I am among those who don’t think of dandelions as noxious weeds, but rather as “little earth stars” that indicate that spring has well and truly settled in and will soon morph into warm, summery days. I remember a fascination with these golden blooms as far back as I can remember — who can’t remember making “chains” from their stems, or making a wish while blowing the fluffy, parachute-like seeds into the wind, or gathering a handful as a bouquet for your mother. Almost everyone is familiar with dandelions and I thought I’d share a few interesting facts I discovered while researching them.
– The word dandelion comes from the French name for the plant, dents de lion. This means teeth of the lion and refers to the jagged edges of the leaf of the plant. The other French name for this plant is pis-en-lit, in English this means wet the bed. Dandelions apparently earned this name because their greens, when eaten, act as a diurectic.
– Dandelions evolved about thirty million years ago in Eurasia, but can now be found everywhere on the planet.
– Each year, 55 tons of coffee substitutes made from roasted dandelion roots are sold in England, Australia and Canada. In Wilton, Maine, there’s a cannery that imports and cans only dandelion greens.
– The dandelion provides an important food source to bees. The pollen from this plant helps bees in the spring because it flowers early and the flowers continue through to the fall providing constant food. In fact, no less then 93 different kinds of insects use dandelion pollen as food, and their seeds are an important source of food for small birds.
– Tender spring dandelion leaves make an excellent addition to salads; they can also be cooked like spinach. Older leaves tend to be bitter. The flowers can be used to make dandelion wine, syrup, and jelly. (Do not use plants where any chemicals have been sprayed.) They are a good source of Folate, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Manganese. Phew!
– The dandelion is sometimes referred to as the “Clock Flower” — legend has it that the number of breaths it takes to blow off all the seeds of a dandelion globe that has gone to seed, is the hour number. If blowing seeds is not your idea of telling time, consider this — the dandelion is called the rustic oracle; its flowers always open about 5 A.M. and shut at 8 P.M., serving the shepherd for a clock. [“The Child and Childhood in Folk-Thought,” by Alexander F. Chamberlain]
A versatile plant, don’t you think? My attitude toward dandelions softened many years ago; perhaps more an “if you can’t beat them, join them” impasse. But I do enjoy their cheery, yellow faces, even when they dot the lawn. “Little earth stars”, indeed.