Friday, April 10, 2009

Apple #379: Dandelions

Another sign of spring: dandelions blooming in the yard.

(Photo by Ron Schott)

  • Dandelions were introduced by Europeans to the Midwest to provide spring food for the honeybees they'd also brought over from Europe. Those Europeans, dragging their crap around with them everywhere.
  • As you probably have learned at some point, the name dandelion is a run-together version of the French Dents de Lion, which means teeth of the lion. People aren't sure whether the teeth are supposed to be the jagged points on the leaves or if it's the golden yellow flowers which are reminiscent of a golden lion that appears in heraldry.
  • Here are some other names for dandelions:
  1. Swine's snout
  2. Irish daisy
  3. Blowball
  4. Priest's crown (for when there are no seeds left)
  5. Monk's head (ditto)
  • Dandelions produce a huge amount of nectar. Scientists have observed 93 different kinds of insects visiting dandelions to collect it.
  • Dandelions are weeds because they are wild and they crowd out other plants. Their large leaves block other, smaller plants from getting the sun they need, and they absorb nutrients from the soil that other plants need.
  • Dandelions grow in lawns where the soil is acidic and weak and there isn't much competition from the grass. One of the best ways to combat dandelions is to improve the soil. In the autumn, spread mature compost over the yard. That will help to reinvigorate the grass come spring.
  • Also, if you spread lots of grass seed to keep the grass growing thickly, there won't be as much room for the dandelions.

This is Taffy the dog, who seems a little bemused among the dandelions. I don't know how well you can see this, but the grass is sort of patchy, which makes it easier for the dandelions to grow.
(Photo from bionicdan's blog, which has a ton of huge photos and is slow to load.)

  • You can also pour boiling water over the individual plants to knock them out one by one. Corn gluten meal works, too, and so does vinegar. Careful, though. Any of the three sloppily applied could kill other stuff nearby.
  • You could spray them with Round-Up or your favorite herbicide. But then you wouldn't be able to eat or steep any part of the plant. This is important because there are so many things you can do with dandelions:
  • Make rubber. The gooey white stuff inside the dandelion stem, which is latex, was used to make rubber during World War I. Science Project Ideas has instructions for making a rubber band from dandelions. (If you're allergic to latex, you'll want to pass on this one.)
  • Make wine. You don't need any fancy equipment to make it, just the blossoms, some sort of container to put the liquid into, and the time and patience to stir it each day until it's fermented. Collect the flowers when they've just bloomed, which is usually in the spring. Be sure to remove any green bits at the base of the flower because those are especially bitter. Then follow a recipe for dandelion wine. Here's one recipe that also uses oranges, lemons, and cloves. This one uses raisins and banana as well as lemons and oranges, and there's a photo of preparing the blossoms.

A glass of dandelion wine, made with lemons and oranges in the Coke bottle standing nearby. Photo and wine by donosborn, who has says it's probably around 10% alcohol and its flavor improves after the first year or two. He's got a link to more info about how he made his wine.

Dandelion Wine is also the title of a book by Ray Bradbury. It's about Douglas Spaulding, who is 12 and is waking up to the wonders of the world around him. It's beautiful and joyous. I loved it when I was a teen-ager.

  • Make coffee. In the fall, pull up the big, fat taproots, clean them, and dry them. Roast them until they take on the same color as coffee, and then grind them up. Put them in your coffee maker the same way you would regular coffee. Since dandelions are very similar to chicory, I expect the dandelion coffee would taste like chicory used as coffee.
  • Eat the leaves. They are hugely nutritious, with all kinds of iron (better than spinach) and beta carotene (better than carrots) and a host of other vitamins. Best collected in early spring before the flowers bloom, the leaves can be used raw in salads, or steamed or sauteed and eaten the way you'd eat any green vegetable like spinach or Swiss chard. Here's a recipe for dandelion greens sauteed with garlic.
  • They do have a bitter edge to them. One way to reduce that bitterness is to boil them in water, change the water, and boil them again.

This is what you pick. Only pick leaves you're sure have not been sprayed with herbicide!
(Photo from Budget Gourmet Kitchen)

This is what they'll look like after you've sauteed them.
(Photo by madball911)

  • You can also eat the big, fat taproot. Boil it, change the water, boil it again, or simmer it slowly for a long time. You can eat them the same way you'd eat other root vegetables (like potatoes) or the same way you'd eat the greens.
  • Make tea. Collect and wash the greens. You can use them right away when fresh and steep about 4 greens in boiling water for 20 minutes. Or you can dry them first in a low-heat oven and then make your tea. Use one teaspoon of the dried leaves per cup of boiling water per person. Either way, it's best with a slice of lemon.

Or you could buy a box of somebody else's dandelion tea and steep that. This box of 30 tea bags from NOW foods will set you back only $2.87.

  • Here's another caution: one word in French for dandelion is pissenlit. It means "wet the bed." This is because dandelions are a diuretic. That might be something you want since it does help to cleanse the kidneys. But it's also something to keep in mind when you're considering whether to have a cup of dandelion tea right before a big road trip, say.
  • Tell time. When the blooms have gone to seed, puff on them to make some of the seeds blow away. Keep doing this and count with each puff one o'clock, two o'clock, three o'clock, etc., until all the seeds are gone. Supposedly the time you end on will match up with whatever time it actually is. Supposedly.

(Photo from Meg Roberts' blog)

  • Put your thumb at the base of the dandelion blossom, chant, "Mama had a baby and her head popped off," and on the word "head," flick your thumb to pop off the head of the dandelion. Great fun, isn't it?
  • I looked everywhere to find out where that little game comes from and nobody knows -- at least, nobody online at these here free Internets. People from all over the country and in England too say they played it as children, but none of them can say what it means or where it came from.
  • Different people do use different pronouns in there. Some people say "her head," some say "his head," and some say "its head" (often inserting the incorrect apostrophe). For those of us who say "her head," the "her" refers to the baby, since that is the closest noun to which the pronoun can refer. A lot of stressed-out moms out there feel like it should refer to the mom, but it's actually the baby's head that's popping off.

P.S. If you're curious about Easter-related topics, check out the links under Ripe Apples at the top right corner. Happy Easter!

Alex Russel, A Dandelion is a Weed, All About Lawns
Marion Owen, Seven ways to get rid of dandelions . . . Organically!
Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Dealing with Dandelions
Compact Oxford English Dictionary, weed
Wildman Steve Brill, Common Dandelion
Dandelion tea, Dandelion tea recipe, Dandelion


  1. Checked out your info on Rabbits and eggs...good to know!

  2. Feasterville kids always said "BOBBY had a baby and it's head popped off."

    Jim F.

  3. Well, that's Feasterville for you, I guess. And I know you know this, Mr. Teacher of English, you mean "its" not "it is."

  4. For more information about Dandelion Tea please visit Thanks!

  5. As I remember the story, the dandilion represents the heads of King Henry the VIII's wives. A game origionally played by children of the era who were poking fun at the fact that the king seemingly beheaded the wives that didn't bear him a son.


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