Rod’s Ramblings on Dandelions

By Rodney Martin in Animals & Nature

Ah, the dandelion!  Taraxacum officinale, (or maybe Taraxacum erythrospermum if the seeds are reddish instead of olive-ish), the hated flower of summertime.

Many a lawnkeeper has stood at dusk admiring the fresh, rolling green of their painstakingly manicured lawn after the first mowing of spring.  Each blade of grass has been trimmed to the strictest tolerances of height; the bumps and dips have been rolled smooth; care has even been taken to stripe the lawn with diagonal passes of the mower one way and then the other throughout.  A smooth sheet of lush and vibrant green lies in view.  What a beacon of order and neatness the lawn will be for the neighbourhood!  The lawnkeeper goes to bed with a sense of accomplishment, of having performed a solemn duty.  They sleep soundly, profoundly, deeply.  Visions of endless, perfect, undulating greens fill their dreams.  They awake in the morning energized.  Their coffee tastes exquisite.  They step outside to breath in the intoxicating morning air: the scent of dewy lawn cuttings and the steam of a dark roast.  Hmmmm!  Aaaaaah…

And then—BAM!—a horror show—a pox of yellow, freakballs has infected the whole lawn!  Hundreds of them!  Thousands, even!  What is this?!  The lawnkeeper’s anger roils; their vision reddens so that the dandelions begin to burn orange.  How did this happen?  Where did they come from?!

Europe, as it happens.  It’s those plucky settlers again—they brought dandelion as a food crop.

It’s true: you can eat young dandelion leaves and unopened flowers raw in salads; older, post-flower leaves can be blanched to improve flavour; you can roast and grind the roots to use as a rather tasty tea; you can make jelly and wine using the flowers.  You can eat the stem, but the sap is bitter, as you will know from your experience making dandelion horns as a child.

Children, since we are now on the topic, seem to know something about dandelions, which is that they are not so bad after all.  In fact, they are a source of great joy.  Look at them, all yellow and glowing, like a thousand little suns poking above the monotonous green of a lawn.  The stems, which are hollow and usually larger at one end than the other, can be connected end to end to make fantastic jewelry!  A dandelion crown might adorn a  young aristocrat, accompanied by a chorus of heralding dandelion horns.

There are of course a number of impish pranks in which the dandelion can be employed.  Taking a friend’s arm in one hand and a dandelion flower in the other, and chanting “Daddy goes down the slide” while stroking the arm gently with the flower, and then again for “Mommy goes down the slide” and then a surprise, hard, stain-inducing stroke for “Baby peeeeees down the slide” is just the kind of thing that can tickle the mind of a seven year old to giddiness.  A more pernicious trick is to take the seed head of a dandelion and have a friend “make a wish” on it after which they must blow the seeds off for the wish to come true.  As they inhale to fill their lungs, you stick the dandelion in their mouth and then laugh as they cough and splutter.

As you can see, there is plenty of fun to be had with the humble dandelion.  And really, what is more quintessentially summertime than blowing the seeds off a dandelion and watching them float in the breeze on a sunny day?  Each time that is done, 50 to 150 viable seeds are sown.  Let’s just face the primary fact: dandelions aren’t going anywhere.  We may as well just enjoy them for what they’re worth.