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weed seeds on wish

Dandelion: Weed or Feed?

Remember when you were a kid and dandelion seed heads were the key to making your wishes come true? Then, as you grew, you began seeing the bane of a perfectly manicured garden in those same golden flowers. Now you probably can’t even remember when or why your perspective changed so drastically. Today’s the day to adjust your dandelion outlook again to see the presence of these powerful plants in your garden as a wish come true.

Taraxacum officinale or common dandelion bloom is a bright ray of sunshine.

What’s so great about dandelions?

  1. They’re easy to grow!
  2. The bitter leaves are edible.
  3. The flower buds are edible.
  4. The flowers are pretty & abundant.
  5. The roots loosen soil.
  6. The roots are edible.

Let’s look at those six points in order, in a little more depth. Plus, harvesting, preserving, tea preparation and more recipes ahead!

Dandelions are easy to grow: This plant seems content to grow in sun or shade, though it does perform better in more sunlight. All it takes is one kid blowing a seed head to make a wish and voilà! you’ve got a dandelion patch. Unless you’re farming dandelion intensively, you probably won’t need to give it supplemental nutrients or water.

Beautiful red stem catalogna is a bitter chicory often labelled dandelion at the grocery store. Grow your own chicory seeds are an option too!

Hint: If you are foraging or farming dandelion, resist the urge to harvest from questionable areas — like lawns where some dandelion hater may be applying various ‘cides. And, be sure what you pick is dandelion & not one of the many lookalikes that may NOT be edible.

Dandelion leaves are edible: You can even buy them by the bundle at the farmer’s market or grocery store these days — though what you buy there may be labelled dandelion while it is actually a different bitter green or chicory. Easier yet, grow a crop on your own. Then, serve the greens raw, mixed into salads or sauteed as you would chard. Too, many suggest that consuming bitter foods, such as dandelion leaves, can help with insulin resistance and other blood sugar challenges.

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Hint: Dandelion greens taste best before the plants begin producing flower buds in spring. They’re still edible when flowering, but they might be extra bitter!

Dandelion flowers: (Grouping #3 & #4) When dandelions begin sending up flower buds, they tend to produce heavily. Picked young, tight buds can be fried or pickled. Left unpicked, those buds open into bright, sunshine yellow followed by those blow-for-a-wish seed heads.

Fresh, bitter dandelion leaves taste great in a salad or sauteed.
This thick, dirty root is ideal to clean up & roast for tea!

Dandelion’s edible roots: (Grouping #5 & #6) Removing dandelion roots can be a chore. They’re big, deep and often heavily branched. That means they do a great job breaking through dense or compacted soil, creating pockets for air, water and soil life. If you do root out some fat roots, it’s easy to prepare them for homemade tea that may help detoxify your body. In next Friday’s post we’ll provide our step-by-step instructions for converting fresh roots to tea. If you don’t plan to make your own tea, it’s easy to buy ready to steep!

Hint: Although delicious, this tea may not be the best before bedtime choice as it often increases the need to pee. We drink ours mid-afternoon instead.

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Now, get out in your garden, harvest some tasty greens and start rooting up your plants for next week’s homemade dandelion tea recipe!

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Weed seeds on wish

URBANA, Ill. — To a child, a dandelion is a magical thing. It’s one of the first plants we learn to recognize. The bright yellow flowers make cheerful bouquets, necklaces, and crowns. The fluffy white seed heads become wishes when we squeeze our eyes shut and blow.

Adults, especially home gardeners striving for a perfectly manicured lawn, tend to be less fond of this deep-rooted, cool-season, non-native perennial.

“Believe it or not, dandelion seeds are available for purchase from garden seed catalog companies,” says Jennifer Fishburn, a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension.

Common dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is easily recognized by a basal rosette of deeply cut leaves, a long taproot, and a hollow stem that supports yellow flowers. The yellow flower is actually a composite of several flowers, each able to make a parachute-like brown seed that can be carried aloft several miles by the wind. The stalk can support as many as 100 to 300 flowers.

Fishburn says there are a couple of potential reasons that gardeners may want to cultivate dandelions.

Pollinating insects will visit dandelion flowers to collect pollen and nectar. While dandelions may not have the most nutritious pollen, they can still be an important food source when there aren’t many other flowers available. Dandelions will flower throughout the year but mainly appear in early spring or late fall.

They also have several culinary uses. Most recipes use the leaves, which are taste slightly bitter. Tender leaves, harvested in the spring before plants bloom, can be eaten raw, while older leaves are cooked. Use the leaves in salads, soups, as cooked greens, and in potato salad. The flowers can be made into wine or jelly.

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If you are not a dandelion fan, it is possible to get rid of them, but ensuring that they won’t return requires some effort. Dandelions prefer to grow in a moist, sunny location, but will also grow in shade. If the soil is moist, a small dandelion can be successfully removed by hand.

“Moist conditions make the job easier,” says Fishburn, “but even with moist soil, it is difficult to pull a dandelion and remove the entire taproot.”

A dandelion can grow a six to 18-inch taproot. Leaving behind even a 1-inch section can result in a new plant.

A properly maintained, healthy, dense stand of turfgrass is the best defense against weed invasions. If necessary, Fishburn suggests doing a spot treatment in early fall with postemergence herbicides.

“This is when the dandelion plant is taking food from the leaves and storing it in the roots,” says Fishburn. “When using herbicides, always read and follow label directions carefully.”

Whether the sight of these bright yellow flowers dotting a lawn makes you cringe or makes you smile, these plants are connected to memories of summer, childhood, and magic.

SOURCE: Jennifer Fishburn, Horticulture Educator, University of Illinois Extension

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.

PHOTO ACCESS: The photo in this article is available to download for media use.