Weed Appreciation Day—In Praise of Dandelions

Weed Appreciation Day is March 28 and in recognition of this important day, I’m writing about the common dandelion.

The dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is a cool season perennial, having some of the first leaves to develop in early spring.  Leaves can be used in salads and are high in potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium and vitamins C and E.  The leaves will have a slightly bitter flavor that intensifies as the weather warms.

Foragers, those who like to look for their own food among the wild plants, and those wishing to harvest a local source of food, will like the abundance of dandelions found in the landscape. The flowers, too, can be harvested for different uses.  Dandelion flower jelly is a clear bright yellow color with a flavor similar to honey.  Dandelion flowers can also be made into wine and the roots roasted and ground for brewing a hot beverage similar to coffee.

Pollinators, like our native bees, appreciate dandelions because the flowers are one of the earliest food sources of the season.  The flowers are a composite, with a flower head consisting of disc flowers (the fertile part at the center) and the ray flowers (the outside “petals” that are the “yoo hoo, here I am!” draw for pollinators).

If you’re harvesting dandelions, make sure you know for a fact that the plants haven’t been treated with a herbicide, no matter what part of the plant you use or how well you plan to wash it.  Flowering slows once the heat of summer is upon us and harvested leaves will have a much more bitter flavor.

Dandelions can be fun too. There isn’t a kid out there who doesn’t enjoy making the flowers into a necklace, blowing away the fluffy seeds, and presenting a bouquet to his/her mom!

dandelion seed

Kathleen Cue
Horticulture Educator at Nebraska Extension
Kathleen serves as the Horticulture Educator for Nebraska Extension in Dodge County. She educates people on making smart plant choices to reduce use of fertilizers and pesticides in their landscape which has a positive impact on air, water, soil and environmental quality, property values and people’s pocketbooks.

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