The Most Important Weed, the Dandelion

Some see a weed, while others view a wish!  Is the springtime golden blossom wicked or wonderful?  The answer requires perspective!  

Nature’s Gift to Pollinators 

The hearty dandelion suddenly pops from a dormant sleep well before other flowers.  From the standpoint of a foraging honeybee, the bee seeks an ultraviolet energy and lands on the flower, drinking in its nutrients to gain strength. Of all the flowers in spring, the University of Bristol’s Urban Pollinators Project has discovered, the dandelion tallies the most visits by important pollinators in an urban setting; so, imagine the results when our essential birds and winged insects return from a pesticide-laden food source to their nest or hive, ready to share.   

Not in Living Memory 

Once upon a time, people praised the dandelion, weeding the grass to make room for the yellow flower.  In those days, women and herbalists of Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome sought the roots, petals, and heads to make food, wine, and medicines, benefiting from its rich sources of beta carotene, copper, iron, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and D.  

Faith changed during the 20th century, however, and soon, the coveted yellow flower became nothing more than a weed.

Saving the Environment 

The yellow head appears when trouble lies below the surface. In regions of dense soil, dandelion root systems create pathways to ease drainage, preventing stagnation in groundwater, flooding, or puddles in gardens. Rather than attempt to pluck the flower, allow it to help.  Its mere existence provides openings to essential minerals, giving nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, and other crops a chance to survive.  

A Miracle

Biologists once happened upon a miracle at an oil field in Saskatchewan, Canada! Growing in the center of barren, acidic soil, bloomed one dandelion.  Scientists discovered it fed on a symbiotic fungus that colonized a petrochemical into carbon dioxide and water nutrients.  The encounter resulted in a viable means of rehabilitating geologic locations containing sand, clay, and crude oil petroleum termed “bitumen.”  The soil, toxic for most plants, had a 90% success germination rate with dandelion seeds. 

Health Benefits 

“And there, row upon row…with the light of this June sun glowing through a faint skin of dust, would stand the dandelion wine. Peer through it on the wintry day—the snow melted to grass, the trees reinhabited with bird, leaf, and blossoms, like a continent of butterflies breathing on the wind.  Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass…change the season in your veins…by tilting summer in” ~ Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury. 

Ray Bradbury’s 1956 fictional novel describes making dandelion wine by capturing the essence of a year and drinking the ailments away in winter. The act of plucking flower heads was a family occasion, comprising children, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Rather than wine, interested individuals can still concoct a medicinal tonic or tea that promises to soothe digestive ailments, boost energy levels, eliminate water weight, and absorb essential minerals.  Drinkers delight in the refreshing homemade taste, whether infused in a French press or combining sunshine and a lidded Mason!  Most grocery stores carry herbal teas and supplements to support blood sugar management, or boost skin and organ health.  

The Beauty in Yellow 

One day soon, the lowly flower will arrive as a messenger to spread the news that warmth and longer days are coming.  Sunshine yellow is a therapeutic beacon to relieve stress and worry.  Close your eyes and picture placing the long-stemmed dandelion wreath on your head or holding the flower to scatter the seeds in exchange for a wish!  This spring, welcome the sight of the dandelion and know it is a promise for pollinators, future plants, and good health! 

*Lisa is an N.C. State Master Gardener Volunteer and a state-certified beekeeper.

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