Published June 20, 2010
The dandelion is more than a weedTHE OLYMPIAN
Sometimes contemplating pays off visually, as well as philosophically. Take Clear Lake resident Harold Fish, who found that gazing over his lawn brought a reward. “Under the apple tree were these luxurious dandelions, many of them with puffballs. As I was contemplating this, a (small bird, perhaps) a sparrow, came hopping along the ground up to one dandelion,” Fish said. “He stepped on the stem, walked his way out to the end, and ate all the seeds. Then he did the same to the next one, stepped on the stem, walked out to the end, and ate the seeds. Is he the only bird in the world who knows how to eat dandelion seeds? Or did his granddaddy teach him?” I don’t know the origin of various species’ affinity for dandelions but birds do work hard at gathering the tiny seeds. Bird sustenance alone makes it almost worth it to leave some of my dandelions alone ... nahhhh. But if you pick a puffball, I bet you’ll appreciate the delicate architecture and the tuft with each seed. These parachutes can carry the seeds for miles, wind willing. Birds don’t have design appreciation but value the seeds (minerals and vitamins, in our world). Eating dandelion seeds, however, is not a quick operation, and birds have no desire for the fuzzy sections. It’s hard to see how those tiny seeds are worth the energy expended but birds, such as the American goldfinch, pine siskins and white-crowned sparrow, know best. According to researchers, a bird will pull a seed from the puffball, move it around until the seed is in its mouth, and bite off the parachute. Humans also eat dandelion seeds, which were introduced from Europe. I found a recipe for dandelion seed biscuits with almonds on the Web from Prodigal Gardens. It’s your basic biscuit recipe with 1/2 cup almonds and 11/2 cups dandelion seeds, “plucked out of the flower head.” Plucked ... 11/2 cups of dandelion seeds ... Test questions: How many puffballs are needed for this recipe? How many seeds would you have to pick for 11/2 cups? Who makes recipes requiring that amount of seed? Answer: I don’t know, but talk about spending a lot of energy. While most of us have never intentionally ingested dandelion seeds, we can find dandelion greens in some markets. Whole Foods stores have them, and its website off ers a recipe for dandelion greens with warm balsamic vinegar, calling for 21/2 pounds of greens. Leaves need to be young because as they age, the become bitter. For maybe 1,000 years, herbalists from different countries used parts of the dandelion for medicinal purposes, such as a diuretic; today, many people still swear by them. Swearing or not, the Food & Drug Administration is not impressed. The dandelion is a weed, end of discussion. Since there has been no compelling scientific evidence, dandelion parts will not rise to the level of medicine any time soon. Anecdotes don’t count. People are likely to say that something works (whether placebo or reality) and keep quiet when it doesn’t. Nonetheless, dandelion concoctions have been used to treat jaundice, urinary tract infections, upset stomach, warts, dairy allergies, toenail fungus and arthritis, and to fend off mosquitoes. For those trying to hold back the ravages of time, dandelions contain luteolin, an anti-oxidant. However, don’t assume that because this weed has been used for hundreds of years, there are no drawbacks. Nausea and vomiting can be discomforting. Personally I’ll pass on dandelions. Well, maybe dandelion wine. It calls for three quarts of dandelion flowers. No problem. I’ll just go outside and pick before I mow them down. Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.