Bad Plants

Remind Me, Why Do We Hate Dandelions?

dandelions & wildflowers

It's hard to make out the tiny blue wildflowers amidst these dandy lions, but in this particular wildflower preseve, the non-native "weed" appears to have neither colonized nor displaced any of the native flora. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

It's a banner year for dandelions around Portland, I don't ever remember them looking so fulsome and jaunty before. They're strewn like wildflowers along parking strips, lawns and empty lots (the few that are left here in Boomtown) and by and large, their arrangements are quite picturesque.

So what's the deal? Why do millions of Americans prefer using 2,4-D to kill them instead of making dandelion fritters and enjoying the show?

No doubt the answer dates back to the heyday of the British lawn, rhapsodized and defended by no less a plant lover than one of my favorite garden writers, Anna Pavord who wrote, "dandelions are bullies. They simply had to go". At least she had the good grace to feel guilty about buying a weedkiller, but buy it and publicize it she did.

Perhaps a later blog needs to throw open the debate on 2,4-D, still very much in ample supply on the garden shelf but so clearly deserving of more consumer dissuasion. But the focus here is on the dandelion itself.

dandy flower

You'd be forgiven for thinking this gorgeous flower was a chrysanthemum, since both that venerable flower and this dandelion are in the same family (Asteraceae). The dandy's grown-up name is Taraxacum officinale, but at least once in its long life it was referred to as "piss-a-beds" because of its diuretic properties. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

It's been two decades since the New York Times reported on the "weirdo" Maine farmer who canned dandelion greens. Today, there are dandelion cookbooks, dandelion dinners (strictly upmarket), dandelion blogs and in honor of Passover, Jewish dandelion news:

Conveying the misery of the Israelites' slavery, bitter herbs vary from place to place and even from family to family. Ashkenazim favor freshly ground or sliced, fresh horseradish root, bottled horseradish, or romaine lettuce. Sephardim prefer bitter greens such as endive, escarole, chicory, sorrel, arugula, dandelion, or watercress.

Nearing holiness, let us not forget that dandelions make wishes come true. You just have to do is put your lips together and blow. But if you really can't bear them yet know better than to use herbicides (what, me, guilt you?) garden writer Anne Lovejoy suggests you love them to death.

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Ah I am so glad you wrote something here about the edibility of dandelions. Their leaves are highly nutritious, I have been picking and eating what I can this spring when I run across them. Maybe you can be convinced to make up a longer post of edible wild plants sometime? :)

Sent by Jason Zinn | 10:13 AM | 4-18-2008

So... what WOULD Eve do? What's happening with that side yard you described as "wretched?" Anything coming together there yet?

Sent by Nadine | 11:14 AM | 4-18-2008

Ah yes, Eve. She would finally make a commitment! Plans are afoot to begin the side yard project sometime in mid-May. Thanks for asking, and you can be sure all will be revealed...

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 11:32 AM | 4-18-2008

Oh, and Jason - care to contribute anything more specific about edible wild plants to launch the chat? I eat miner's lettuce when it comes out but that's the extent of my foraging.

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 11:41 AM | 4-18-2008

While living in Slovenia I learned to love eating dandelions. There they gather the fresh dandelion leaves with great enthusiasm and serve them up in as a salad with a little oil and vinegar. Although they are a weed, I have always thought they were pretty and wondered why we all hate such a pretty little yellow flower.

Sent by Emily Wright | 1:08 PM | 4-18-2008

On behalf of dandelions everywhere, Thank You Ketzel! Couldn't agree more, always wondered why they were so disliked, they sure are lovely.

Sent by Liz Carr | 2:50 PM | 4-18-2008

Ketzel,

Well, I am young and new to searching for my food ;), but I enjoy it and I have tried a variety of things so far:

I posted once before here about the edibility of passionflowers, using their flowers for tea or eating their fruit (which is a pain honestly). I am in Houston, TX and as we speak the dewberries and mulberries are ripening up.

There are lots of wild onions growing near my apartment that are fun to sample and I like to eat the stalks of pennywort, which I believe are related to celery. I think most people around my area know this one, but it is really fun to eat the fruit and pads from Prickly Pear Cactus.

There is a holly tree here called Yaupon (I should really learn the scientific names for these huh?) that has been used in the past by Native Americans to make into a black tea.

Also here in Texas we have Persimmons that are really great tasting and I believe will be ripening soon as well.

This is the extent of my knowledge at the moment, I will post more if anything comes to mind.

(Really enjoy this blog Ketzel)

Sent by Jason Zinn | 5:43 PM | 4-19-2008

Dandelions are celebrated in Carbondale, Colorado with a popular event called "Dandelion Days". This year's festival is on Saturday, May 17th. It's a day of feasting, music, rummage sales, green living, and comraderie. We love dandelions in the Roaring Fork Valley!

Sent by Mary Russell | 6:54 PM | 4-20-2008

I am a beekeeper and I can tell you that dandelions are the bloom of the spring season! It is one major spring plant for my bees and other pollinators that is a plentiful source of both pollen and nectar and can mean the difference between life and death for my weaker hives coming out of winter. 2,4-D affects more than the dandelions, of course, but folks don't seem still to realize these interconnections. I will finally mow my dandelions when the fruit trees come into full bloom for my bees.

Sent by Christina Neumann | 10:04 PM | 4-20-2008

Thanks for this article. I'd never heard of dandelion fritters, but in France (where I live) it's quite common in springtime to eat dandelion leaves in salad (preferably with some crumbled hard-boiled egg and those slivers of bacon that the French call "lardons", and of course some bread to it). I also knew someone who prepared dandelion wine with the flowers, and it was delicious. By the way it's called "pissenlit" in French because of its diuretic properties. The name "dent-de-lion" exists, but has become obsolete. Long live the dandelion!

Sent by Sophie Ehrsam | 8:22 AM | 4-21-2008

My family loves dandelions and your photo is wonderful! Another spring thrill is sweet woodruff. We grow this ground cover and every May. We make "May Wine" which is just taking a few sprigs of the woodruff once it has flowers, clean them with water and put into a bottle of reisling or other white wines. In about 4 days youll take the sprigs out and serve the chilled wine that is like a herb flavored taste of spring. After years of making this, it is a tradition we look forward to making and sharing with friends.

Sent by Karen Larson | 12:11 AM | 4-24-2008

A wonderful sight that has stayed in my mind for over forty years is a big roundabout in England completely covered in dandelions. The sun come to earth! I have plenty in my lawn, along with daisies, red deadnettle, violets, buttercups etc.

Sent by Carola Dunn | 3:54 PM | 4-25-2008