“Do you like butter?”
To the disappointment of children everywhere, dandelions may not really indicate if you like butter. But happily, they can be made into quaint little chains to be used as necklaces or crowns and they can amuse children as they blow on the fluffy heads and chase the little parachute seeds.
On the more grown up side of things, dandelions are full of healthy nutrients such as calcium, iron, and magnesium as well as vitamins A and K (2). They can be added to spring salads, sautéed as a nutritious green, used as a coffee alternative, made into tea, and used as a diuretic. (2) Of course, you should always consult your doctor before consuming.
Dandelions can also be used as an indicator of problematic soil. For example, dandelions often show up in droves if your soil is low in calcium and organic matter (6). In fact, because of their long tap root, they have been known to transport and store nutrients such as potassium and calcium in their leaves.
And what about pollinators? Does the ‘Irish Daisy’ (1) help feed the pollinators? As an observer of all things blooming, you might give a resounding ‘yes’. And you would be correct, pollinators do visit dandelions (5). Some people argue that dandelions don’t provide all the nutrients the pollinators need but neither does any single food source. Think of broccoli. We know that broccoli is good for us. However, if all we ate was broccoli, day in and day out, then we would ultimately fall ill. The same goes with nectar and pollen sources. It is best for these animals to get their food from a variety of sources – to round out their diet. And, because dandelions are early bloomers, they are one of their earliest sources of energy. (5). Maybe not a perfect and complete source of nutrients, but certainly a helpful, and at times, necessary one.
So, with all the benefits of dandelions, why do these sunny, easy to grow, little flowers get such a bad rap among homeowners?
The biggest reason seems to be our love of the homogenous patches of grass we call lawns. Who doesn’t like to see beautiful, green, uniform lawns? We grew up seeing them and expecting that, if we became homeowners, we had to maintain our own patch of emerald perfection. The perception is that if you have a beautiful lawn, you are doing things right. But, if your lawn looks raggedy and has ‘weeds’ growing in it, then you are somehow less than those around you. Interestingly enough, the average American couldn’t afford to maintain lawns until around the industrial revolution and more so after World War II (3). And now, a whole industry has grown up around maintaining lawns and one can be cited or even fined, if in a neighborhood with a Neighborhood Association, for not maintaining the lawn according to specified standards.
And thus, anything other than blades of grass has been kicked out, including the once lauded dandelion.
However, don’t lose hope yet. It is possible that people will begin to realize that maintaining the perfect lawn has its drawbacks, especially on their wallets, when it comes to irrigation, maintenance and fertilizer costs. For example, about 9 billion gallons of water per day are used to maintain landscapes (4); approximately 580 million gallons of gas per year is used (3); and the cost of fertilizers and pesticides in the U.S. is around $5 billion annually (1).
And hopefully, in turn, people will start to accept, and dare I say, rejoice at the little pieces of brilliant yellow sunshine popping up all over their yards in celebration of bees and salads everywhere!
Author’s note: As little aside, I have to admit, after learning so many new things about dandelions, I had to take a bite or two. The taste was… well… green! I also decided to cut the leaves periodically – sans the flower heads – to mulch around some of my calcium loving plants. I figure, it certainly can’t hurt to try this out to see what happens.
Stay tuned for more on the dandelion saga!
(2) CBC News - Posted: May 24, 2016 2:56 PM CT | Last updated: May 27, 2016 https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/nine-interesting-facts-about-dandelions-1.3597918
Author: Penny Bollin
Urban Conservation Technician