Consider the humble dandelion. We can all do this easily, because it’s everywhere. All the time. Look out your window—I’ll bet that you can see one right now, and I don’t even know where you are. These ubiquitously sunny little flowers get mowed down by city workers, pulled up by frustrated gardeners, and peed on by any dog that walks down a street. And like the hydra, they just keep coming.
The dandelion is the classic example of something being so common that we don’t see it as valuable anymore. But they actually have a ton of uses. Maybe the most important use is that they attract bees. This is beneficial to us only in the roundabout big-picture sense where bees are necessary for pollination and the continued existence of the plants and crops that feed us. Since bees are in deep, inexplicable trouble, anything that will help them in their work really helps us. Also, it’s probably fair to say that not everything in the universe is about us, so the fact that they have a central place in the ecosystem on their own is solidly valuable.
But getting back to the part where it is all about us, dandelions have many medicinal uses. Herbalists have used them for centuries to make extracts, infusions and other potions that have a healing effect on many of the body’s systems. The leaves and roots are used to treat liver, gallbladder, urinary tract and stomach complaints. They’re also apparently great for skin conditions like eczema. I can find no studies that suggest that the liver-benefits of dandelions offset the liver-damaging effects of alcohol if you make dandelion wine out of your backyard weeds, but that seems eminently logical. Right?
Last, but certainly not least, they’re edible. More than that, they’re good for you. They have a high potassium content (more than a banana, per hundred grams), and loads of vitamins. They have twice as much vitamin A as any human being needs per day, and are also rich in iron, vitamin C, calcium, and lots of other things that sound good for you. More than that, they’re pretty tasty. Not the roadside ones, but the ones that grow in actual soil and haven’t been feeding off car exhaust. I mean, you have to be a little choosy.
Some people in North America are catching on to this (eating dandelions is more common in some European countries). In Aspen and Carbondale, Colorado, for instance, it’s illegal to kill them with pesticides. The cities have advised people to kill them by eating them, instead. Dandelion greens are also imported from the land of irony and sold at markets, alone or in salad mixes, for sometimes exorbitant prices.
Typically, though, we just uproot them and toss them. Actual food grows out of cracks in the sidewalk, and by and large, we don’t harvest it. I’m as guilty as anyone. I have loads of them around me, but I cannot visually discern which ones my dog has peed on, and which are urine-free, so I pull them up, too. And at the end of the day, instead of having a salad, I have a pile of compost and a backache.
There’s probably some kind of lesson to be learned here about appreciating the things that are around us. There’s also something to be said for the fact that somewhere along the line, as a culture, we stopped being able to recognize the plants that grow around us in abundance as food and medicine. We stopped thinking that we could personally feed ourselves and take care of ourselves using the things that naturally occur in the world around us, without the help of pharmaceutical companies and agribusinesses, refining and packaging, chemical additives and commercials.
Why do we think that the answer to our potassium needs is a banana often trucked or flown from a long, long ways away (unless you live in a place where bananas grow around you, in which case, the banana would, in fact, be the obvious answer)? A conspiracy theorist would probably argue a deliberate connection between the rise of corporate food and drugs and the change in attitude towards our unassuming friend, the dandelion. At the very least, we could probably all agree that the general cultural acceptance that supermarkets and drug stores are the preferred sources of sustenance coincides with an also general forgetting that we can (and have) lived healthily without the intervention of companies. In the absurd way that it’s treated, the dandelion has a lot of potential to remind us how silly it is that we’ve forgotten. Thanks for that, dandelion. You’re alright.
Learn more about the uses of dandelions in DANDY-LION PRIDE: The many medicinal properties of dandelion>>