Thursday, November 29, 2007

Say Yeah! for the dandelion

Supposedly the dandelion can be traced to Eurasia, where the Chinese first used it to cure ailments. Another theory is that Arabs were second to apply dandelions in this way, using them by the 11th century and that they possibly introduced Europeans to the plant's medicinal benefits. Though eaten and used for a variety of reason generally the Anglo-Saxons and Normans used it to prevent scurvy. It is because of this reason that the dandelion supposedly made it to America, coming with the first travelers and explorers. Maybe on purpose or maybe stuck to their clothes or with seeds stowing away. However it is, the consensus is that dandelions were not original to North America.

I did some digging and found the nutritional information of dandelions and they do seem to be pretty "tasty" sounding :-)

  • 3.1 mg iron.
  • 397 mg potassium.
  • 9.2 g carbohydrates.
  • 2.7 g protein.
  • 66 mg phosphorus.
  • 187 mg calcium.
  • 76 mg sodium.
  • 36 mg magnesium.
  • 14,000 IUs vitamin A

In Canada, the plant's roots are registered as a drug. They are used to treat conditions such as anemia, kidney disease, jaundice, arthritis, respiratory infections and gallstones, to name a few of many uses. Dandelions are also known to reduce obesity. In scientific studies, rats and humans injected with dandelion lost up to 30 per cent of their body weight.

So maybe we should all plant a bed in our veggie garden and cook them up. Sounds like we could be just a bit healthier for it.

Disregarding all the good health benefits most people consider dandelions as nothing more than a pernicious weed to be eradicated by use of poisons and possibly pulling. But they need not be considered the pest that all think them to be even if we don't eat them. Dandelions have their place in the eco system and if you consider what they do--- there are good reasons to keep them around. Maybe not in your favorite flower bed---but the yard may not be to bad a place for them to live.

Dandelions have long deep tap roots which is why they are so difficult to pull. The translation from Chinese for their name is "coffin nail" because they are so stubborn and difficult to remove without breaking. If you do pull them the leftover pieces will sprout---but with less strength---and over time with more pulling they will die out. Just don't let them go to seed---the downfall of many a gardener!

There are soil benefits associated with these long tap roots though. One is that they bring up minerals from deep within the soil and another is that they break up soils allowing for water to make it's way down. Anything that helps water make its way into the soil and not end up as runoff is good for our plants and the eco system. Another pro of dandelions is that earthworms love them. Supposedly dandelions are good humus producers so the worm congregate around them as they work to improve your soil. Anything that encourages worm has to be good right?

Unfortunately there is one con of dandelions but it's not the commonly heard "they steal water from your lawn". It is that dandelions exhale ethylene gas which limits both the height and growth of neighboring plants. A good reason to keep them from your veggie bed but maybe not so big a deal in your lawn---especially if you are the person that mows.

Even if you decide you still don't like dandelions after this post, and maybe you are pretty sure you will never grow them to eat, knowing why a weed grows in your yard can help you be a better gardener. As we all know when we garden, good soil makes a huge difference in how hard we work, how well our plants do and the also how healthy our plants (and us when we eat them) will be. Many weeds are just "symptoms" of a problem and if we fix the problem we will be better off for it. Here is a quick article pasted below. There are also books on this subject---here's one "Weeds: friend or foe" --but I am sure there are other titles. Look around though and you can generally find good information on WHY you have a particular weed. Study your weeds---make sure you know what they really are, not just what you think they are called.

Using the knowledge of weeds can assist you in your gardening efforts in two ways by planting crops that thrive in the soil conditions indicated by your weeds or provide soil with the appropriate amendments to balance out the soil conditions.
When using weed information, remember to look for large populations of the weed, one plant is not indicative of the whole situation. Also look for another weed that like the same conditions as your indicator weed, this will give you verification or proof of the soil condition. An example is the dandelion and common mullein both indicators of acidic soils. Common mullein can also mean a soil with poor fertility so if you see it alone it may mean several things by with dandelions you know the soil is acidic. Keep in mind the health of the weed plant, a nice healthy stand of clover may indicate soil that lacks nitrogen whereas the same weed will grow in soil that has adequate nitrogen but look much less vigorous.
Soggy or Swampy Soils: If you see Dock, Horsetail, Foxtails, Willows, Ox-eye Daisy,
Goldenrod, Poison Hemlock, Rushes, Sedges and Joe-pye you can expect soil in that area to experience SOGGY OR SWAMPY conditions at some time of the year. Wet spots are obvious during the rainy season but could appear fairly dry at other times. These weeds are excellent indicators that the area will be soggy at some time during the year. It is best in these soil conditions to plant items that enjoy these soil conditions. It is almost always too much work to correct successfully (Mother Nature has her reasons, you know).
Compacted Soils: Chicory and Bindweed are indicators of COMPACTED soil. White lupines and sweet clover are two cover crops that have roots as strong as the pesky chicory and will thrive in compacted soil and break up the soil as they grow.
Crusty Soils: Quack grass or ones from the Mustard Family just love CRUSTY type soils.
Crops to plant her would be cultivated mustards, choys, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
These crop plants can push through crusty soils with ease. Compost can be used as an aerator of compacted or crusty soils. Also be sure that the soil is dry enough before you start working it.
Acidic Soils: Dandelions, Sorrel, Mullein, Stinging Nettle and Wild Pansy all thrive in ACIDIC soils (pH below 7.0). You may wish to take advantage of this acidic soil by planting plants that thrive in acidic conditions like hydrangeas, blueberries, rhododendrons and azaleas or endive, rhubarb, shallots, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes and watermelon.
These plants tolerate soil with a pH as low as 5. Applying lime will bring up the pH also using woodstove or fireplace ashes will bring up the pH.
Alkaline Soils: Field Peppergrass, Salad Burnet, Scarlet Pimpernel, Campion, Stinkweed and Nodding Thistle all indicate an ALKALINE soil (pH higher than 7.0). Asparagus, broccoli, beets, muskmelons, lettuce, onions and spinach all do well in alkaline soils.
Adding peat moss, elemental sulfur or lots of compost will help bring the pH back into balance.
Poor Soils: Daisies, Wild Carrot, Mugwort, Common Mullein, Wild Parsnip, Wild
Radish, and Biennial Wormwood are all signs of POOR soil fertility. Beets, carrots, parsnips, peas, beans, legumes, radishes, sage and thyme will all tolerate poor soil conditions. To improve the fertility, compost or manure (nitrogen), bone meal (phosphorus), and kelp meal (potassium) can be added as necessary.
Fertile Soils: Chickweed, Henbit and Lamb's Quarter just love very FERTILE soils.
Redroot pigweed indicates an abundance of nitrogen, red clover indicates an excess of potassium, purslane and mustard indicates an abundance of phosphorus. Corn, broccoli, lettuce, melons, squash, tomatoes and peppers are all heavy feeders and thrive in fertile soils.
Other Uses: Keep in mind that weeds can be used as you would any green manure crop that is intentionally seeded. Weeds help stop erosion, and the deep roots help loosen the soil better than the usual cover crops and grab nutrients deep down below the surface, far beyond the grasp of most traditional cover crops. It is best if they are cut or tilled in before they go to seed.
The flowers of many weeds provide essential nectar and pollen, foods that beneficial insects need to complete their life cycle. The beneficial insects are the ones that take care of the bad ones.
Remember too, some insect pests would actually prefer to dine on weeds rather than your deliberately planted crops, if given the choice. So consider using some of your weeds as a companion to some of your crops. Also, many weeds are considered herbs and can be harvested for their special properties and used for herbal teas or used as remedies such as Mullein, Wormwood, Chickweed, Joe-pye and Dandelion.

Also--the last paragraph in that article brings up a good point. You can pick "weeds" such as dandelions, chop them up, soak them in water or even compost/manure tea----and then spray them on your plants for a mineral boost. Yum! good for your plants. Helps them defend their selves against pests and disease.

So the next time you look at your weeds and hate them----figure out first if maybe they just might be helping you (and you didn't even know it!).

1 comment:

SimplyTim said...

Hi Monica,

To round out this piece, the French term for dandelion is: dent de lion - Lion tooth

I'm glad you got some rain.