Guest commentator, Helen Walsh Folsom.
Spring will come and with it the much maligned dandelion. However, these nuisance flowers are known to save lives and they taste delicious.
March may come in like a lion or a lamb, but people everywhere can bet there will always be plenty of stormy weather as winter rebels against the relentless turn of the calendar. Spring will come and, when the chance of ice storms has passed and the last pot hole is filled, we will find something new to complain about. The much maligned dandelion.
The bare, brown countryside becomes a pink haze as the wild redbud trees bloom early. Lavender Sweet Williams sprinkle the roadsides. Tawny lawns begin greening up. As far as the eye can see, millions of yellow pom-poms appear in glorious profusion. Dandelions!
Out come the digging forks and Weed-be-Gone. The human spirit takes up the gauntlet and the human vocabulary acquires new dimensions. The battle is on!
Suburban combatants may become even more outraged to learn that the tenacious plants were not brought to this continent by Mother Nature. Blame the folks who arrived on our coasts in wooden boats to establish homesteads.
Prudent people that they were, they wanted to be sure that there would be something edible growing in the new land so they brought dandelion seeds. That’s right. Like sparrows and starlings, dandelions were transplanted into the New World and found it to be a great place for procreation.
From earliest spring to late in the winter, Dandelions dig their foot-long tap roots down deep to find whatever life giving moisture there is, and they pop forth like thousands of small chrysanthemums offering their boon to mankind, food and health.
Mankind, determined to force nature into his own design, growls and gripes and battles the bemused and entrenched little plants that could so easily crowd out all of the fragile, carefully selected grass and flowers.
Children know best
Children, wise in their innocent acceptance of bountiful beauty, find delight in the bright flowers.
Who has never been offered a small nosegay of limp yellow blossoms clutched in the chubby fist of a joyful toddler who has found his first treasure of gold? Every child knows that if holding a dandelion under the chin and a yellow sheen reflects on the skin, the person likes butter. Or, make a wish and puff all the tiny parachute seeds off a white dandelion blowball, and the wish will come true.
Let adults forbid to pick roses and tulips, children may gather all the friendly little dandelions that they wish.
French trappers in early America, after long, cold months in the snowy backwoods and mountains collecting furs, were glad to see the new green leaves of “dent de lion” pushing up through the earth.
To them the “teeth of the lion” was a welcome reminder of their homeland and the reviving tea made from the leaves would make spring tonic to “thin the blood.” They did not know that the reason the prolific plant gave them a lift was due to a myriad of fantastic vitamins and minerals missing from their winter diet; Vitamins A, B and C, thiamin, riboflavin, ascorbic acid, calcium, sodium and potassium.
Also, after many months of eating only heavy grains and meat, the thin green tea provided a cleansing cathartic.
Farmers and settlers went a step farther.
They used the long, hardy roots to eat like parsnips or dried them to make medicines. Leaves were mixed with poke, nettles, lamb’s quarter and other wild greens and were cooked like spinach. New spring leaves made succulent salads.
At the base of each plant is a small white “crown” which can be boiled and buttered like potatoes. Soak the flowers in water with sugar and yeast to make a pale, clear wine. Tea made from the petals will soothe milady’s monthly discomfort.
In Russia, the dandelion stems secrete sap which can be processed for rubber.
My mother had a special corner of the lawn which was forbidden to be mowed. She picked off the heads of the dandelions that bloomed there for so long that they became hybrids with blossoms as big as roses. Dozens of jars of yellow dandelion jelly waited in my mother’s pantry to brighten winter meals or make holiday gifts.
Have a cuppa
Several years ago the price of coffee soared.
Frantic caffeine addicts tried to dig dandelion roots. They could be roasted and ground and brewed to add to coffee. Sorry to tell them that the prolific little plant known in scientific circles as "taraxacum officinale" is 97 percent caffeine free. However, it may be stretched with coffee beans with roasted dandelion roots or the roots of its cousin, blue chicory.
To save a life
The folks on the Spanish Isle of Minorca were very glad that dandelions are so persistent and nearly impossible to eliminate.
Years ago a swarm of locusts scorched the land, consuming every plant and seed until there was nothing left to eat. After the locusts left, the people dug out dandelion roots and gathered the greens as soon as they appeared. They survived starvation.
In this country, we must be sure that the plants have not been sprayed with chemicals if we plan to eat them.
From bees to bears
All sorts of creatures like dandelions.
Honey bees “buzz” the pretty yellow florets even though there is no particular fragrance. The plant does not need pollination in order to reproduce everywhere in open areas and grassland. Birds eat the flowers and seeds. Grizzly bears in Canada munch the leaves.
Can never win
Do not ever believe that those stubborn little blossoms will disappear.
They have followed civilized man across the continents for centuries. The spray bottle and root digger will certainly not keep showers of lacy seeds from wafting into the yard and settling like nuisance neighbors offering unwanted gifts.
So, why not sit back in a lawn chair and contemplate the mysterious benefits of the yellow blossoms on the landscape while the blood pressure lowers with a cup of dandelion tea?
Helen Walsh Folsom is the author of St. Patrick's Secrets, Ah, Those Irish Colleens!, and Fianna, The Dark Web of the Brotherhood
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