NATURE RAMBLINGS: Dandelion appreciation is timeless

PHOTO BY SALLY ROTH Our beloved old dog, Dixie, modeling her flower crown.

Sally Roth

sroth@northfortynews.com

 

“Wish I’d lived 100 years ago,” I used to say. Until I hit my fifties, that is, when it became “Wish I’d lived 150 years ago.”

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Despite being a Net junkie, and following the latest trends in fashion even though all I ever wear is jeans, and knowing the latest HGTV edicts (Stainless steel! Granite countertops! Oh, wait, granite is so 5 years ago. Make that, “Subway tile! Gray, everything gray!”), I’ve always felt out of step with the modern world.

Our northern Colorado home satisfied both those sides of me. Complete seclusion: not another human soul in sight. And off grid, but with solar panels that allowed for high-speed Internet and TV, so I could simultaneously watch the Academy Awards on TV while keeping track of snarky comments on Twitter and looking at the best of/worst of outfits as soon as media outlets posted them.

Next day, I could bundle up in layers of unfashionable clothes and trudge up to the meadow to check on the biscuitroot plants, a traditional Native American food that saved the lives of Lewis and Clark…oh wow, that was 1805? Fine. Wish I’d lived 200 years ago.

Maybe it was genes that gave me my misfit ways. Because my mom was just as much a mix of then-and-now as I am.

On Saturday nights, she’d doll up in glitzy dresses and high heels and an “upsweep” hairdo to go out to play her Hammond organ at club dates with my father, a drummer.

At home, she wore whatever was handy and spent nearly every day outside.

Come spring, she’d bobbypin her hair into submission to keep it from falling in her face, grab a paper bag, and go out to harvest dandelions.

Strolling the yard head down, she’d slice them off just at the root with a special paring knife—the one that was so worn that the edge of its blade was concave.

I was right by her side on my stubby toddler legs, trying to spot the next one before she did.

Dandelions were the first “wild edible” I knew. Harvested early in the season, their leaves are tender and only mildly bitter, the perfect foil for the hot bacon dressing and hard-boiled eggs I still eat them with.

Today, foraging for wild edibles is trendy again. But it’s native plants that get all the love.

Dandelions definitely aren’t natives. They came across the ocean with Europeans, deliberately brought because of their long list of uses. Super-nutritious greens, roots for a coffee substitute, medicinal uses galore, sunny flowers to make into beer or wine—how can anyone not appreciate them?

Just ask your HOA. Or your neighbor.

Maybe it’s because I’m not suited to this modern world, but I still can’t figure out why dandelions are so scorned.

I mean, c’mon—it’s a losing battle (those parachute seeds can blow for a mile). And it’s not worth fighting. Because not only can we humans make use of dandelions in so many ways, they’re valuable to wildlife, too, despite the hype about “natives only.”

PHOTO BY SALLY ROTH
Another reason to actually look at your dandelions—insects of all sorts love them.

Are you a bird lover? Keep an eye on your nearest dandelions in April and May! Migrating songbirds feast on dandelion seeds when the flocks move through.

Once you start looking, you may spot lazuli buntings, indigo buntings, white-throated sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, chipping sparrows, pine siskins, and both kinds of goldfinches (American and lesser) gathered at dandelions, snipping the seeds before the puffs even open.

Rabbits and packrats eagerly eat the leaves—so eagerly, that every spring, it’s a race to see who gets them first, the critters or me.

Honeybees, butterflies, and other insects of all sorts seek out dandelions. Guess they didn’t get the memo that native flowers are “better.”

And let’s not forget that you can play with dandelions! Flower crowns are just as fun to make as they were 100 years ago. And slicing a flower stem into strips with your thumbnail and dunking it in a glass of cold water to watch the strips curl never gets old, no matter whether you’re 6 or 60.

You can bet I’ll be wearing down that paring knife a little more this spring—that well-worn blade is a badge of honor to an old-fashioned modern misfit like me.

 

PHOTO BY SALLY ROTH
Cold water plus a dandelion stem sliced with a thumbnail = magic that happens right before your eyes!