Living on the Earth,March 21, 1997: Dandelions

Journey back to the time when as a young child, you first discovered one of
those beautiful balls of fluff which is a dandelion seed head. 

In blowing on that seed head, as children have happily done for centuries, you
were scattering the genetic information and food reserves needed to produce many
more dandelion plants to cheer spring on with their bright yellow flowers.

The dandelion is a very special plant: its scientific name, Taraxacum
officinale,  means roughly "the official remedy for disorders." The Egyptians
reportedly ate it in 300 BC. For over a thousand years in many parts of the
world, people have believed that dandelions have healing properties. Arabian
physicians in the tenth century began using it medically, and the Welsh used it
medicinally in the thirteenth century. Dandelions were cultivated in India as a
remedy for liver complaints and for a hundred years, the dried root was an
official healing drug in the United States.

Gathered at the appropriate time, the roots, leaves and flowers can all be
eaten.  The leaves are tasty and tender until the plant flowers. The dandelion
is cultivated as a vegetable, especially by people in the Mediterranian region.
The USDA's Handbook on the Composition of Foods,  reports that dandelion greens
have more vitamin A per gram than any foods except red hot chile peppers and
liver. They have more potassium than bananas, and contain 50% more calcium per
gram than whole milk.

To honeybees, the dandelion is a very important early source of pollen and
nectar. At least 93 other kinds of flying insects visit the dandelion flower to
partake of the pollen or the nectar and participate in the fertilization
process. Small birds love dandelion seeds; earthworms and other soil life
appreciate the extent to which dandelion tap roots open up passageways deep into
the soil. English race horse owners and Turkish gypsies feed dandelion leaves to
their animals for strength and health.

Dandelion stout, made from the leaves, is a tonic herb beer enjoyed by
industrial workers in the midlands of England.  Dandelion wine, made from the
flowers, is reported to be an excellent tonic and extremely good for the blood.
It's certainly delicious.

The roots have the greatest medicinal action, exercising a safe and gentle
stimulating effect over the whole system, especially the liver, kidneys, and
bowels. A coffee-like beverage, made from the roasted roots, has these
beneficial effects without causing wakefulness.

Unfortunately, the chemical companies have viewed the dandelion as a
opportunity for profit. The herbicide, 2,4-D, has been around since World War
II. Combined with its chemical relative, 2,4,5-T, it forms Agent Orange, a major
chemical-warfare material used in Vietnam. To keep the manufacturing facilities
operating after that war, the dandelion became the target for a new war. Year
after year, millions of dollars are spent on full-page color ads, direct mail
flyers and television commercials brainwashing us to believe that the dandelion
is a horrible weed which it is our duty to kill with toxic chemicals. 

There are many reports of 2,4-D's negative health effects on farmers, dogs and
children. However, just the fact that it kills or injures most food and
landscape plants should argue against its widespread production and use. Large
sacks of toxic herbicide, stacked high at the entrance to most every hardware
and garden supply store, attest to our ignorance.

Yesterday on the equinox, the sun crossed the equator into the northern
hemisphere, bringing spring along with it.  For a month now, we've noticed the
days are getting longer.  Increasing light and the promise of flowers and
fruits, tubers and trees boost our spirits.  

This sping let's try to rediscover our ancestors' knowledge of and relationship
to green plants, and reject toxic chemical treatment for our planet. The
dandelion is the epitome of the beauty, ecological interdependence, nutritional
value and healing ability of green plants. Viewing the dandelion as an enemy is
evidence of our ignorance, arrogance and greed.  Lets all appreciate and eat
dandelion greens this spring, for our health and the health of our planet.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth.

(C) 1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491