Dandelions

 

(This column was first published in the May 20, 2002 Buffalo News.)

 

My wife and I get on remarkably well for two people who haven't agreed on much of anything since 1966 when we first met. This is not an appropriate venue for a listing of all those disagreements; instead I discuss in this column just one: dandelions.

 

Doris, a contributing member of SMLS (Scott's Monoculture Lawn Society), hates dandelions; I love them. Admittedly, mine is an acquired taste. I was not nearly so enthusiastic about them when, as a youngster, I was assigned the task of digging them out of my parents' extensive lawn. In those days I could not see beyond the sore knees and the time taken from summer sports.

 

But today I think that dandelions are very attractive. I like lawns that are neither cut short nor dosed with virulent weed killers. Now they are masses of bright yellow blossoms. And in a few days those flowers will die back to be replaced with those fragile white spheres of seed carriers.

 

Admit it, Doris and you other weed haters: who among you has not at one time or another enjoyed blowing those delicate parachutes off one of those round seedheads to watch them drift off in the breeze? Or better still, showed a child how to do that and seen the delight and wonderment in that youngster's eyes? And who among you hasn't held one of those gold doubloons under the chin of a friend to determine whether or not they like butter?

 

Many readers, especially gardeners, will still side with my wife but I am far from alone in my fondness for this weed. Consider a few of us:

 

* Early settlers. They purposely brought this alien plant with them to serve here as food and medicine.

 

* Beekeepers. Bees love dandelions for their rich stores of pollen and nectar and the honey they make from this crop is among the best. A hundred other less attractive insect species are also drawn to these wildflowers.

 

* Those who prepare foods from dandelion greens and root crowns. Although the practice is dying out because of the harsh chemicals sprayed on weeds, you can still find men and women along roadsides collecting them most often for salads. They serve also, boiled or steamed, as vegetables or to make dandelion tea. Finally, let us not forget the fragrant dandelion wine made from the flowers.

 

* Herbalists. Often the collectors are taking roots as well as leaves. While these too can serve as a vegetable when steamed and browned in melted butter like parsnips, they also play a significant role as a medicine. So popular are the herbal qualities of dandelions that over fifty tons of them are imported annually for these purposes. While the U. S. Pharmacopoeia only lists them as a tonic, herbalists go much further. They claim values for ailments of the liver, kidneys, gall bladder, pancreas and blood. The almost endless list of disorders treated includes jaundice, gout, eczema, obesity, arteriosclerosis, diabetes, hypoglycemia and arthritis.

 

* And etymologists. Those who love words for their own sake are also attracted to these plants. The Latin Dens leonis, tooth of the lion, became the French dent-de-leon and finally our only slightly modified English word. (Lions are evidently candidates for teeth whiteners.) Common names include puffball and, my favorite, monk's head derived from those odd monks' tonsures.

 

Beautiful or not, valuable or not, dandelions are tough street fighters of the botanical world. Despite the millions now spent to hold them out of our yards, back they come. Those seed carriers drifting in the wind clearly serve their purpose. I'm happy to welcome them; Doris demurs.-- Gerry Rising