One of the first cheery bursts of color in early spring are also helpful, friendly plants that have a place in your yard and garden. Dandelions are not just a welcome sign that everything around us is waking up, they are also a first food for pollinators, a delicacy for people who know how to forage, and free soil treatment.
Bees, butterflies, beetles and other pollinators wake up hungry in the spring. In the woods, short-lived spring ephemerals provide nutrients. But for those bees in the city and suburbs, dandelions can be the first nectar they find. Welcoming spring bees and butterflies encourages them to stick around which can only be good for home gardeners. Dandelions also come back in the fall, which is another season when pollinators need help.
Let the first dandelions flourish and you can harvest a fresh spring green salad. Dandelion leaves are delicious and packed with vitamins. You can eat leaves raw like you would any lettuce or kale or sauté like you would spinach. You can cook and eat leaves of all sizes. Larger leaves may need to be cooked longer to become tender. The greens have a peppery, slightly bitter taste and many people like them in a cream sauce. The yellow heads also make a delicious spring wine when combined with sugar, citrus, and yeast. When preparing to make wine, remove all green elements including stems (which contain bitter latex) and the sepal leaves around the base of the flower. For both salads and wine, make sure that your flowers have not been sprayed with either fertilizer or herbicide.
Dandelions can grow in nearly any soil, so they are sometimes the first plant life to appear on disturbed soil. Like our valuable native grasses, dandelions have deep roots. These roots break up soil and aerate compacted dirt allowing water to soak in and feed the roots of grasses and other useful plants. Why pay a service to aerate your lawn when you can get dandelions to do it for you? Your lawn will appreciate it later.
And let’s not forget about the role of dandelions as jewelry! Chances are your first ring, necklace, or tiara was made from these natural beauties.