Ahhh, the proverbial harbinger of spring, the dandelion, popping up in lawns, furrows and garden beds across Northeast Ohio.
For some, it is the eternal enemy, for others, a simple, yet recognizable symbol of an indescribable innocence and pure joy.
I could not let a column slide by without sharing some amazing attributes of our sunshine shaped friends in the hopes that you might host them just a little longer this season before banishing them from your backyard or garden.
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are actually members of the sunflower family (Asteraceae).
This readily recognized “weed” derives its name from its jagged leaves that resemble a “lion's tooth.”
Lance-shaped leaves grow in a rosette pattern emanating from the crown in early spring.
Characteristic bright yellow flowers comprised of numerous rays and discs form a daisy-like flower at the end of a hollow stalk filled with a sticky “milk.”
Flowers quickly transform into a globe-shaped seed head. Each dandelion seed has a unique arrangement of feathery white hairs called a pappus that allows the seed to be easily dispersed by the wind or a quick blow from little pursed lips or waving arms.
A European native, this short-lived perennial literally grows anywhere. It is frost tolerant and adjusts well to crowding and a diversity of soil types.
Excessive heat and a lack of moisture will turn the leaves bitter, but rarely kills the plant. Dandelions are masters of colonization, seed dispersal, and vegetative reproduction (via a taproot).
A deep taproot is one adaptation that provides the dandelion with drought tolerance and allows it to survive competition from other weeds (and our persistent removal attempts at the point of a trowel or shovel).
Despite the frustration of many homeowners and gardeners to remove these yellow invaders from their lawns, landscapes and gardens, dandelions hold both culinary and medicinal value. Leaves are a food source for some butterfly and moth species, and flowers are one of the first to offer an early source of nectar for foraging honeybees and other pollinators. All parts of the dandelion are edible including the leaves, root and flowers.
Dandelion leaves, or greens can be made into, or added to salads; dandelion flowers are used to make dandelion wine or jellies or can be breaded and fried; the root can be roasted to make dandelion tea or tonic.
Make sure that the dandelions you have selected to harvest and are preparing to eat have not been treated or are not located near areas that have been chemically treated.
As with all fresh fruits and vegetables, wash all edible parts thoroughly to remove any soil and insect residues.
Dandelions, like other familiar dark leafy greens, are full of vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin A.
Young and tender dandelion leaves are high in calcium, potassium and iron. The most flavorful leaves are found in early spring before the first flower buds appear. Dandelion leaves can be substituted for chicory, arugula, escarole, curly endive or cooked spinach.
Hungry for more information or some unique ways to consume this edible weed?
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Heather Neikirk is a Stark County Extension educator in agriculture and natural resources for the Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences with an office in each of Ohio’s 88 counties. If you have questions about healthy food systems, farm to school, food production, small farms, women in agriculture or food gardening, contact her at 330-832-9856 or firstname.lastname@example.org.