It’s April and that means the beginning of dandelion season. Depending on how you feel about this plant, the sight of dandelions will either fill you will joy or drive you absolutely crazy.
Any day now, dandelions’ fresh green leaves will begin to poke through the soil of our garden beds, pop up in lawns and even squeeze their way through cracked pavement. Soon after, their mini golden pompom blooms (100 florets filled with pollen) will open and dot about our gardens in the most unexpected places.
Should we love them or hate them? Are dandelions wildflowers, herbs or weeds?
Dandelions have deep roots in history and are quite possibly the most successful plant that exist. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans enjoyed the plant as food, medicine and magic.
Europeans loved the plant for its beauty, its nutritional value and as a green growing first aid kit. That’s why they brought it with them wherever they went and that’s why they are here. Today, dandelions grow in every continent except for Antarctica, making the dandelion a truly global plant.
All parts of the dandelion plant are useful. The leaves are a rich source of vitamins A, B1, B2 and C with more calcium and iron than spinach. The flowers can be used to make wine and jam as well as a dye for textiles. The roots can be dried and crushed to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute, and the milky latex within the stem has been used as a mosquito repellant. During the Second World War, this dandelion latex was used as a source for tire manufacturing. More recently, I read an article about how Cole Haan is creating a new shoe made from natural dandelion rubber.
With so many positive attributes, why would we ever consider the dandelion a mere weed?
Children don’t see this plant as a weed. They adore these mighty mini mums that they call “dandylions” and it’s easy to see why. The flowers are so joyful and perfectly proportioned to their tiny little hands. This makes it easy to create the ideal pint size bouquet for every mom and grandma on Mother’s Day. I remember doing exactly that for my mom. But mostly, dandelions are simply loads of fun for kids when they blow the cloud of seeds into air and then silently make a wish. Yes, kids seem to think dandelions are simply dandy!
Berti Spencer loves dandelions too. She’s a dear garden buddy of mine who enjoys sharing her plant knowledge. Because of her, my garden is blessed with wild strawberries and along with that gift, she gave me her recipe for dandelion jelly. But Berti points out that she hasn’t made this recipe since she and her husband Paul sold their large plot of land in Bruce County. It was there in the pristine forest that Berti used to harvest dandelions untouched by pesticides and far from car exhaust fumes.
Though Berti has lived in Leaside for 40+ years, she grew up on a farm in Switzerland where dandelions grow freely to grace the rolling fields. And that’s where she learned to love everything about dandelions.
I can only imagine her beautiful memories of an alpine meadow ablaze with the golden blooms. Her sister still lives there and makes good use of the entire plant.
But for so many adults, dandelions are nothing more than uncontrollable weeds that destroy a vision of order and artistry.
According to pesticide companies, dandelions are most definitely weeds and lawn enemy No 1. And that’s why every bottle of weed killer has a picture of a dandelion on it.
On Earth Day in April 22, 2009, the Ontario pesticide ban came into effect and every year since then, I’ve noticed more and more dandelions in Leaside. Are we becoming more comfortable seeing them? Will we be eating our dandelions soon?
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend local foraging. Roadside plants could be poisoned by engine exhaust and most lawns have reduced environmental quality from years of herbicide and insecticide use. It can take a long time for soil to replenish itself, and no one really knows exactly how long that process takes. What’s worse is that even though this pesticide ban has been in place for a while, weed killers are still available at our local hardware stores. And yes, people still buy them.
But understanding the importance of pollinators seems to be changing the way we look at our gardens and especially how we see plants and their many contributions. We know now that herbicides, pesticides and insecticides harm the environment so we are looking at other options for a healthy garden.
Could our new love of pollinator gardens change the way we look at dandelions too?
Let it be!
Soon, every Leaside gardener with spring fever will be out in the garden raking up leaves and pulling out weeds. Wait! This is not the time to be a tidy gardener. The leaves that you (hopefully) left in your garden bed last fall are now slowly breaking down to add a rich fertilizer to your soil. And in this leaf litter, along with twigs and plant stalks, is where many species of butterflies and moths overwinter as pupae. Our native ground bees are just beginning to wake up and so are bumble bees and honey bees, all in search of food which isn’t always available. But if they’re lucky, they might find some nutritious dandelions nearby.
So even if you don’t have a pollinator garden, you can help our pollinators too by simply allowing some of your dandelions to bloom….at least for a while.
This is one of those magical moments in time when a gardener can do something really important by doing absolutely nothing!
Berti Spencer’s Dandelion Jelly Recipe
1 quart of bright, fresh dandelion blossoms
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 package of powdered fruit pectin
5 ½ cups of sugar
Rinse the dandelions quickly in cold water and snip off the stems and green collars under the blossoms. Boil the petals in 2 quarts of water for 3 minutes. Cool and strain, pressing the petals with your fingers to extract all the juice.
Measure out 3 cups of the dandelion liquid and place in a large jelly kettle. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 package of powdered fruit pectin (1 ¾ ounces). Bring the mixture to a boil. Add 5 ½ cups of sugar, stirring to mix well. Continue stirring and boil the mixture for 2 ½ minutes.
Prepare jars and fill with hot jelly leaving a ¼ “space at top. Wipe the rims clean.