Bonnyvale Environmental Education Centre

Parent Express, May 2012: Second Nature

 

Sunshine On a Stem

 

April showers bring May flowers. One of the early flowers of spring is the sunny dandelion. They give forth a welcome splash of yellow as they pop up in lawns and through cracks in the sidewalk. Farm fields transform into a marvelous carpet of gold before the grasses grow tall. May is the month to soak up the dandelion glow.

 

The dandelion gets its name from French dent de lion, which translates as ‘lion’s tooth’ referring to the jagged tooth shaped leaves that grow from the root. Each flower also originates from the root and sits upon a long, smooth, hollow stem.

 

If you look through a magnifying glass at the dandelion, you’ll find that one flower is actually made up of hundreds of tiny flowers, called florets. Dandelions belong to the great family Compositae, plants whose flower heads consist of many florets. The daisy and sunflower are also part of this family.

 

Blooming early in the season, dandelions provide an important source of food for pollen and nectar eating insects, such as bees and butterflies. After a long winter eating tree bark, porcupines have been seen to venture out into fields to enjoy a fresh spring meal of dandelions. Cottontail rabbits and white-tailed deer also enjoy dandelions.

 

Some think of the dandelion as a pesky weed but others cherish dandelions for their source of food, medicine, and inspiration. The scientific name for the common dandelion is Taraxacum officinale, which originates from Greek words and translates to an official remedy for disorders.

 

Around the world, the dandelion has long been used medicinally.  The roots are used to detoxify the liver and gall bladder. The leaves, acting as a diuretic, are a remedy for the kidney and bladder. The leaves are also used to stimulate appetite and improve digestion. The flowers are rich in beta-carotene and have antioxidant properties.

 

All plant parts of the dandelion are edible. Nutritionally, it is rich in vitamins A, C, D, K and B complex. The plant is also rich in minerals iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, manganese, copper, choline, boron, silicon, and calcium.  

 

So, toss some early spring leaves in your salad. The leaves become bitter through the season, so later you will want to boil them to add to meals. Pull up some roots, wash, chop, and simmer to make tea. Sprinkle flower petals as confetti on rice, salad, cakes, or any dish calling for some color. Dip flower heads into batter and make miniature pancakes.

 

Here’s how to make dandelion sun tea.  When the sun has opened up the dandelion flowers, pick the flower heads with gratitude and fill a large glass jar.  Add cold water, and a little honey if you choose.  Cover with a lid and place in the sun for several hours and you’ll have a delicious and nutritious solar infusion.

 

When harvesting wild edibles, be certain of your plant identification to avoid possible confusion with toxic look-a-likes. Don’t harvest near roads to avoid possible street run-off contamination, and consider if the area may have been treated with pesticides or herbicides.

 

Also, please practice sustainable harvesting techniques, considering the needs of the plant and other animals that feed on them. Try to only gather common plants and always leave some to continue their life cycle. Luckily, the dandelion is abundant for our enjoyment.

 

While you’re out gathering dandelion fare explore some old folklore. When the flowers go to seed they turn into a fuzzy globe, each seed with its own feathery parachute to carry it in the wind. This is when they are able to predict the weather. With sunny weather the fuzzy balls extend to their fullest, but if there’s any hint of rain they close up like an umbrella.

 

Blowing the seeds off a dandelion will carry winged messages to those you love.  Turn towards the direction of a far away love and blow once. If all the seeds are blown off, you are loved deeply, if a single feathery seed remains you are not forgotten, if many seeds remain there are uncertainties.

 

Make yourself a brilliant dandelion crown and frolic in the field with the flower fairies.  Give a big blow to a fuzzy dandelion and count the number of seeds remaining, as it is said that each represents an hour to tell what time it is in fairyland.

 

The seeds of the dandelion are a favorite food of the American goldfinch.  A little flower fairy told me these birds are yellow because of all the dandelion seeds they eat.  The finches are kept busy pulling a seed from the cluster, swiveling it around to snip off the fuzzy end, and then chew up the seed.  Sparrows and other seed eating birds also like these seeds.

 

This month… Soak up the glow of dandelions as their sunny faces announce spring. Look for our wild and magical friends who also love dandelions. Savor their gift of nutrition. Delight in the sight of floating parachutes. Invoke the essence of the dandelion to relax and go with the flow of life.

 

A fun book of seasonal activities, including how to make a dandelion crown, is Linnea’s Almanac by Christina Bjork and illustrated by Lena Anderson.  A lovely story is The Dandelion Seed by Joseph Anthony and illustrated by Cris Arbo.

For more information visit www.beec.org  or call 802-257-5785