Dandelion: A Botanical Superplant
We do our best to pull them, poison them, and eradicate them. The truth, however, is the dandelion has a lot to offer and is an important part of the ecosystem.
Taraxacum officinale: the dandelion. From the French dent-de-lion, or lion’s tooth, in reference to its tooth-like flower petals. Most people recognize a dandelion when they see one. It’s that yellow-topped, wide-ranging little weed that invades yards, spreads like wildfire, and is hard to kill. That’s one way of seeing it, for sure. But if you look beyond the aesthetics of your property and into the properties of the plant itself, you’ll soon discover the pestiferous dandelion to be a botanical superplant that borders on amazing. It may even cross that border.
History of the Dandelion
It is documented that dandelions (most likely in seed form) were aboard the Mayflower and other similar ships bringing Europeans to the New World during the 1600s. For many, the journey was a one-way passage, and those early settlers were sorely restricted in what they could carry with them. They couldn’t take everything so what they did take had to be necessary, beneficial to them and have value. Dandelions checked all those boxes.
Actually, this little plant was invaluable. In Europe, dandelions were revered for their beauty, medicinal properties, and their tenacity to survive. Native Americans were quick to realize the wisdom in growing dandelions as good medicine and a nutritious food source. But our reverence for the dandelion waned beginning sometime in the early 20th century when people got the notion dandelions were troublesome weeds that should be eradicated and war was declared on them.
The dandelion hadn’t changed, so why did our attitude toward it? Progress, perhaps. Drug and grocery stores were popping up in towns and cities, and people had access to store-bought food and medicines. Additionally, a clean, weed-free lawn was becoming something of a status symbol.
Misconceptions about Dandelions
The majority of people consider dandelions to be weeds. But what actually constitutes a weed is surprisingly ambiguous. Look it up. By definition, a weed can be any flora you don’t want or didn’t plant or just find troublesome. One whose bad points outweigh its good. A fruit tree could be a weed if you didn’t like where it was growing. It’s purely subjective.
And while what a weed is may be personal opinion, the virtues defining the dandelion have long been established. To many, dandelions will always be a weed. To the botanist, they’re an herb and a legitimate flower that belongs to the daisy family. Contrary to popular belief, dandelions can actually be beneficial to a lawn.
Here are a few yard perks dandelions provide:
- Dandelion roots spread out and the taproot can run deep so they are able to draw up nutrients from deeper in the soil and spread them across the lawn. They aren’t competing with the grass for food as much as they are fertilizing it.
- Their strong root system naturally aerates the soil and can help curb erosion.
- Blooming in spring, dandelions provide an important early food source for pollinating insects which, in turn, feed the birds.
Not bad for a little weed. And that’s if they did nothing but sit there and grow.
Even with all the benefits dandelions provide, some people just don’t want them in their yards and are going to get rid of them. If you are one of those people, maybe consider a more natural approach. Avoid the pesticides and dig them up instead. Or in lieu of digging you might try letting your grass grow a little taller. I’ve read that when grass reaches four or more inches tall, the sunlight doesn’t get to the ground and the dandelion perishes. Dandelions require sunshine. That’s why you don’t often see them growing in shady areas. Worth a try.
Once grown, however, their pharmacological dimensions come into play.
Cooking with Cannabis: Country Fried Dandelions with Smoky Ranch Dip
Get to Know Your Garden’s Weeds
The Best Plants for Pollinators
Health Benefits of Dandelions
Dandelions are extremely good for you. All parts of the dandelion plant are edible, from the roots to the stems to its leaves and flowers. As a health food, dandelions practically run the alphabet of vitamins to include A, B, C, D, E, and K. They also contain minerals like iron, zinc, potassium, and calcium.
When utilized, the health benefits of dandelions far outweigh the unfair stigma generally placed upon them. The dandelion is practically its own drugstore of remedies, cures, and relief from many ailments both internal and external. Dandelion roots have long been used in Chinese medicine to treat a surfeit of conditions. Native Americans also used the root medicinally. When eaten or consumed in a dandelion tea, this miraculous botanical fights a host of ailments.
Here are but a few of the dynamic health benefits provided by this living pharmacy, called the Grateful 8:
- Tea made from dandelion root is a natural diuretic (it makes you pee). This helps rid the body of built-up toxins.
- Effective relief against water retention and bloating.
- Helps in preventing urinary tract infections that are dangerous for the elderly.
- A superior sunscreen. An extensive Canadian study published in 2015 proved dandelion extracts effectively blocked deadly ultraviolet B (UV-B) radiation, a major cause of skin cancer. The authors of the study summed up their findings thus: “In conclusion, dandelion extracts, especially leaf and flower extracts, are potent, protective agents against UVB damage.”
- Rich in vitamin K. Vitamin K is a bone-building super vitamin proven to reduce breakage and strengthen bones. K is also used to treat illnesses like diabetes by stimulating the pancreas to produce insulin. A dandelion contains more than 600 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin K.
- Vitamin A is a potent antioxidant that helps decrease free radicals that can become carcinogenic. Vitamin A also helps maintain healthy skin and may be a preventative for some cancers. One hundred grams of dandelion greens contains more than 300 percent of our daily requirement of vitamin A.
- Dandelions help cleanse the liver and maintain its proper functions.
- Dandelion greens and root teas are considered high fiber foods that aid the stomach with digestion and promote healthy regularity.
An impressive list, but there are countless more ways in which dandelions are beneficial to us. From strengthening the immune system to fighting bacterial infections in the digestive tract, the dandelion is a botanical superstar. Even the milk is good for your skin.
Dandelion Salve: It’s the Balm!
Speaking of skin, we make dandelion salve from the dandelions grown on our insecticide-free little hectare here in Tennessee. Dandelion balm is made by picking and drying the flowers then extracting all the goodness from them and combining that with a variety of organic oils, raw beeswax, and natural fragrances. The end result is a moisturizing salve that works wonders for a host of concerns.
When massaged into the skin, this balm provides soothing relief from itchy poison ivy and bee stings. It helps prevent leg cramps and is excellent for dry skin. My wife and I have heard back from scores of people who were truly amazed at the relief they’d gotten from a variety of issues. Even skeptics. People just love it. Plus, it’s something cool and homemade to give. It was fun designing the labels for the tins, too.
So, there you have it. After a century of being taught they were just invasive little weeds, it’s time we re-educate ourselves about the remarkably amazing dandelion. Let’s call a truce and start taking advantage of the insane amount of healthiness they harness. That would be a really good thing for us and, I’m pretty sure, just dandy with them.
Written by Alan Ray
Alan Ray has written five books and is a New York Times best-selling author. Additionally, he is an award-winning songwriter with awards from BMI and ASCAP respectively. He lives in rural Tennessee with his wife, teenage son, and two dogs: a South African Boerboel (Bore-Bull) and a Pomeranian/Frankenstein mix.