Until recent history, humans welcomed the sharp-tasting leaves and bright blooms that popped through the earth when snow melted. Folks craving fresh greens ate them in salads or blanched them as vegetables. Tea and wine makers turned blossoms into refreshing drinks, while creative harvesters dried and ground roots into a satisfying coffee substitute. Every part of this plant is edible, so it’s understandable why early immigrants tucked dandelion seeds into their cargo.
Not only do the leaves of this herb deliver a dietary wallop full of A, C, and K vitamins, it also serves a bounty of minerals, including calcium, potassium, manganese, and iron. A nature-loving friend enjoys a daily smoothie made with tender dandelion shoots. She swears it keeps her healthy. Her story makes me think about people who’d gone months without eating fresh veggies and how their bodies would’ve craved helpings of scurvy-fighting nutrients. I suspect those first leaves peeping through the soil didn’t make it to the bud stage. Once the blooms formed, hungry settlers harvested them as well and enjoyed their anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
In addition to dandelions’ food value, healers used the plants to treat infections, detoxify the liver and kidneys, and serve as a diuretic. This last use, for obvious reasons, led to nicknames such as “piss-a-bed, pisacan, and wet-a-bed.”
Humans weren’t the only creatures who anticipated this early spring growth. The blooms provide one of the first nectars available to pollinators. Watch bees and butterflies flock to a yard dappled with bright yellow blooms. As a result, many modern mountain towns encourage residents to resist spraying and encourage dandelions to thrive. This aids local bees early in the season.
Despite the benefits, few contemporary humans actually eat dandelions, and those who cultivate lovely green lawns resent the ease with which theses plants invade and spread. What some might consider blessings, others see as an assault on their landscaping efforts and slave diligently to prevent their growth. My mom is a cardholding member of this category and teases me when I reference the “first bee food of the year” while protesting her attacks on these free-spirited plants. When my husband offers to save dandelion seeds to send to her, she firmly declines.
Despite our differences of opinion, we’ve discovered we appreciate one another’s yards and look forward to getting home to our own.
Native Kansan Karen Madorin is a local writer and retired teacher who loves sharing stories about places, people, critters, plants, food, and history of the High Plains.