29 Apr 2020

The importance of dandelions – are they really a weed?

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

The humble dandelion. Sniffed at by many as an irritating weed, it is a common feature of gardens and road verges at this time of year. With its bright yellow petals cheering up my garden, does it really deserve to be shunned out as a weed? I think it is time we gave this under-rated wildflower a second chance.

Flowering in early spring, it is one of the first and most important sources of pollen and nectar for our beloved bees, who pollinate our fruit and veg. Allowing dandelions to grow near to early flowering fruit and vegetables can attract more pollinators, improving its yield. Nearby plants also benefit from the dandelions long tap roots, which can access nutrients deep in the soil which are released so plants with shorter roots can utilise them. Dandelion seeds are also an important food source for birds and the leaves are used as food plants for the larvae of some species of butterflies and moths.

The dandelion has been used as a cure all in the herbalist’s cabinet for thousands of years, used regularly by Egyptians, Ancient Greeks and the Romans. Its scientific name (Taraxacum officinalis), comes from the Greek word for “disorder” and “remedy”. For the Ancient Greeks, whatever illness you had, the dandelion would cure it. In China, the dandelion has been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes and is still used today in food and drink. The good old dandelion even did its bit during the war effort. In the Second World War, the milky sap from the dandelion was used to make rubber by the former Soviet Union. In the UK it is still commonly used in food and drink, the leaves as a bitter salad or as a tea, flowers for wine and roots as a substitute for coffee.

Fond memories of blowing on a dandelion clock to tell the time, I think it is time we gave this historically revered wildflower another chance. Don’t reach for the weed killer, enjoy its cheery yellow petals this spring and summer.