Not so very long ago I noticed a large-leaved plant growing just in front of the ample bank of lavender that graces the front garden every summer, always very full of bees. What is that? I asked myself. A romaine? For several days after I continued to ponder this question as I sprayed the lavender early in the mornings prior to Bee Time. I’d already made the decision not to pull it up, and relished imagining how it had come to plant itself in the lawn. Did a bird bring it? Birds didn’t generally frequent the lavender, but it was possible. Or a squirrel? I loved considering the possibilities. In any case I wanted to hearken to my own advice, per one of the lessons in Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: “Never pull and discard what you cannot identify.” So there it stood. And grew. And grew. Huh.
Synchronistically the following Tweet caught my eye:
Americans today spend forty billion dollars annually on lawn care, and a hefty part of that budget goes to the attempt to eradicate dandelions.
Wow. Was that possible? Already bearing mixed feelings on the whole Lawn Thing, I followed a link to a piece published in Seattle that sourced the quote being from a book titled The Teeth of the Lion: The Story of the Beloved and Despised Dandelion. Intrigued I ordered a copy.
Meanwhile, while waiting for the book to arrive I began reevaluating the identity of my mystery “lettuce.” Was it possible this was a dandelion?? It certainly bore resemblance to the leaves sported on the cover of the book I was awaiting! Yet, I expected dandelion to look like this:
Now fully engaged in this discovery process, I began watering the little dandelion to see if it might eventually emerge like the “big one.” I didn’t have to wait. One morning I came out and the Big Dandelion flaunted the answer.
Still, I remain puzzled by the discrepancy and am now committed to growing dandelions in my garden especially after reading Anita Sanchez’s splendid book on a very thorough engaging and fascinating look at the history of the dandelion over many many centuries and terrains. What an excellent and invaluable treatise! For who knew that the early pioneers brought dandelions with them as a matter of course for their first gardens and that they were a highly valued medicinal resource, as well as valued as a salad green? Not I. Then Anita enchantingly traces the path of the hearty and determined and opportunistic dandelion seed as it makes its way ever westward in the treads left by the wagons of the pioneers, apparently perfectly designed as a plant to embed itself, lying flat and protected in the mud, emerging under the last snow as one of the first greens. Fascinating!
Dandelion’s first use was recorded in China in the seventh century. In the eleventh century the Arabs promoted its use, and by the sixteenth century it was well established throughout Europe.
Fastforward to modern times that reveal the nutritional value of the common, abundant and unappreciated dandelion:
Dandelions are a vitamin powerhouse: 100 grams of raw dandelion greens have 14,000 international units of Vitamin A, plus 35 milligrams of ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C. That’s more Vitamin C than tomatoes, and seven times the Vitamin A of oranges, pound for pound. In addition, dandelions have significant amounts of protein, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, and potassium, as well as vitamins D, K, and B-complex.
And we are spending our hard earned money on killing them. So sad.
I want to interject a little side story here. I recently had a chat with an old friend of mine, a rather elderly black man who was raised in Virginia. I told him about my dandelion lesson and he shared with me that when he was a little boy they “never paid for greens.” They went out into the woods and collected all they needed, for free. For seventy plus years ago you could do that in Virginia. What a blessing, gone astray.
The Teeth of the Lion will take you on a journey far beyond what you might expect from a small book about dandelions. By using the simple dandelion as a microcosmic lens Anita Sanchez opens the door to the macrocosmic world of plants in general. As Senior Environmental Educator at the New York Dept. of Environmental Conservation’s Five Rivers Environmental Education Center in New York, she is perfectly poised to take us on this exquisite and unexpected tour of the plant world. It is highly advised.
Love and garden blessings,
Footnote! Learned this week: Health food stores and seed companies are selling seeds for “Italiko Rosso dandelion” or “Italiko Rosso chicory”. They are selling the product as a “dandelion.” Again, dandelion is Taraxacum officianale. Italiko Rosso is a chicory and it’s formal name is Cichorium intybus. Duly noted!
Book News: I am so thrilled to report that the Unity Church in Seattle and Boulder Books in Boulder, CO will be making copies of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy available to their customers! Many thanks to their buyers!
If you find this blog of interest I hope you will consider purchasing a copy of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden. Actual books are available at Estrella Catarina. The Kindle version is available in the US, the UK and in Germany in the Kindle store.
Posted on August 4th, 2011 by Kathryn
Filed under: Book Notes