The dandelion is, for most people, an extremely common sight. They can be seen scattered across people’s yards and gardens in Europe, Asia, and North and
South America. But, as it turns out, there’s a lot more to
this humble little plant than I’d imagined.
When I was a young child, dandelions were a source of some amusement. When the flowers were immature and yellow, we did the old folk trick, wherein you place the flower underneath someone’s chin. If it reflected yellow, it meant that the person liked butter. Oddly, a long series of scientific studies have shown that this is actually true. Sorry! Just kidding, of course. Why even a six-year-old believes that there’s some connection between a flower and an appreciation of a dairy product doesn’t say much for kids’ common sense. Not to mention, as I recall, it pretty much always reflected yellow—so this was a test which seemingly always had the same result. Later in the season, when the flowers turned into whitish balls of parachute-equipped seeds, was kind of neat, too. Blowing on the flowers and dramatically releasing the seeds was fun, and sort of rebellious, too, in that you were helping to spread a plant that those who kept pure, green, grassy lawns really hated.
The most common name, at least in the
dandelion, is based on the French name for “lion’s tooth,” as the leaves were
considered to resemble these. Other
common names are more obscure, or entertaining.
Evidently the white seedy form of the flower is called a “clock,” but I
can’t recall hearing that one growing up.
An English folk name for them comes from their believed diuretic effect after
scatological, because they’re so typically found on the sides of sidewalks,
where pets often relieve themselves, in Italy they’re known as “dog pisses”
Also, their reputation as being a nuisance is mostly unfounded. Because dandelions are actually a member of the groups called “beneficial weeds” and “companion plants,” as they actually help out in the cultivation of other plants used by people. They attract insect pollinators, release ethylene gas (which helps fruit ripen), add nitrogen to the soil, and bring up nutrients with their deeper tap roots for their shallow-rooted comrades.
I was further surprised to learn that dandelions are a common food source, although evidently not so much in the
U.S. The flowers, leaves, and even roots are all
edible. The greens and flowers are
sometimes eaten raw in salads, or cooked with other foods. The roots can be dried, and ground into a
dandelion version of coffee. They’re
also used to make a British dandelion and burdock (see April 13, 2013 post) flavored
soft drink, and occasionally made into wine.
Nutritionally dandelions are a solid choice as well. They contain Vitamins K, C, and A, along with
manganese, iron, potassium, and calcium.
They have some potential downsides, though. They can cause allergic reactions for some
consumers, and their pollen can cause minor skin irritations. More seriously, their high potassium level
can cause hyperkalemia in some, and leaves contaminated with snail parasites
can result in the nasty and serious fasciolosis. I didn’t see how to prevent this last
affliction, so it’s probably a good idea to thoroughly wash dandelions before
eating, and probably even safer to buy them in a grocery unless you really know
what you’re doing.
Speaking of groceries, I just had dandelions as a food from a Korean supermarket. It was part of dish called jinga, not to be confused with the tiny wooden block stacking game. It was dandelion plants along with chili powder, onions, salt, sesame, and anchovies. I found it rather disappointing. The main stalks were very tough, and hard to bite through. The leaves coming off of these were softer and had some flavor, but not enough to recommend, even with the abundant spice. Moving on, many years ago I was at a weird winery in the Amana Colonies in
Iowa. Apparently grapes don’t grow well in the
area, as all of their wines were made from other fruits and berries, and
dandelions. The dandelion variety was
strange, and not in a good way. Granted,
I’m not into wine in general, but still, I wasn’t a fan. (Also, as I recall my friends, some of whom
did like wine, also were less than impressed by the dandelion kind. Conversely, I thought the Amana Colonies’
attempts at brewing beer were good—I liked those quite a bit. Furthermore, their German dishes were an
excellent example of this food type.) To
be fair, as I said, there are many ways to eat dandelion, so I’d be willing to
try it in its other forms. But I don’t
have high hopes.
Finally, despite the folk name, I didn’t notice that the dandelions had a particular diuretic effect on me. But, staying on that, I plan to try to promote these slightly naughty names for this plant, and I encourage others to as well. I hope to hear people in the future exclaiming things like, “Look at all those piss-a-beds!” while gazing out into their yards.