This is the fifth in a series of blogs, shared with permission, about weeds in the garden. Each blog will discuss a common and specific weed found in Maine, its history, uses, what story it tells about the soil it grows in, and how to get rid of it. The original blogs, along with other gardening related blogs, can be found here.
This perennial gets a terrible rap – but it has some vastly overlooked selling points. It is a very early flowering plant and can provide bees and pollinators with desperately needed early season food. It’s deep roots (up to 3 feet deep) are beneficial for many surrounding plants by bring nutrients up from deep underground. E. Pfeiffer says earthworms like to follow the root channels created by dandelions as well.
The plant is edible, and may be one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet. It was widely praised for it’s medicinal properties throughout the medieval period. They are analgesic, so if you want to try it start with making an infused oil to rub onto sore muscles. Also, the flowers are touted for their liver-tonifying properties.
Try the leaves for salad or in soup, flowers in alcohol and even the roots. During the 14th century, dandelion leaves were regularly harvested for use in salads or as an addative to pottage. Use of dandelions as a wine base dates quite far back as well. If you change your mind and decide to keep your dandelions, check out Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods as a source for some wine and beer recipes.
What does it mean?
Your soil may have low overall fertility, very low calcium, high chlorine and very high potassium. Additionally, your soil may be compacted but have good drainage. You should add gypsum/calcium lime, nitrogen and phosphorus. Avoid potassium and magnesium. Aerate the soil and mulch to increase organic matter and improve overall fertility. Another trick suggested by Pfeiffer is to plant a large number of beans and peas to suppress the dandelions.
Want to learn more?
If you would like to learn more about weeds, why they grow, and what that means about your garden, consider the following texts:
Weeds and Why they Grow, by Jay L. McCaman
Weeds and What They Tell Us, by Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer