Thursday, May 23, 2013

Specimen Spotlight: Dandelion

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion seeds waiting for a breeze
Everyone has seen and can easily recognize a dandelion flower. The leaves are pretty well-known, too, as are the seed puffs that cause many pristine lawn owners to shiver with fear and/or rage when in the hands of a child. However, the dandelion is one of Mother Nature's potent tools for fixing problem soil. Let's take a look at what this plant can do.
  • Insectary - "Provide a vital source of early pollen for bees and other beneficial insects that feed on garden pests" (Garden Wisdom and Know-How). And it continues to provide nectar and pollen throughout the growing season. And it is a special friend of the much-beloved lady bug, as well as the lacewing, both of which eat up many "problem" bugs.
  • Perennial
  • Reproduces via seeds and root crowns.
  • Low maintenance - as far as plants go, the dictionary definition of low maintenance could read: "See Dandelion." Thrives on neglect.
  • It also thrives on removal attempts because the perfect-green-grass-yard fanatic that tries to dig it out, will, more often than not, leave enough root for the dandelion to grow back, in addition to adding more dandelion seeds into the soil.
  • Thrives on TLC - in the rare occasions that a person decides to grow dandelions intentionally the leaves get enormous! 
  • Nutrient accumulator - one of the best at "mining" a variety of nutrients, it will pull up phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and silicon.
  • Spike root - loosens up compacted or clay soil and adds organic matter
  • Fodder - chickens and rabbits both enjoy dandelion greens
  • Medicinal
  • Edible
    • It is a decent source of calcium (147 mg/cup cooked)
    • The root, leaves and flowers are all edible and there are many different ways to eat them. The most common use is to use the leaves raw as salad greens. Pick them before the plant flowers to reduce the bitterness.
    • Blanching - covering to prevent sunlight - results in white leaves that are much less prone to being bitter
    • Can be forced to provide greens in the winter. See Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman, pg. 140, for instructions.
    • Will store in the fridge for up to a week
  • Grows fine in most, if not all, soil types, including acid clay.
  • Early colonizer in disturbed areas
  • Old farm texts included dandelion in a cover crop mix to prepare the soil and maximize its fertility
  • Cold frame friendly - can be grown all winter long for the greens when covered in this method


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