With the warmer temps on the horizon, and the official start of spring on Monday, this week’s plant will be rearing its beautiful head (in some areas it already has) with its gorgeous yellow flower, certainly one that will make those who love it smile, and those who hate it, grimace.  Its Taraxacum officinale, or commonly known as the dandelion (French word ‘dent de lion’ meaning lion’s tooth referring to the coarsely toothed leaves.  Hundreds of species of dandelion grow in the temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. Dandelion is a hardy perennial that can grow to a height of nearly 12 inches. The plants have deeply-notched, toothy, spatula-like leaves that are shiny and hairless. Dandelion stems are capped by bright yellow flowers (which happen to be in the top 5 most recognizable flowers in the world). The grooved leaves funnel rain to the root.  Dandelion flowers open with the sun in the morning and close in the evening or during gloomy weather. The dark brown roots are fleshy and brittle and are filled with a white milky substance that is bitter and slightly smelly.

Up until the 1800’s, people would pull the grass to allow dandelions, chickweed and other useful ‘weeds’ room to grow.  But today, most folks consider the dandelion a weed, especially when it comes up in the lawn, which technically it would be a weed…being something that the homeowner didn’t want in the lawn.  But the dandelion is so, so much more than a weed!

Dandelion is used for loss of appetite, upset stomach, intestinal gas, gallstones, joint pain, muscle aches, eczema, and bruises. Dandelion is also used to increase urine production and as a laxative to increase bowel movements. It is also used as skin toner, blood tonic, and digestive tonic.  Dandelion is a source of a variety of nutrients and the leaves and root contain Vitamins (like A, B, C, D, K and B-vitamins) as well as minerals (including magnesium, zinc, potassium, iron, calcium and choline). The various parts of the plant have a long history of use as an herbal remedy, and every documented population in areas where it grows naturally has used it medicinally.  Native Americans also boiled dandelion in water and took it to treat kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn, and upset stomach. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), dandelion has been used to treat stomach problems, appendicitis, and breast problems, such as inflammation or lack of milk flow. In Europe, dandelion was used in remedies for fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, and diarrhea.  It also serves as an abundant natural food source, as all parts of the plant can be eaten. The root is often roasted and used in teas or consumed whole. The leaves make a great addition to salads or other dishes requiring greens and the flowers (while still yellow), can be eaten raw, cooked (breaded and deep fried) or even made into wine! 

And one of the really important roles the dandelion plays – it’s an exceptional source of early food for the bees!  And as far as I’m concerned, that’s enough for me to allow dandelions that pop up in the lawn and garden to grow, flower, feed the bees, and THEN possibly get rid of them, either physically digging or spot treating with a dandelion killer.  By the way, those treatments work best after the dandelion is finished flowering, or in the fall.  Just another good reason to let them flower, before you try to get rid of them.  And you know what?  It’s a pretty little flower as well.  Now tell me…is the dandelion a weed or something pretty cool?