Today is national dandelion day. A day to celebrate a non-native herb (at least within North America), that over the past hundred and fifty years or so has developed a bad ‘rep’.

Dandelions poking out through the monkey-grass in the backyard.

The dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is actually an native herb to Europe and Asia, and was introduced to the Americas probably around the time of the Mayflower landing in Plymouth (1), and was then also introduced to Australia & New Zealand by European settlers as well. This wasn’t an ‘accidental’ introduction—the herb was brought with the settlers due to it’s numerous ‘medicinal’ benefits. One folk name for the plant in Europe & Asia is ‘piss en lit’ (‘piss in the night’) due to diuretic properties of the roots (1).

Prior to it’s ‘bad rep’ as an invasive weed (which—technically it is that as well), the dandelion was planted and harvested due to its numerous medical and nutritional benefits.

In terms of its ‘medical benefits’:

  1. As early as the 10th & 11th centurie, Arabian physicians were using it in medicine (1)
  2. Within China & India–it was used to treat not only liver diseases but digestive problems as well (1)

It addition to liver diseases and digestive problems, dandelions were also used to create remedies to other aliments such as baldness, toothaches, fevers, lethargy, and even depression (1).

In terms of ‘nutritional’ benefits, all parts of the dandelion can be consumed:

The flower head can be used to make wine, tea (1) or jam (2). A google search will turn up numerous recipes for all three. I may have to think of how to increase the amount of dandelions we have in the backyard so that I can possibly try to make dandelion jam (or tea) one of these days.

The leaves can be used in salads or soups (1).

The roots were used in also in tonics and teas. These ‘nutritional diuretics’ aided in both improving digestion and ‘flushing’ out toxins from the liver and other organs. In addition the roots could be roasted as well (1). 

People would start to harvest dandelion heads in late spring in order to have dandelion wine to drink later in the winter—it takes about six months or so for the dandelion wine to age before being ready to drink (1).

The dandelion has been shown to also be high in the following nutrients/vitamins (2):

Nutrients: Potassium, calcium & lecithin (phospholipids), magnesium, and zinc

Vitamins: Numerous B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5 & B6), Vitamin C, and Vitamin E

In terms of the benefits of having dandelions in your yard? Well, they attract bees & other pollinating insects. The flower head consists of numerous tube-like florets, each one containing nectar and pollen.

While they may not ‘look’ attractive in the yard—their deep taproot and root system actually helps to loosen the soil (especially ‘clay-based’ soils), helps aerate the soil (due again to their long root system), their roots also pull nutrients up for neighboring plants (that may have shallower root systems), and they also add nitrogen and minerals back to the soil—in addition to helping to reduce erosion (3). 

Basically prior to the past 150 years or so, dandelions were actually planted along side other plants in home gardens—not only for their nutritional & medical benefits, but because their roots systems helped make the soil better for other plants in the garden.

Mature dandelion ready to release it’s seed pods to the wind

So, maybe it’s time to reevaluate how we look at the dandelion. While it can be invasive, it can also be extremely beneficial to have within the yards as well. The flowers provide ‘food’ for numerous beneficial insects, and can even be harvested for sprinkling over a dinner (or lunch) salad in a pinch (just ensure that you haven’t sprayed your yard with herbicides). Also—who doesn’t love to pick a ‘mature’ dandelion and blow it, watching all the seeds disperse into the air.

References: 

  1. Rothfeld, Anne. “The Dandelion” June 7, 2016. https://circulatingnow.nlm.nih.gov/2016/06/07/the-dandelion Retrieved April 2, 2024
  2. “Dandelion” https://newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/dandelion Retrieved April 2, 2024 
  3.  Sanchez, Anita “Ten Things You Might Not Know About Dandelions” https://mofga.org/resources/weeds/ten-things-you-might-not-know-about-dandelions. Retrieved April 2, 2024