Journey back to the time when as a young child, you first discovered one of those beautiful balls of fluff which is a dandelion seed head.
In blowing on that seed head, as children have happily done for centuries, you were scattering the genetic information and food reserves needed to produce many more dandelion plants to cheer spring on with their bright yellow flowers.
The dandelion is a very special plant: its scientific name, Taraxacum officinale, means roughly "the official remedy for disorders." The Egyptians reportedly ate it in 300 BC. For over a thousand years in many parts of the world, people have believed that dandelions have healing properties. Arabian physicians in the tenth century began using it medically, and the Welsh used it medicinally in the thirteenth century. Dandelions were cultivated in India as a remedy for liver complaints and for a hundred years, the dried root was an official healing drug in the United States.
Gathered at the appropriate time, the roots, leaves and flowers can all be eaten. The leaves are tasty and tender until the plant flowers. The dandelion is cultivated as a vegetable, especially by people in the Mediterranian region. The USDA's Handbook on the Composition of Foods, reports that dandelion greens have more vitamin A per gram than any foods except red hot chile peppers and liver. They have more potassium than bananas, and contain 50% more calcium per gram than whole milk.
To honeybees, the dandelion is a very important early source of pollen and nectar. At least 93 other kinds of flying insects visit the dandelion flower to partake of the pollen or the nectar and participate in the fertilization process. Small birds love dandelion seeds; earthworms and other soil life appreciate the extent to which dandelion tap roots open up passageways deep into the soil. English race horse owners and Turkish gypsies feed dandelion leaves to their animals for strength and health.
Dandelion stout, made from the leaves, is a tonic herb beer enjoyed by industrial workers in the midlands of England. Dandelion wine, made from the flowers, is reported to be an excellent tonic and extremely good for the blood. It's certainly delicious.
The roots have the greatest medicinal action, exercising a safe and gentle stimulating effect over the whole system, especially the liver, kidneys, and bowels. A coffee-like beverage, made from the roasted roots, has these beneficial effects without causing wakefulness.
Unfortunately, the chemical companies have viewed the dandelion as a opportunity for profit. The herbicide, 2,4-D, has been around since World War II. Combined with its chemical relative, 2,4,5-T, it forms Agent Orange, a major chemical-warfare material used in Vietnam. To keep the manufacturing facilities operating after that war, the dandelion became the target for a new war. Year after year, millions of dollars are spent on full-page color ads, direct mail flyers and television commercials brainwashing us to believe that the dandelion is a horrible weed which it is our duty to kill with toxic chemicals.
There are many reports of 2,4-D's negative health effects on farmers, dogs and children. However, just the fact that it kills or injures most food and landscape plants should argue against its widespread production and use. Large sacks of toxic herbicide, stacked high at the entrance to most every hardware and garden supply store, attest to our ignorance.
Yesterday on the equinox, the sun crossed the equator into the northern hemisphere, bringing spring along with it. For a month now, we've noticed the days are getting longer. Increasing light and the promise of flowers and fruits, tubers and trees boost our spirits.
This spring, let's try to rediscover our ancestors' knowledge of and relationship to green plants, and reject toxic chemical treatment for our planet. The dandelion is the epitome of the beauty, ecological interdependence, nutritional value and healing ability of green plants. Viewing the dandelion as an enemy is evidence of our ignorance, arrogance and greed. Let's all appreciate and eat dandelion greens this spring, for our health and the health of our planet.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth.
This page and its contents are copyright © 1997 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.