Do you ever help with the yardwork around your house? When they're old enough, many kids begin to mow the lawn for their parents. If you're younger, though, you can still help out. In fact, kids are often enlisted to help with one of the most important, yet tedious chores: pulling weeds!
There's one weed that often drives adults crazy. Many kids love it, however. When it's in full bloom, its flowers look like the bright Sun. When it puffs out into a ball, it resembles the Moon. And when kids pick it and blow it to disperse its seeds, they fly into the air like the stars of the night sky. What are we talking about? The dandelion, of course!
Dandelions are perennial plants that come in hundreds of different varieties. They're scientifically classified as part of the genus Taraxacum. Native to temperate areas of Europe, Asia, and North America, dandelions are immediately recognizable by their bright yellow or orange blooms that feature elongated, lance-like leaves. These leaves give dandelions their common name, which comes from the French word dent-de-lion (meaning "lion's tooth").
Dandelion flower heads open in the daytime and close at night. Over time, they mature into globe-shaped seed heads that are often called "puff balls" or "blowballs." When winds or someone's breath blows the seeds, they can travel long distances. Some seeds may travel five miles or more on the wind! This dispersal method explains why dandelions so easily populate a lawn and return year after year.
Instead of fighting dandelions with chemical weed killers or lawn mowers, however, you could simply eat them! Are we serious? Absolutely! Every part of a dandelion is useful. From its roots and stem to its leaves and flowers, dandelions can be used for food, medicines, and even to make dye to color clothing.
Dandelion flowers, for example, are known to have a bittersweet flavor. Some people eat them raw, while others crush them to make wine, jelly, or syrup. Still others add them to salads for a splash of flavor and color.
They're also healthy. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the flowers of a dandelion are low in calories and contain antioxidants that help fight free radicals, which destroy cells and contribute to cancer.
Dandelion greens are also a good source of several important nutrients, including vitamins A, B, and C, as well as calcium, potassium, and iron. While dandelion greens can be eaten raw in salads, many people prefer to cook them in order to reduce any bitterness. Some dandelion chefs also steam them before adding them to a stir-fry dish or soup. Others pair dandelion greens with bacon, cheese, nuts, and lemon to complement their earthy, nutty taste.
Even the roots of dandelions are useful. Early settlers in North America knew how to dry, grind, and roast dandelion roots to make a drink similar to coffee. Dandelion roots can also be substituted in any recipe that calls for root vegetables.
Before you go picking the dandelions out of your yard to eat, however, be sure that no chemicals have been used on your lawn. Yard dandelions also tend to be bitter and less flavorful, since they are cut so often. For the best dandelions to eat, you should pick them from fields where grass grows tall and free from chemicals.