Friday, March 26, 2010

Dandelion, Tooth Of The Lion Plant

The First Dandelion - Walt Whitman

‘Simple and fresh and fair from winter's close emerging,
As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,
Forth from its sunny nook of shelter'd grass — innocent,
golden, calm as the dawn,
The spring's first dandelion shows its trustful face.’

Mention dandelion to an suburban homeowner and you may conjure up images of lawns gone bad and hear growling about that pesky weed and where is the nearest herbicide applicator.  TV advertising shows shoot outs between neighbors to determine who has the cleanest driveway and sidewalk.  Billions of dollars are spent each year in home improvement and farm supply stores on a concerted chemical warfare defending the traditional lawn or golf course.  Farmers have similar reactions to dandelions when they become competitive with crops.  Dandelion is a cosmopolitan species, naturalized from Eurasia and especially found in disturbed areas. The plant has many competitive advantages which makes it a potential weed species.  Its flowers are pollenated by a wide variety of insects and its seed disperses by floating on the wind.  It has a sturdy taproot.  It can grow leaves in a variety of orientations.  Its prostrate leaves can cover other plants to compete for light and space.  Where competition is less, leaves grow upright and reach into the sunlight.  

On our land next to Beaver Creek Marsh, dandelion is a welcome plant that has many uses.  Here, dandelion is a favorite food of deer, chipmunk, and rabbit and has a hard time growing in abundance unless it is protected by fencing; strange words to hear for a suburban lawn-grower.  Dandelion has many traditional uses.  It supplies delicious greens for salads.  Flowers are made into wine.  The root is pulled and used fresh or dried for many herbal remedies.  
John Lust, in The Herb Book says:
‘Properties and Uses: Aperient, cholagogue, diuretic, stomachic, tonic.  Dandelion has two particularly important uses: to promote the formation of bile and to remove excess water from the body in edemous conditions resulting from liver problems.  The root especially affects all forms of secretion and excretion from the body.  By acting to remove poisons from the body, it acts as a tonic and stimulant as well.  The fresh juice is most effective, but dandelion is also prepared as a tea.  Lukewarm dandelion tea has been recommended for dyspepsia with constipation, fever, insomnia, and hypochondria.  An infusion of the fresh root is said to be good for gallstones, jaundice, and other liver problems.  Dandelion leaves are popular and healthful as salad greens, especially in springtime.’
Steven Foster, in Medicinal Plants says: 
‘Uses: Fresh root tea traditionally used for liver, gall bladder, kidney, and bladder ailments; diuretic (not indicated when inflammation is present).  Also used as a tonic for weak or impaired digestion, constipation.  Dried root thought to be weaker, often roasted as coffee substitute.  Dried leaf tea is a folk laxative.  Experimentally, root is hypoglycemic, weak antibiotic against yeast infections (Candida albicans), stimulates flow of bile and weight loss.  All plant parts have served as food.  Leaves and flowers are rich in vitamins A and C.  Warning: Contact dermatitis has been reported from handling plant, probably caused by latex in stems and leaves.’

It is interesting to contemplate the range of opinions between controlling dandelion by chemical means and the potential medical benefits of dandelion.  Definitions and control of weed species are strongly dependent on social preferences and goals, which vary widely with geography.  One person’s answer is another’s question.   Herbicides are often important micro-components of runoff from lawns and fields and can have profound health effects on wetlands and stream ecology, as indicated by information on product labels.  An alternative middle ground is to learn more about organic weed control methods.  These methods rely upon an understanding of various aspects of plant ecology that control germination, growth, seed production, dormancy, competition, and companion planting.  Humans can actually form teams and alliances with plants to produce landscapes that support life, increase employment, and reduce chemical costs and health concerns.
There are other plants on our land that could be considered weeds.  They have wind-blown seeds or pervasive rhizomes and they tend to dominate certain areas.  However, by creating many different types of habitat and by harvesting young plants (weeding) and mulching, we are able to keep these putative weeds under control and in balance with the other plants in the area.  With a little thought and creative planning, weeds are gone and plants each find their chosen places.  Each year plants tend to move around on the land as microclimates change and soil develops fertility.  We experience an ever changing landscape that delights and feeds many animals without the use of poisons.  Weeds are a matter of opinion and attitudes, which can be changed and appreciated with knowledge and understanding.
Posted by michael

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