6:00am

Sat May 17, 2014
The Garden Report

Dandelions: Nutritious Food Or Pesky Weed?

New research points to the dandelion's potential as a cash crop.
Credit Caruba / Flickr - Creative Commons

It’s a lowly herb with more iron than spinach and more vitamin C than lettuce, yet we spend millions of dollars in energy and chemicals to eradicate it.

Tom Throgmorton describes the benefits and problems associated with the dandelion.

Dandelions were grown as an herb that cured a number of illnesses. Even through it isn’t a cure-all; it’s still used today as a digestive aid and mild laxative. 

It’s not just a healthy food or dietary supplement, researchers discovered that the Russian dandelion produces an alternative source for rubber within its taproot.  

Crops of dandelions are grown in rows eighteen inches apart and the plants a foot apart in the row. The roots are harvested in the fall of the second season.  The dried roots are roasted for a coffee-like drink. The bitter tops can be cooked like spinach or eaten fresh in salads, and the flowers are the flavor in dandelion wine.

Despite its potential for human use, the yellow spring flowers in the lawn are unwelcome. Neighbors who leave their dandelions unchecked reseed the whole neighborhood. The two methods to kill dandelions are hand digging or herbicides.

Chemical companies have invested deeply to kill dandelions. The preferred herbicide is 2,4-D. It’s applied over the whole grass area killing all broad-leaved plants including dandelions. The downside is that trees, shrubs, perennials and annual flowers fall in the broadleaf category and can also be damaged or killed. 

Another chemical option used is spot spraying. This involves wandering around the yard hitting each dandelion plant. The grass can also fall victim to the chemical, so instead of yellow flowers you may end up with brown splotches in the lawn.

A less risky but more time consuming method is hand digging. A digging fork   loosens the soil before pulling the dandelion with as much root as possible.   

I don’t mind the yellow flowers in the grass. But I know if I let them go to seed I’m to blame for my neighbors spreading herbicide on their lawns.

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