Dandelions are prolific this time of year. Recent rains have breathed new life into the lawn and the dandelions that serve as bee food, people food and ingredients for soaps and lotions.
You see them everywhere these days. Fields of yellow blossoms waving in the sun and warmth of coming summer. The word must be out. Summer's coming. More and more people are allowing at least one crop of dandelions to gracefully age into white-headed ladies before casting their future into the air and dying. Do bees need dandelions? Maybe not.
My husband quit spraying the driveway to kill off the unwanted "weeds" a few years back. He stopped spraying because he read that the bees needed the dandelions. And we need the bees. That made me very happy. As you know, I'm always sticking things in my mouth while working outdoors, and now everything has been chemical-free for at least four years.
If you do more research online, you will find that dandelions are not necessarily a first-choice bee food. The pollen in dandelions is not sufficient for the bees. However, they rely on dandelions as filler food if pollen from fruit trees and flower beds is insufficient in early May. They are also very abundant if allowed to seed out every year.
Dandelions are a common member of the sunflower family, and there are about 100 species. Like sunflowers, you may have noticed dandelions open with the sun and close overnight to sleep. The serrated leaves reminded someone of a lion, hence the French name "dent de lion" or lion's tooth.
Dandelions are survivors and spread like wildfire. They do not need insects to pollinate for seeds to survive, even though insects and bees hop from one to the other consuming nectar or seed.
Because I love folklore and such, a dandelion represents three celestial bodies. The flower represents the sun, the puff ball resembles the moon, and the seeds floating away on a summer breeze (in North Dakota, anything under 60-miles per hour is considered a breeze) represent the stars in the sky.
But, never mind the bees, there are many reasons not to kill off the dandelions. In many cultures, the herb dandelion was more valued than a green lawn.
First off, if you have small children, dandelions are usually the first "flower" a mother receives. What could be more joyful than watching a child's fascination with dandelions?
As my summer reading program, I purchase "old" novels from Abe Books like Foundation, The Invisible Man and Fahrenheit 451. When Fahrenheit's main character, Montag, meets Clarisse, she rubs a dandelion under his chin. She explains that if the pollen rubs off, he is in love. He is married, but no pollen would indicate he is not in love with his wife or anything in this dystopian novel by one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury.
All three parts of the dandelion are useful and edible. The leaves can be eaten when young as bitter greens in salads or frittatas. The leaves make good tea, and the root can be dried and ground and used as a coffee substitute. Green leaves can be mixed with basil and made into pesto with a healthy kick.
Like squash, the blossoms can be dipped in egg white and fried or taken off the bitter pod and sprinkled over salad. I have yet to try this, but I harvest dandelions to make soap or dying organic cotton fabric. The color of the dandelion leaf is a beautiful green. Dandelion-infused soap or balm soothes irritated skin.
I'm planning on drying some root this year because someone told me it smells like chocolate. And, who doesn't like chocolate? When harvesting roots, you will see earthworms gather around dandelion roots, for it is a natural humus producer. Humus is soil with an ecosystem and a goal for people who grow.
While we wait for the gardens, patiently, I might add with these recent cold temperatures, try a few dandelion experiments and let me know what you think.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.