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Monday, June 20, 2011

Number 192: Vachel Lindsay "The Dandelion"

The Dandelion

O dandelion, rich and haughty,
King of village flowers!
Each day is coronation time,
You have no humble hours.
I like to see you bring a troop
To beat the blue-grass spears,
To scorn the lawn-mower that would be
Like fate's triumphant shears.
Your yellow heads are cut away,
It seems your reign is o'er.
By noon you raise a sea of stars
More golden than before.

-- Vachel Lindsay

Hap Notes: There is no botanical designation called "weed." It's just a word we use to define plants and flowers we don't want around. The dandelion is often maligned as one but this is firmly rooted in old school, 1950s well-trimmed lawn grandpa-ism. If you think they are weeds, let me welcome you to the 21st century where the healthful herbal properties of dandelions are becoming well known again. (Arabian physicians first wrote about them in the 11th century-- as Peter Allen so aptly put it "Everything old is new again." )

First of all, let's deal with Lindsay's poem because he's right, they are an impressive and beautiful flower (which IS a botanical term for the head of the dandelion). The name is from the French, "dent-de-lion " which means "lion's tooth" and is based on the jagged appearance of the leaves. However, the flower also has a leonine look, too, doesn't it? So they are the kings of flowers much as lions are thought of as the king of beasts. As the poem points out the dandelion can avoid the lawnmower, too. They can squoosh down a bit when run over and they will rise up triumphantly after you think you've chopped them all down.

They are almost impossible to alleviate. Did you know that if you dig them up by the root and leave even just a bit of it behind, that is all they need to start up again? Dandelions are light sensitive; they close up in rainy or cloudy weather and open up to the full light of the sun. They close at night and don't open up in the morning until after the dew has dried.

Of course, why would you want to get rid of them? Almost all of the plant is edible and provides vitamins A, B-complex, C and D as well as the minerals potassium, iron and zinc. The heads may be eaten or made into wine or ports or ales, the leaves may be put into salads raw or cooked or dried for teas and the roots may be dried and ground for a hot beverage as a caffeine-free ersatz coffee.

The medicinal uses of dandelions range from treating liver problems to treatments for kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn, and stomach upset. Dandelion leaves have a diuretic property and the roots can be used as an appetite stimulant, a digestive aid and for liver and gall bladder health.

There are loads of place on the internet to get recipes for dandelions. Here's a couple to get you started: (dandelion jelly!) or here's one that has a recipe for dandelion baklava using dandelion blossom syrup: recipes.htm Here's one for dandelion fritters: Okay, I'll stop. But try the fritters, you can just sprinkle some petals into your regular fritter recipe to start out slowly.

When I was a kid we'd pluck the dandelion flower hold it on the neck under the chin of a person and see if the yellow was reflected in the skin. If it was, it proved you liked butter (which, of course, it always did) and that you were of royal birth. I don't know that Lindsay knew of this game but I did grow up in the same area he did so maybe....

The fluffy seed heads were always used to make "dandelion wishes." Close your eyes, make a wish, blow off all the seeds. This is a wonderful way to get dandelions to grow everywhere and irritate your neighbors. And it's so magically pretty.

It's amazing that something so prevalent in our yards is so beneficial and free. I guess that's why we take them for granted or think of them as pesky. By the way, you'll be helping the honeybee if you allow them to stand- they love dandelions and it's often the only food they can find, especially in the fall. Our interconnected eco-system depends on the bees and I'm sure you've seen in the news that they are in a bit of trouble right now.

If nothing else, surely this post has given you a vast variety of excuses for not cutting your lawn too much. At the very least, check and see if you are of royal birth. I'm betting you are.

I love that Lindsay's poem calls dandelions "rich and haughty" kings, so full of gold with their heads held high. And they really are, too.

Here's where we've talked about Lindsay before:

P.S. If you are going to use the dandelions in your yard for eating I suppose it goes without saying that they should be pesticide free. But I say it anyway, just to be sure.

P.P.S. Dandelions also add nitrogen to the soil. Many species of butterflies and moths also enjoy them. Dandelions evolved 30 million years ago. Neanderthals evolved 2.5 million years ago. Just sayin' . (Okay, I'll stop with the factoids. Got carried away....)

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