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Dandy dandelions

Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

I taught our toddler how to blow dandelion fluff this week. I know for a lot of folks this would be nearly criminal. I had neighbors when I lived in town who spent their days trying to eradicate the weed from their otherwise pristine lawns, but I’ve always been a fan of the dandelion. 

Before I learned that nearly all parts of the plant were edible, before I learned to appreciate their tenacity and hardiness, I really just enjoyed the look of their flowers. Bright, yellow pops of color in a green lawn were pretty to me. I just didn’t understand why anyone would want to kill them off.

Once I had my first taste of wilted dandelion greens, I understood it even less.  

I don’t eat dandelions often, but it’s nice to know I can always gather a mess of greens from under the swing-set if I take a notion. Though I’ve never tried it, I’m told the dried roots make a passable coffee imitation or supplement, like their close cousin chicory. The flowers, roots, and leaves can all be brewed into a tea – individually or together – and the flowers can be battered and fried like fritters, turned into jelly, or used to make wine. 

None of this requires any special cultivation or prep. You just collect the wild growing plants and use them as you see fit. But we’ve got a new project we’re working on at our house – one that has the kids blowing dandelion fluff to their hearts’ content! 

We have a barren hillside next to our house. Timbered and possibly bulldozed at one point, rain waters have washed all the topsoil and old leaf litter away. What’s left is a rocky, clay heavy soil that isn’t suitable for growing much. Grass hasn’t ever really taken root there and aside from some invasive multiflora rose (which I’m attempting to eradicate) and small pine trees, it’s pretty empty. 

But, as anyone who has ever paid attention knows, dandelion can spring up in places other plants cannot. In the middle of a heavily traveled gravel road or driveway? No problem! Between the cracks of a dry and dusty sidewalk? Home sweet home! 

So, I had the baby out picking dandelion heads and blowing just as hard as he could in the direction of the hillside, letting the breeze do the rest. If we’re lucky, we’ll soon start seeing specks of green among that brown clay and sandstone. 

My hope is that, in addition to providing food for us, the rabbits, and the bees, the dandelions will help stabilize the soil a bit. A mix of dandelions and other hardy ground cover will then help hold nutrients from further up slope in place, rather than allowing them to wash away with the rains. Over time, I’d like to see the hillside restored to health and a cover of trees reestablished. When that happens, the sun loving dandelions will probably start to die back a bit. But those vivid yellow flowers will always be a welcome sight, no matter where they may be. 

Jeremy D. Wells can be reached at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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