of root from your lawn, and this is only one of their survival techniques. Mow your grass at the same height every week, and dandelions will flower closer to the ground so you can’t chop them off. The plant will reproduce quite happily without pollination, by a process called apomixis, which doesn’t involve fertilization.
With only one parent involved, every seedling produced like this will be exactly the same as its parent—but there’s plenty of variety in the species already.
More than 230 variations on the theme of common dandelion have been identified in the British Isles alone. It’s hard to find two plants with identical leaves, even in one garden. The familiar dandelion clock is perfectly designed to disperse the seeds. Held high, they shatter easily, and they’re an open invitation to children of every age to try telling the time.