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Largely considered a noxious weed in the home landscape, the humble Dandelion is considered something of of a prize in the food and medicine worlds.  The bright yellow flowers followed by the seeds that form a fluffy little ball have been the subject of a remarkable amount of folklore throughout history, and the perseverance of this plant despite our best efforts to eradicate it is almost legendary in itself. 

Though I don't expect that anyone will knock out the perennial bed in favor of a Dandelion bed, I do hope that these pages will bring a little more respect to this much maligned little plant.   Rather than poisoning it to eradicate it from the landscape, it would make better sense to put it to use on the dinner table or in the herbal medicine arsenal. 

Dandelions, as we all know, grow like weeds.  They do not care much about ideal soil conditions, but do prefer full sunlight.  They have a long taproot and can regenerate foliage even if cut completely off at the ground.   In more temperate areas, they bloom almost continuously, and in the colder regions they bloom spring through summer and fall.   Their leaves form a rosette and resemble lions teeth, thus the original name dent-de-lion, or tooth of the lion.  The seeds develop on the ends of lightweight, feathery spikes that are borne by the wind and can travel remarkable distances.  Seed germination rates are high, with only warm soil and a bit of light required. 

Dandelions are perennials that grow freely all over the world.  Individual plants, if left undisturbed, can form very large clumps.  The plants are quite invasive and tough, often taking over large areas in a short time and crowding out weaker plants - not their most desirable trait.  Even so, I don't think anyone can argue that a large stand of Dandelions in bloom is a remarkable sight.  The plants are very sensitive to weather changes, and if you see them closing during the day, you can bet that rain is in the forecast.  Dandelions are also bee magnets, so let a few escape the mower if you are into natural or habitat-type gardening. 

When harvesting Dandelions for their leaves, the rule of thumb is to harvest while the plants are young  and before the flower bud develops, or they will be tough and bitter.   If the flower bud has already formed, cut the plant to the ground and wait for new foliage to appear, then cut to the ground again.  This can be done 2-3 times before the plant becomes too bitter to be used for foliage.  In the fall after a few frosts, even mature plants will lose their bitterness.  Obviously, this is a good time for harvest.  Use the leaves in fresh salads and as cooked greens, much like spinach. 

Collect dandelion roots any time of year (though they are most tasty from fall to spring).  Use a dandelion weeder if one is available (big flathead screwdriver works in a pinch...).  Carefully dig when the weather is wet and the soil is soft to help avoid breakage of the root.  Shake the soil off the root, again taking care not to break it.  There is a milky substance that contains the beneficial properties of the root that will bleed out if the root is cut.  Cut off the foliage, again without cutting into the root, then wash the root and place in a 250 degree oven, turning occasionally and slow roasting until dry and aromatic but not burned.   Once dry, grind in a coffee grinder for Dandelion coffee or slice and add chunks to soups, stews, and vegetable side dishes.

While we don't want dandelions growing rampant in our lawns, the plants actually are quite conducive to container culture.  Though the neighbors will look at you like you have lost it, the brave among us can reap the benefits of Dandelions by simply growing them in containers.   Indeed, Dandelions have been grown as pot herbs all over the world for centuries.



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