This week I have a plethora of interesting tidbits about one of the most familiar edible plants in the world.
You might have strong feelings about this plant, as it is often a rebel in home gardens. But children love them, so how bad could they be, right? You might have guessed that I am speaking of the ubiquitous dandelion.
This common plant may be a modern nuisance in urban lawns and gardens, but it has been talked about in societies around the world for thousands of years.The ancient Chinese were the first to record medicinal properties of the dandelion (they listed its immune-boosting properties and said it could “purify the blood”.)
Arabic cultures in the 11th Century used dandelions as a diuretic for liver and kidney troubles. American settlers intentionally planted them when they came from Europe, knowing their many benefits and uses. Even today, people still make dandelion wine, tea and salads.
The sunny disposition of these simple flowers has given them a mostly positive reputation, but not all the benefits we talk about have been proven. There are many myths surrounding dandelions.
A Wiccan belief is that if dandelions are placed in the northwest corner of a house, they will keep away frigid north winds. Many other beliefs involve hope and wishes as well:
• Sneak a few dandelions in a wedding bouquet as a symbol of good luck for the new couple
• Dandelions in a dream are symbols of a happy union
• Drinking dandelion root tea can can increase your psychic abilities
When I was a kid, everyone knew these were the flowers moms liked best in a bouquet. We also knew many stories surrounding these charming blossoms.
• When you blew the seeds of a dandelion while wishing, your wish would come true if you could blow them all off at once. If there were seeds left on the head, they were said to represent the number of children you would have. (Over the years I have seen plenty of hanging seeds. Perhaps they represent all the Girl Guides I have helped to lead.)
• If you held a dandelion flower under your chin and a yellow glow showed, it meant you would be rich when you grew up. (Yup, no yellow glow here, no matter how hard I leaned toward the sun. My abundance has come in other ways.)
• The sticky white sap in a dandelion was said to cure warts and corns. (I never got any of either. Was that because I picked so many bouquets?)
Have you ever tasted a dandelion? Thankfully for my generation, all parts of it are edible and even reasonably tasty. I remember nibbling on them as a kid, but I never knew until many years later how lovely a dandelion salad could be.
You may not be willing to put faith in any of the fancies mentioned thus far, but here are some scientific facts for you about this seemingly ordinary plant.
• It is an excellent food source for pollinating insects, being early to blossom and often growing where there are no other flowers available (like lawns).
• Dandelions are an accurate barometer because of their sensitivity to moisture once they go to seed. When rainy weather is on the horizon, the seed pods will close like umbrellas, and stay that way until things dry up.
• The dandelion flower does contain beneficial nutrients—vitamins A, B, C and D, as well as potassium.
Science aside, though, I am a firm believer that keeping a positive frame of mind is important when dealing with dandelions.
In the cooler weather of spring and fall, these resilient plants will prevail, so we waste our time and energy if we try to beat them in battle. Mother Nature is a formidable foe.
So, make a wish when the seeds blow in your yard. Let your kids or grandkids pick bouquets and test their wealth status but leave some growing for the bees to enjoy.
And if you’re making salad or tea or wine, be sure to choose dandelions that are wild and unaffected by foreign agents like pesticides…or dogs.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.