Column: Slices of Life: By Jill Pertler
I pull the dandelions out of the garden, without consciousness or appreciation of their sunny yellow dispositions. They are weeds, after all. Gardeners think nothing of pulling weeds in order to make room for the non-weedy, desirable plants.
But who decides which is which?
It’s in the eye of the beholder. That, and location, location, location.
Weeds are simply plants growing where they aren’t wanted. They are nature’s way of healing the bare earth. Mother Nature doesn’t like to be naked. Often plants deemed as weeds are invasive — spreading faster than they can be eradicated. Making them a nuisance, or in other words, weeds.
Dandelions haven’t always been weeds — at my house or anywhere else. When my kids were young, they called them dandeflowers and celebrated their arrival each spring. I often had a vaseful sitting in the middle of the kitchen table — a gift from a loving child. They added a welcome and cheerful spot of yellow to the room.
In the past, people used to plant dandelions, not pull them out. The history of the plant is as deep as its long taproot. Fossil dandelions exist from the last ice age. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans were well versed on the perks of the perky plant. Dandelions have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than a thousand years. The route they took to the U.S. is uncertain but they were likely brought over on the Mayflower for cultivation in the new land.
With good reason. Dandelions are actually useful in a number of ways. Their sprightly yellow blossoms serve as a beacon to helpful garden pollinators, like bees and butterflies. Their long taproot pulls nutrients upwards, benefitting more shallow-rooted plants. The white fluffy seed balls are fun to blow in the wind and have been promising wish fulfillment for generations. The leaves are edible and can be used in salads. The root is used to make coffee and for other medicinal purposes. The flowers can be steeped to make tea and (I’ve saved the best for last) the blossoms are the signature ingredient in dandelion wine!
Despite this variety of potential uses, the bright golden-bloomed plants are largely considered weeds. The Wikipedia weed page even has a photo of (you guessed it) a dandelion. Seems our hardy and hearty yellow friend is the epitome of a nuisance plant. But all is not lost. Dandelions are not just your garden-variety weeds. Because they benefit the garden and can be used in numerous ways, they are deemed beneficial weeds, which is an oxymoron if I ever heard one.
I have my theories on the subject. Dandelions spread expeditiously. They cultivate easily. If they were finicky and difficult to grow, I predict they never would have achieved weed status. We’d all vie for a lawn blanketed with their golden pompoms.
But that’s not the case.
It’s interesting in a shake your head sort of way: our forefathers spent time and energy cultivating dandelions; we spend time and money trying to rid our lawns of the little yellow beauties.
And still they grow and bloom and thrive. I have one now that pushed its way up through a tiny crack in the cement of our patio. I should probably get rid of it, but something’s holding me back.
Dandelions, and weeds in general, are a statement of stamina and endurance and an unwillingness to give up. No retreat, no surrender, not even when all the space you have to grow is a crack in the sidewalk. That’s pretty darn steadfast.
And worth this gardener’s respect. Maybe instead of pulling them out of the garden my time would be better spent in other ways.
Like Googling recipes for wine.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.