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In Defense of Dandelions

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One of the first signs of spring is the appearance of the humble dandelion. Unfortunately, we also bear witness to the endless crusade of Man vs Lawn in order to poison, destroy, and completely eviscerate this “weed.”  Some may spray weed killer to nurture a personal vendetta, as if those happy yellow poofs, and the ensuing puffs of seeds that follow, are a slap in the face against suburban banality.  Others may feel it is truly a feather in their cap to boast a homogeneous, manufactured lawn, regardless of any harm that comes to our pollinators, pets, and family members.

Now, there is nothing wrong with taking pride in one’s home and garden, but can’t there be a better way than introducing more carcinogens into our bodies and poisons into our planet?  If you, a loved one, or neighbor within spraying distance feels compelled to start dousing the lawn at the first threat of nature, consider these points:

Popular weed killers are harmful to our health and to our planet. The chemical known as Glyphosate, the main ingredient in the herbicide Round Up, has been shown to cause cancer.  In 2015, the World Health Organization released evidence that found Glyphosate to be a carcinogen. These same studies also discovered a host of other health issues caused by exposure to this chemical (in case cancer wasn’t enough for you.)  These herbicides also kill bees and other beneficial pollinators.  On a side note, keep your critical thinking cap on when researching this topic:  like most ventures where the profit of stockholders outweighs the true cost to humanity, there is much controversy and a wide range of what might be considered “studies” and credible evidence.

For example, Monsanto, the company that manufactures this chemical, conducted their own “study,” but interestingly, their study found no association between Glyphosate and cancer.  Surprisingly, when internet browsing on this topic, some of the first search results to come up are various derivatives of the Monsanto-funded studies. One that is particularly concerning is alleged research funneled through the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Sounds legit, right? Actually, it turns out that the ACSH is a front group for the tobacco, chemical, fossil fuel, and pharmaceutical industries.   Yes, this is the same group that tells us that fracking is good and that coal is clean energy – all under the guise of “real” science. It is no coincidence that the ACSH relies on funding from corporations – particularly those who conveniently need a study with specifically tailored findings.

Controversy aside, who even said we had to not like dandelions anyway?  They’re cheerful looking, bees love them, they are easy to take care of (in that you don’t have to do anything to them), and who hasn’t made at least one wish upon a dandelion?

So what to do? 

Remember that nature is not something that we need to get back at, control, (or poison!) or feel threatened by.  As a society that reinforces suburban conformity, we really need to let go of the idea that we require ultimate control over every aspect of our lives (read: lawns) to the extent that we are causing physical harm.  In our post-industrialized society, we have been conditioned to believe that dandelions are “bad,” that “different” is abhorrent.

Nature gives us what we need. Nature is not cruel or indifferent, but will give us exactly what we need if we just pay attention.  Think about it this way: when the first signs of spring are in the air, we emerge from our homes feeling blessed by warmer weather after a harsh winter of being stuck inside.  Many of us spend winter with lessened activity, and holiday comfort food binging becomes the norm. Our bodies literally crave fresh greens and nutrients.  One cup of dandelion greens has more than half of your daily recommended intake of Vitamin A and 185% of Vitamin K. Greens are also a great source of Vitamin D, C, B, iron, and are a rich in potassium.  Back in the day when dandelions were cultivated and not exterminated, old timers with their cottage gardens made spring tonics with dandelion as the main ingredient.

All parts of the plant are edible and the humble dandelion is one of the most easily identifiable plants for newbie foragers.  There are recipes all over the place that utilize dandelions for teas, jams, salads, even wine! When eaten as food or as tea, the dandelion helps stimulate a sluggish liver and tones the whole digestive system after a sedentary winter and too much indulgence of heavy foods.

Dandelion greens can be sauteed and are wonderful with rich, meaty dishes, like pork chops or sausage.  They are delicious when stirred into hot pasta or brown rice, too.  The newest leaves are tender enough for salads and sandwiches.  The flowers can be dried for tea, made into jelly or wine, baked into muffins, and even deep fried. Individual petals can be sprinkled on top of a salad or sandwich for a bright splash of color.  Harvest the roots and dry them to brew a rich tea. 

If you are fresh out of dandelions, or don’t have access to any right now, but want to enjoy the benefits, Traditional Medicinals Tea, makes a lovely, refreshing tea.

Now is the perfect time of year to do some dandelion harvesting. Look toward your own back yard – how much more local can you get?  Be a rebel. Let your lawn turn a little yellow this spring. Expand your palate and save a few bees while you’re at it.

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