The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

In Defense of the Dandelion

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1995

Issue: Winter 1995

Behold the lowly dandelion who dares to raise its head,
In ever growing colonies across the lawn they spread.
They couldn't be more beautiful if planted there with care.
Nothing in life is common if you consider beauty rare.

One morning while going from the car to the office, my attention was caught by a beautiful bloom glowing bright yellow against the gray office wall. There is only a strip of grass less than a foot wide between the building and the gravel, but it was profusely covered with dandelions.

I stopped and plucked the beauty that had caught my eye. When I got inside, I measured it. The bloom was a full two and a half inches wide on a stalk a foot long. If it had been any bigger, it would have been a chrysanthemum! I've bought bedding plants at nurseries that have produced a less successful show of color and yet dandelions provide a free show that would rival an alpine meadow in spring in the drabbest of spaces. It inspired me to write the above pitiful excuse for a poem.

This magnificent bloom started me thinking in depth about dandelions. Dandelions are thought of as villains - pesky weeds - a bane to every descent lawn. But in times past, the dandelion was considered a useful plant. It was used for both food and in home remedies.

Our pioneer forefathers did not have very good means of storing foods over the winter and by the time spring arrived, they craved the vitamins in fresh greens that had been lacking in their diets for months. Dandelions were one of the first spring greens available and they were picked, cooked and eaten with delight. When coffee ran short, they could dig dandelion roots, parch them thoroughly in the oven and grind them for a good substitute. Dandelions are in the chicory family and chicory is often used as an additive to coffee, even to this day. A pale yellow wine was also made from dandelions. As for medicinal purposes, an old book I consulted said that the properties of the dandelion root, which may be taken as an extract, a juice, or in dandelion coffee, are those of a mild laxative, diuretic and stomachic.

I also went to an encyclopedia which told me that the dandelion is a native of Europe and the name dandelion is a corruption of the French "dent de lion", or lion's tooth, which refers to the sharply toothed leaves that are characteristic of the plant.

Granted, the dandelion becomes quite a pest when it reaches the seed stage and blows white silky, hair-like particles everywhere. For those who have put off mowing until this stage, it resembles a snow storm of sorts, blowing up instead of coming down.

Folklore legend says that the tallest dandelion stalk a child can find will be the number of inches the child will grow in the coming year. When the dandelion is in the seed stage, you are supposed to make a wish and see if you can blow all the white silky hairs off with one breath. If you do, your wish will come true.