With Earth Day coming up, I scrolled through the archives looking for past stories about nature, and I found a lot of them. In this blog, I’ve explained how Fireflies channel Lucifer; why Woollie Bears cross the road; the ABC’s of CCD; how we’re wasting all our fresh water busily making…water; and why the 17-year Cicadas are losing their backsides and becoming a biblical plague of mindless sex-zombie insect eunuchs flying about in a fervid orgy of impotent transvestite dry-humping horniness in slavish contagious service to their drug-pushing fungal mind-master overlord.
But not all stories are so dramatic, and this one starts quite simply, in your own yard, and begins with a quote by another writer, some hack named Emerson who said,
“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”
In that spirit, 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 groundwater, 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 pesky dandelion? Well, part of the answer lies in the plant’s official name, Taraxacum officinale, which originates from Greek, meaning “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.
(Dandelion’s reputation as a healthful supplement is so strong that it recently spawned an Internet hoax that a clinical trial had proven it ‘kills 98% of cancer cells in 48 hours.’ The rumors grew so viral that the story eventually earned a Fact Check at USA Today, which debunked the claim.)
Efficacy aside, one thing that is certainly true is that 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 when cooked into soups. The roots can be chopped and roasted to make an herbal tea very similar to coffee.
Maybe it’s time to celebrate this plant instead of vilifying it. And if a party is in order, the humble dandelion can help there, too. Just go out this weekend and collect a whole bunch of flowers. Throw it all into a gallon of water, add a little orange and lemon juice, plus a little ginger. Add some brewer’s yeast, and put it in a cool dry place. In a few months, you’ll have a dry white wine that tastes great, stays fresh, and improves for a year or more. (Extensive field tests HAVE proven it has excellent mood-altering powers.)
So here’s to the Lion’s Tooth. Wonder-drug? Maybe. Super-food? Absolutely. Party-vegetable? Most definitely.
This Earth Day, it’s time we stop trying to kill the dandelion, and let it help us live.
– Mike Keeler