Love them or hate them, dandelions aren’t a useless weed. You might be surprised to learn how valuable these little puffballs are. Dandelion root makes an impressive coffee substitute, and you can toss dandelion leaves into a salad for this weekend’s dinner party.
- What are dandelions?
- Benefits of dandelions
- What are the disadvantages of dandelions?
- How do I grow dandelions in my yard?
- Tired of dandelions? Call in the pros
What are dandelions?
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) seize lawns and gardens throughout the U.S and Canada, but their native land is Europe and Asia. European settlers brought the flower to America for its medicinal properties. And the sunshine-yellow flower likely reminded the settlers of home, too.
The dandelion’s name comes from the French term “dent de lion,” which means “tooth of the lion.” The teeth are in reference to the flower’s deeply toothed leaves. But the plant’s bite isn’t always so bad… depending on who you ask.
Dandelions are easy to identify. They pop up across the lawn as yellow and white puffballs and are so irresistible to blow in the wind. Here are some recognizable features:
- Their bright yellow flower heads are 1 to 2 inches in diameter.
- The flower head contains as many as 200 ray-shaped florets.
- The dandelion flower grows on a hollow stalk that can range from 2 to 24 inches tall.
- The plant has a rosette base that produces several stems and leaves.
- Dandelion leaves are hairless.
- The flower eventually develops into a seed head. The seeds are attached to wispy hairs known as pappus. The pappus is so light and fluffy that the wind can carry and spread the seed with ease. The seed head stage is where many people pick the flower and blow the white puffball to make a wish.
Benefits of dandelions
When dandelions sprout in the yard, you don’t always have to run for the herbicides. Why not put the dandelions to good use? Dandelions make nutritious snacks, have potential health benefits, and can even be beneficial for your lawn.
But before you harvest those dandelions and pop them in your mouth, adhere to the following:
- Don’t harvest or eat dandelions that grow near the road or in areas where herbicides or other chemicals have been applied.
- Don’t handle dandelions if you are allergic to latex (dandelion sap contains latex).
- Consult with your health care provider before treating yourself with dandelions.
If you don’t have any dandelions growing in your yard, head to your local health food store to buy dandelion roots and leaves.
Who knew the pesky weed in your yard could become one of your favorite ingredients in the kitchen?
And here’s an even greater surprise: dandelions are more nutritious than some of your garden vegetables. The flower is packed with nutrients, including iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium (and the whole plant is edible). It has more vitamin C than tomatoes and more vitamin A than spinach.
Here are a few recipes to add to your cookbook:
- Dandelion greens are a delicious salad ingredient. The leaves are tastiest in early spring when they are young and tender. The leaves are high in calcium, iron, and potassium.
- You can turn the dandelions in your yard into a sweet dandelion wine with subtle notes of honey.
- Want to break your coffee habit? Start your mornings with dandelion root coffee instead.
- Use the plant to make a soothing dandelion tea (which may help to prevent urinary tract infections).
Pro Tip: Be cautious of ingesting too much dandelion root. It’s reported to have a laxative and diuretic effect.
People have used dandelion as a medicinal plant since Roman times. When people didn’t have a strong understanding of vitamins and vitamin deficiency diseases were common (like scurvy), the medicinal effects of dandelions were often used to relieve:
- Digestive issues
- Eye problems
- Liver disease
- Skin ailments
Packed with nutrients, it’s no surprise these tiny flowers were helpful vitamin supplements for people who had severe vitamin deficiencies centuries ago. Traditional herbal medicine practices also use dandelions as a natural diuretic to aid urination.
Today, dandelion treatment is not suitable for the above illnesses, many of which require immediate medical attention. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the health benefits of dandelions. According to Medical News Today and Healthline, dandelions potentially:
- Aid in weight loss
- Boost the immune system
- Have anti-inflammatory properties
- Have antioxidant properties
- Improve digestion
- Keep skin healthy
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce cholesterol
- Reduce inflammation
- Reduce the growth of cancer cells
- Regulate blood sugar levels
Keep in mind that more research is needed to determine how well dandelions can provide these benefits to humans. There is a lack of strong evidence for many of the above dandelion benefits in humans.
Benefits for the yard
Not only can dandelions benefit your kitchen, but they also can benefit your yard (or pasture). Here are five reasons why you may want to leave behind the herbicides:
- The dandelion plant’s long taproot pulls up nutrients deep in the soil and makes them available to nearby plants.
- Dandelions are a scrumptious forage plant for your livestock.
- Dandelions are an early food source for pollinators. This benefit can be great for beekeepers but may not be desirable for homeowners who must avoid an allergic reaction.
- The plant’s wide-spreading roots help loosen and aerate the soil and help control erosion.
- Children love to blow the white puffballs into the wind. If you don’t mind the seeds landing in your backyard or meadow garden, letting the kids play with dandelions encourages more time outdoors.
What are the disadvantages of dandelions?
Dandelions aren’t always dandy. Some homeowners love growing the dandelion in the yard, while others see it as a detested weed. But why? Here are six reasons why dandelions might not be so welcome:
Dandelions are difficult to remove
When removing dandelions from the yard, prepare to feel the lion’s bite. Dandelions are sneaky, and they know just how to pop up year after year.
Post-emergent and pre-emergent herbicides can be helpful. But homeowners who wish to remove the weed naturally may have a more difficult time. Natural methods include pulling the weed out by hand or using a specialized dandelion puller tool.
So what makes natural removal so difficult? The dandelion’s 6- to 18-inch long taproot. Leave behind as little as one inch of the root, and the root will generate a new dandelion. You need to remove the entire taproot if you want to exterminate the weed completely.
Dandelions can grow out of control
Just when you think you’ve removed all the dandelions in your yard, you realize you forgot about one thing –– their seeds.
Dandelion seeds are attached to fluffy hairs that the wind can easily carry to other yard areas. And it doesn’t help that the weed’s fluffy seed heads are irresistible to pluck and blow in the wind. Each time your kids make a wish with these fluffballs, hundreds of seeds spread across the yard.
Dandelions can affect your lawn’s appearance
A few dandelions here and there aren’t much of an eyesore. But when an entire dandelion invasion overtakes your lawn, you no longer have much of a yard. Dandelions taking over the yard can be incredibly annoying if you recently invested time and money in new sod or grass seed.
Dandelions compete with your lawn for water
Your lawn needs plenty of water if it’s going to develop a strong root system. But when the turf is competing with dandelions for water, it might not absorb a sufficient amount. Competing with a severe weed invasion also puts stress on your lawn and can make it vulnerable to pests and disease.
Dandelions can smother your grass
Dandelions often develop dense mats of leaves that can overtake neighboring plants and reduce their strength. If dandelions continue to spread throughout the lawn year after year, they may eventually crowd out your grass.
Dandelions attract bees
As we mentioned earlier, dandelions can be a great benefit for beekeepers and the bees themselves. But homeowners who are allergic to bees or are concerned about their children getting stung may prefer not to have dandelions in the yard.
How do I grow dandelions in my yard?
Ready to be a dandelion parent? The University of Wisconsin-Madison recommends sowing the seeds on the soil surface from early spring (four to six weeks before the last frost) through late summer. Space the seeds 6 to 9 inches apart in rows 12 inches apart. The dandelions should germinate in 10 days.
Tired of dandelions? Call in the pros
If dandelions are proving more of a problem than a luxury, hire a local lawn care professional to tame the lion for you. Dandelions are challenging to remove from the yard, and battling them on your own might shed blood and tears. Let the pros handle the stubborn weed while you enjoy your soothing dandelion root tea from the porch.
Main Photo Credit: Arseny Togulev | Unsplash