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Dandelions: Dynamic accumulator and edible

Dandelion leavesLast winter, my forest gardening map put dandelions amid the other dynamic accumulators around the bases of my fruit trees.  But I just couldn't make myself put the dandelions in the ground.  Here I was hacking at the long taproots in my vegetable garden beds, and I wanted to plant some dandelions elsewhere in the garden?  Was I nuts?

But a bit of research suggests that dandelions have a lot going for them.  They are dynamic accumulators of sodium, silica, magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and copper, which means they could bring trace minerals to the surface where the tree roots can access them.  Dandelions are also an early, prolific bloomer that feeds honeybees both pollen and nectar in the spring before many other flowers are out.  Plus, dandelions are perennials that self sow readily, so they can fill gaps in the forest garden that might otherwise come up in less helpful weeds.

I didn't get pushed over the edge, though, until our larder started getting pretty bare and I decided to find some spring greens to saute for lunch.  I'd been eying the dandelion greens since early March, remembering that they were an edible but suspecting that they were also quite bitter.  When a walk around the yard turned up only a handful of creasies and Egyptian onion tops, I decided to round out my pot with young dandelion leaves, and the result was scrumptious!  Perennial greens that are ready to eat in early March with no care on my part?  I think dandelions have finally won a place in the forest garden.  Now I just have to decide if I'm going for the wild version or am actually going to pay money for cultivated dandelion seeds.

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I just realized that I have not seen dandelions on my property in NV. Maybe it is too dry here. There is some green stuff in the stream that might be watercress, and some trees that might have fruit. We'll see what happens as spring progresses. After I get settled, I would like to plant trees and native plants that produce food (in addition to a regular garden).
Comment by rehoot Fri Mar 26 14:08:10 2010
Well, dandelions aren't actually native, although they are widely naturalized. I wonder if you have nettles and poke, two early edibles that actually are native? I don't know anything about Nevada. :-)
Comment by anna Fri Mar 26 17:59:59 2010
I can't believe you would purchase dandelions instead of letting the wild ones spread! In a couple of years you will have plenty of wild ones.
Comment by Sheila Fri Mar 26 20:10:34 2010
We've definitely got plenty of wild ones, but I've read that cultivated ones are bigger and less bitter. On the other hand, we had another meal of them tonight, and I really couldn't detect any bitterness at all. Maybe I just need to breed mine!
Comment by anna Fri Mar 26 20:53:48 2010
From the look of your picture they are very young. They don't get bitter until they flower. After that cook them.
Comment by Lisa Sat Mar 27 00:03:50 2010
Have you ever tried the cultivated version? Did you think it was any better?
Comment by anna Sat Mar 27 09:49:48 2010
Apparently dandelions grown in full sun are the most bitter, and those grown in shade are much less bitter (so growing under fruit trees is a doubly-good idea!). They also get more bitter as they get older, and especially after flowering.
Comment by Darren (Green Change) Tue Mar 30 18:07:05 2010
Digging them up from under mulches also seems to make them much less bitter. The nearly white ones that have been languishing under the mulch all winter seem to have nary a hint of bitterness. Yum!! :-)
Comment by anna Tue Mar 30 19:55:52 2010

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