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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Ode to the Dandelion

It is the familiar that usually eludes us in life. What is before our nose is what we see last.

-William C. Barrett, American philosopher/ educator (1913–1992)

This morning, the dandelions are at their peak in my backyard. The recent, unseasonably warm weather has brought out these annual visitors in all of their glory. The beauty of their brilliant yellow blossoms has magically transformed the green expanse of lawn into a royal blanket of gold.

Did you know that dandelions hail from the Aster or Sunflower family? And that, like the sunflower, dandelion flowers rotate toward the sky throughout the course of the day, following the sun’s rays?

The word “dandelion” comes from the French words “dent de lion,” meaning lion’s tooth, referring to the serrated edges of their individual leaves. Each dandelion bloom is actually comprised of a compact mass of tiny, individual, yellow florets.

The dandelion – a delightful little spot of cheer in our world. And yet, because of its omnipresence, most people take it for granted. They say it’s not worth much. In fact, it is regarded as a common weed and something that does not belong in the “better” yards. Most homeowners strive continuously to eradicate this little flower which blooms prolifically year after year all through our lawns, unless we have taken measures to prevent it. Dandelions also come up in all sorts of additional locations – cracks in parking lots or driveways, along the edges of steps and fences, and interspersed between desired growing things in our gardens.

American philosopher William Barrett pointed out, in his words printed above, that many things in life are overlooked, simply because they are always there in our day-to-day landscape. So familiar to us do these things become, we ultimately fail to “see” them at all. It’s a good practice periodically to open our eyes to what is right before us — things that are actually well worth noting and valuing.

Case in point is the familiar, ubiquitous dandelion – often unseen and definitely unappreciated. I believe we have been too hasty in our negative assessment of the dandelion, for this brave and mighty little plant never stops volunteering its charming presence, with no encouragement from us.

The dandy also possesses many other qualities that are actually quite dandy. The first dandelions of spring are recognized as succulent, tasty, early sprouts to be eaten raw or used in cooked dishes. Before modern nutritional science warned us of the harm of high fat diets, “dandelion greens,” wilted when sprinkled with hot bacon grease and served alongside rich mashed potatoes, was a popular delicacy. My late father often spoken of having enjoyed this dish as well as of helping his parents prepare dandelion wine from its flowers. Today, nutritionists tell us that dandelion soups and salads (sans the bacon grease!) provide us with a good source of potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron, as well as vitamins B, C, and E.

Further, my father told me that the leaves and roots of the dandelion plant are sometimes considered as folk remedies used for medicinal purposes. It has even been reported that grounds from the root of the dandelion can be roasted for a type of coffee substitute. (This undoubtedly would have a ways to go to match my favorite latte, but still, not bad for a little weed from the backyard!)

Dandelions display exemplary durability, vitality, and resourcefulness. Near the end of their lives, their yellow blossoms transform into spheres of white parachutes/seeds, converting entire fields into misty white blankets. These little white puffs are then gently blown away by a slight breeze or breath, floating off to distant places, there to begin another generation of dandies.

So, here’s to the plucky dandelion, a hardy little plant which, in spite of unpopularity, ridicule, and even threats to its very existence, is ever true to its mission of thriving in our world while providing pretty little posies for us to enjoy.

Through it all, the faithful little dandelion blooms on . . . it has much to teach us.

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