MIKE KEELER: The Truly Magical Weed

Mike Keeler

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.” – Emerson

It’s time we admit it: we cannot kill the Lion’s Tooth. Every spring we carpet-bomb it with pendimethaline (the toxic ingredient in Scott’s Halts), hose it down with 2,4-D (Weed-B-Gon), and even go on search-and-destroy missions armed with glyphosphate (Roundup). But after we’ve spread these nasty chemicals all over the landscape and polluted the ground water, the Lion’s Tooth, the “Dent de Lion,” just laughs at us. It keeps spreading through the grass, popping up in the garden, and poking out of every crack and crevice.

Isn’t there a better way to deal with the dandelion? Well, part of the answer lies in the plant’s official name, Taraxacum officinale, which loosely translates to “the remedy for curing disorders.” Dandelion is one of the top six herbs in a traditional Chinese medicine cabinet, and has been used to treat stomach problems and appendicitis for centuries. Native Americans used it in dozens of treatments. Europeans have long used it to treat liver problems. Today, herbalists use it most commonly as an appetite stimulant and a diuretic. (Modern scientists have yet to prove dandelion’s medical efficacy, but thousands of years of usage around the globe has to be based on something.)

What we CAN prove is that the dandelion is an extremely healthful food. The USDA ranks dandelions as the 4th most nutritious green vegetable. They are loaded with vitamins A and C and have more iron than spinach. They are rich in fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamine, riboflavin and trace minerals. Young leaves and unopened flower buds can be added to salads. Older leaves become bitter, but are still fine cooked into soups. The roots can be chopped and roasted to make an herbal tea very similar to coffee. (Which is currently being tested in Canada for its ability to fight cancer).

If it’s time to celebrate this plant instead of vilifying it, the dandelion can help there, too. Just boil a few quarts of the flowers in a gallon of water, add a little orange and lemon juice, plus a little ginger. Throw in some brewer’s yeast, and put it in a cool dry place. In a few months, you’ll have a dry white wine which tastes great, stays fresh and improves for a year or more. (Extensive field tests HAVE proven it has excellent mood-altering powers.)

Wonder-drug? Super-food? Party-vegetable?

Maybe it’s time we stop trying to kill the dandelion, and let it help us live.