Dandelions Resurrected: Food for Thought


Call me crazy, but one of the things I await eagerly around Eastertime each year is the resurrection of the dandelions.

My woodland harvest awaits! frugalupstate CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This morning, as I was out tending my newly planted kale and chickpeas, I noticed a single, sunny-hued bloom rising above a clump of narrow, raggedy green leaves.

My first dandelion of 2021, but guaranteed not to be my last. And I’m counting on that!

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be heading out with a pair of stem clippers and a colander to a patch of woods with just enough sunlight to support a dandelion family.

Thanks to a thriving earthworm colony and piles of decomposing leaves and pine needles, the woodland soil has its own layer of rich humus. So these dandelions are veganic, as Mother Nature intended.

Untouched by chemical fertilizers or herbicides, they’re just waiting for someone to see them as they are: a highly nutritious plant food that’s ours for the taking!

Weeding Out the Myths about Dandelions

Easter Sunday, 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the Easter Sunday of the year in which Colorado School of Mines Professor  Joseph Francis O’Byrne published a 6-page pamphlet, A Lawn without Dandelions.

That it’s still around after a century tells us something about dandelions’ resilience in the face of whatever eradication methods humans have been able to mount against them.  O’Byrne opened his pamphlet with this:

“Since the reader has come into possession of this little pamphlet, we will assume that he is one of those earnest citizens who has dug up, cut down, … and… waged relentless warfare against… the dandelion; and that he has observed… this “yellow peril” of the green lawn has laughed at all of his efforts at its eradication.”

What Professor O’Byrne  (and all those who purchased his pamphlet) didn’t consider was that labeling dandelions as “persistent weeds” was their choice! As The Environmental Resources Network (TERN) executive director Terry Johnson writes:

” It is hard to believe that a plant that has fed and healed mankind for thousands of years is now considered by most Americans to be nothing more than a lowly weed; a weed so terrible that, in the minds of many, it should be eliminated at all costs. “

Until the 20th century, Johnson explains, humans considered dandelions so important that they carried them along in their global migrations. As he puts it,  ” To our forefathers, the dandelion was a valuable source of medicine and food, and could even be used to make wine and beer.”

Dandelions as Food

For thousands of years, humans have eaten dandelions for their tangy, grapefruitlike taste.

However, this 2014  study by William Paterson University professor Jennifer Di Noia, Ph.D., ranked 41 Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables based on how strongly research has associated them with “reduced chronic disease risk.”

She based their scores on how much of 17 specific nutrients they contained. Dandelion greens finished 16th, right behind kale and ahead of arugula and broccoli, three darlings of plant-based diets!

Goldfinches devour thousands of dandelion seeds.
jpmatth CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

They’re good sources of Vitamins  C and K and essential omega-three and omega-6 fatty acids. But where they truly stand out is in Vitamin A content, with more than double the recommended daily amount in a 100-gram serving.

According to Terry Johnson, that’s 25 times the Vitamin A in 100 grams of tomato juice – and they also provide significant amounts of:

  • iron
  • calcium
  • potassium
  • magnesium

and carotenoids.

Even if we aren’t taking advantage of this free nutrient buffet, dandelions have more than their share of bird and mammal admirers.

Goldfinches are one of at least 33 songbird species that feast on dandelion seeds (maybe it’s a yellow thing?)

Dandelions are an Easter bunny favorite. Benson Kua CC BY-SA 2.0

As to four-legged friends, chipmunks, rabbits, and deer all browse on the plants. They compete with nectar-feeding bees (who need all the help we can give them!) and dozens of butterfly species.

Tomorrow morning, when I head out to harvest my first dandelion greens of the year, it will be with mixed feelings,

Gratitude at Mother Nature’s generosity in providing such a prolific and nutritious little plant to nurture so many species of creatures.

And sorrow that so many members of my species have lost touch with its simple goodness and beauty!

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