Dandelions need not be dreaded
May 1, 2001
Bright yellow flowers are springing up on lawns across the country right now. It's dandelion season.
Some homeowners needlessly spend hours trying to rid their lawns of dandelions. They pick, pluck, dig, mow and spray them down.
Homeowners used more than 49 million pounds of herbicides on their lawns, according to the most recent figures from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Instead, we should appreciate dandelions for what they are.
Many people call them weeds, but dandelions are really just a persistent perennial herb.
Early settlers brought dandelions to America for use as a healing herb, salad green and a flavoring for tea and wine. Because they were not a native species, they had no natural controls and quickly spread across the country.
The medicinal value of dandelions has been known for centuries. Dried or fresh, the blooms are high in potassium, lecithin (thought to enhance memory and overall brain activity), calcium and trace minerals. The blooms, leaves and root make an excellent diuretic that does not deplete potassium levels. The whole plant is safe and non-toxic, although many people use only the blooms and leaves.
The herb is readily available and free for the picking. The greens, especially young fresh ones, picked early in the morning add zip to any salad. But when you gather your own, make sure they have not been sprayed with pesticides.
What are the alternatives to using weed killers? If you have little tolerance for dandelions and other "weeds," and you still want to get rid of them, try over-seeding your lawn with a mixture of Kentucky blue-grass, ryegrass and red fescues. This also helps erosion problems.
The best time to remove unwanted dandelions by the root is soon after the flower appears (at this time the food reserves in the root are very low) and after a rain when the ground is softened. Use a long-handled weed fork or a weed popper to dig out 4-5 inches of the root. By doing this, you have an 80 percent chance that the remaining root will not put up another stalk.
But your lawn does not need to look like artificial turf.
Some homeowners prize dandelions in their yards. They look forward every year to a sea of yellow and enjoy their beauty.
You can try to eradicate them but why not enjoy them while they're around? One person's weed is often another person's herb.
Debbie Ortman is the former national field director for the Organic Consumers Association and previous co-coordinator and lawn-care technician of the Green Thumb Project. She has been an organic consumer and gardener for more than 20 years. She lives in Duluth, Minn. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.