By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

Rohse: Put down the weed killer and learn to love dandelions

To you it may be an unwanted weed. To be sure, that yellow flower that’s polka-dotting your velvety lawn is an eyesore to most home owners.

But the dandelion is perhaps the most recognized plant in the world. And it is highly valued for its nutritional and medical values.

For at least a thousand years, dandelions have been an important component of traditional Chinese medicine. They were also well known to the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians.

Although ancient physicians knew little about nutrition and vitamin deficiencies, a June 2017 article by Mary H. Dyer, told of ancient physicians using dandelion leaves and roots as a tonic to remove toxins from the bloodstream, and as a gentle diuretic to improve function of the digestive system.

She wrote that ancient physicians used dandelion roots and leaves for kidney and stomach disorders, skin irritation, heartburn, gall bladder problems, diabetes, arthritis, anemia, constipation, toothache, fevers — even warts and dandruff.

Today, modern herbalists understand that the dandelion is rich in vitamins A, C, and E, as well as calcium, potassium, zinc and iron.

Although dandelions send out their blooms as a sure sign of spring, they also bloom in the fall. They grow and spread from seeds, do not form runners and feature a single tap root.

Dandelions are not dummies.

They have found their niche in nature as one of the first plants to flower in the spring, much to the delight of bees and other pollinators. Thus, they play an important role.

There are benefits of having dandelions in our yard.

Dandelions are determined plants. Although 99% of the dandelion’s seeds land within 19 yards of the parent plant, the right wind can carry them up to 60 miles.

Gardeners tell us dandelions benefit their neighbor plants. The dandelion’s long taproot accumulates nutrients deep down in the soil thereby helping adjacent species.

Experts advise that dandelions are good for the beneficial insects and pollinators in our yard as well. So don’t rush for a bottle of weed killer.

With their early blooms in the spring, dandelions attract pollinators that go to work before the rest of the crowd arrives.

And, now, the dandelion is being touted almost as a wonder food.

Dandelions are a rich source of beta carotene, which our body converts to vitamin A. They also contain vitamins C and K, along with  fiber, potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, B complex vitamins, organic sodium and more protein than spinach.

Dandelion roots are often dried and ground to make a dandelion tea or coffee substitute. Or you can mix dandelion root extract with a favorite tea, such as chamomile.

But I interrupt this information pertaining to the benefits of dandelions to advise that if you plan to follow any of these suggestions, do so only after consulting a doctor. Some have allergic reaction to ragweed plants.

The list of what dandelions can do for you is like a Christmas list of getting anything you want. But you need to confirm that with professionals.

True, dandelions are being referred to as something of a miracle drug.

The following are what the dandelion might do for you: support liver health and functions; fight bacteria, such as staph infections; reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.

The dandelion can help protect bone, preserve brain function, balance metabolism, reduce inflammation and treat heartburn. It may even have the “potential,” some say, to kill cancer cells.

If you plan to pursue your interest in the benefits of dandelions, the recipe for the preparation of dandelion tea is simple. You can also incorporate dandelion root extract into a tea or a coffee substitute.

Many health food stores carry organic dandelion tea bags, with instructions for steeping them. You can make a dandelion root tea by steeping a tablespoon of the roots of the plant in about 5 ounces of boiling water for three minutes.

If you prefer a more coffee-like beverage, chop the root, roast it in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, then steep it for 10 minutes in hot water. Root tea is a beverage that’s said to be packed with vitamins and minerals

The dandelion has an earthy, nutty flavor similar to endive or radicchio. It can be incorporated into pesto sauces, salsas or salads.  It is sometimes available fresh in produce departments.

Unfortunately, the dandelion has an unsavory reputation. Many want to get rid of this famous plant, even though it grows all over the world.

The Pilgrims are said to have brought dandelion over on the Mayflower for medicinal purposes. If they found room on the Mayflower, can’t we find a square foot on our lawn for a cheery spring greeting?

If you are wondering about the dandelion’s strange name, ask the British for an explanation.

In the British Isles, the dandelion is often called the “push-a-bed”; in France, the “pissenlit.” These nicknames pertain to its diuretic qualities.

In the 1800s, girls often blew seeding dandelions to see whether the person loved them in return.

Dandelions long have been generous with gifts to humans. But we don’t seem to love them much in return.

Elaine Rohse can be reached at rohse5257@comcast.net.

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