Dear common flower, that grow’st beside the way,
Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold…
James Russell Lowell
Have you been snarling at the brilliant gold in your lawn? Dandelions, of course. Approximately 30 million years ago, the dandelion originated in Asia and, long before we humans made an appearance, spread throughout the world. Our relationship with Taraxacum officinale began at least 1,000 years ago, and it was a far cry from the adversarial relationship we now share. So here’s a new point of view: What can we appreciate about dandelions?
Throughout recorded history, the dandelion has been held in the highest esteem for its medicinal, nutritional, and commercial value. The ancient Egyptians used the plant, and descriptions of it appeared 300 years before the time of Christ. In the Middle Ages, Arabian physicians recognized its medicinal properties and gave it the name Taraxacum, from the Greek words for “disorder” and “remedy.”
Though I’m not intending to recommend it medicinally now, over many centuries the dandelion has been called a “blessed medicine.” It has even been given credit for having magical powers. Among its medicinal uses are as a tonic and digestive aid, a treatment for eye and skin ailments, to help cure liver disease, dissolve kidney stones, lower cholesterol and high blood pressure. In China, dandelion is one of the most widely used medicinal herbs. “Modern” humans vary in their use of plant medicines, and it’s necessary to be cautious and check with a doctor if you’ve got an ailment to care for.
When it comes to nutritional value, Taraxacum officinale is no slouch either. The plant is rich in vitamins C, A and D, in iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. And, it gets good marks as a source of fiber and vegetable protein.
Why have we come to look upon the dandelion with a jaundiced eye? Quite likely, it was the idea of a perfect lawn that prompted us to take up arms against this esteemed plant. Now, the dandelion’s commercial value stems mostly from the arsenal of weapons we purchase to use against it.
Slowly, however, the dandelion is reclaiming the respect it deserves. Here
in the United States we import over 100,000 pounds of dandelion roots annually
for use in patent medicines. And, the plant is grown domestically for sale at
produce stands, not only in farmers’ markets, but in supermarkets as well.
If you lived in a section of the eastern United States where many people of
Italian origin have settled, you’d find bundles of spring dandelions used
as delicious sauteed vegetables. Or try cooking the
smallest new leaves or adding them to salads.
We may never come to welcome dandelion’s cheery golden flower in our
lawns and flowerbeds. But, if we must continue to look upon it as a weed, let
us at least recognize it for the marvelous weed it is.
Hortsense: Managing plant problems with Integrated Pest Management