Diane Emerson, for Garden Green
Dandelions are thought to have evolved about 30 million years ago in Eurasia. They have been used by humans for food and as an herb for much of recorded history.
Dandelions are found on all continents and have been gathered for food since prehistory, but the varieties cultivated for consumption are mainly native to Eurasia. To make leaves more palatable, they are often blanched to remove bitterness, or sauteed in the same way as spinach. Dandelion leaves and buds have been a part of traditional Kashmiri, Slovenian, Sephardic, Chinese, and Korean cuisines.
The flower petals, along with other ingredients, usually including citrus, are used to make dandelion wine. The ground, roasted roots can be used as a caffeine-free dandelion coffee. Dandelion is one of the ingredients of root beer. Dandelion leaves contain abundant vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C, and K, and are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese.
Historically, dandelion was prized for a variety of medicinal properties. Dandelion is used as a herbal remedy in Europe, North America, and China. It has been used in herbal medicine to treat infections, bile and liver problems, and as a diuretic.
Food For Wildlife
Dandelions are important plants for Northern Hemisphere bees, providing nectar and pollen early in the season. Dandelions are used as food plants by the larvae of some species of butterflies and moths.
Benefits to Gardeners
The dandelion plant is a beneficial weed. Its taproot will bring up nutrients for shallower-rooting plants, and add minerals and nitrogen to soil. It is also known to attract pollinating insects and release ethylene gas which helps fruit to ripen. This is a good thing in our climate.
As A Source of Natural Rubber
Dandelions secrete latex when the tissues are cut or broken. They are now being used for tires. “The plants we require for Taraxagum, as we call our dandelion rubber, can also be grown in temperate regions, helping to avoid monoculture and slash-and-burn farming in the tropics, while also substantially reducing the distances the raw material has to travel to our tire production sites.” Continental Tire, November, 2017.
As a Musical Instrument
If you take off the head of the dandelion, the stem makes a surprisingly loud horn sound!