If ever there was a plant that needed re-evaluating it has to be dandelions. Far from being a garden pest, this humble plant is rich in virtuous benefits. To some it’s a pernicious weed and yet this, pretty, early spring flowering plant is a vital food source for pollinators.
Each one of the golden yellow flowers is a mass of a hundred or more individual florets, each one rich in high-energy nectar and pollen at a time when little else is in flower. Pollinators literally live on the knife-edge at this time of year. For the honeybees vital winter stores are depleted and for the newly emerged creatures such as bumblebees and solitary bees they need nectar fast to sustain their nest building activities. Pollen is high in protein and the perfect food for baby bees and yet with one swift sweep of the lawnmower we cut this precious food source weekly and allow nature’s army of pollinators to starve.
Stop and think. Raise the cutting height of your mower and leave a dandelion patch, or preferably the whole lawn to grow longer. By working with nature you will encourage a vast array of other wildlife into the garden, which in turn will help deal with other garden pests.
The fluffy dandelion seed heads are the fairies in childhood fairytales, the impromptu clock of childhood timekeeping and a vital source of food for seed eating birds such as sparrows and finches. Yes they spread this plant around the garden, but that is to be admired.
For some the dandelion is a medicinal herb, its common name in French is pissenlit (wet the bed) gives a hint of its diuretic properties, but this herb is revered for its effect of boosting the kidneys and liver. It was used by the Native Americans to treat kidney disease, heartburn and stomach problems and there are similar uses in traditional Chinese medicine too.
Dandelion has historically been used to stimulate the appetite. It can also be eaten, but it’s essential to check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any medicines that might interfere or interact with the herb. While dandelions are generally considered to be safe, some people can have an allergic reaction. So exercise precaution.
You can utilise the young leaves as vital spring greens in salads, (blanche them first under roofing tiles to dispel a little more of the bitterness), or feed the leafy wonders to pets (rabbits, guinea pigs and hens adore the leaves), each one is packed full of vitamins, essential minerals and antioxidants these productive plants are a perfect salad crop producing masses of cut and come again leaves and revered by top chefs for their ultra expensive menus. You can even steam them or cook them like spinach.
The flowers can be used to make dandelion wine and the roots roasted and dried to create a caffeine free, coffee alternative.
Rethink your attitude to this pretty spring flower. If you can leave it to grow it will support the local wildlife.
If you have to control its spread then dig up the offending plants individually. Pick the flowers or remove them when they start to go over to prevent them from setting seed, or collect the seed heads in a muslin bag and distribute them elsewhere for the birds to eat. Have a go at roasting the roots to make a coffee substitute.
Thanks to Brigit Strawbridge for the bee and dandelion image.