under the lens - Taraxacum officinale
Taraxacum officinale / Dandelion
A well-known wildflower that is often dismissed as a weed and not given further thought, the dandelion deserves a closer look. I spent many childhood days attempting to save their sunny blossoms from lawnmowers and weedkillers- little did I know then how truly valuable the plant can be.
Latin name: Taraxacum officinale
Common name: Dandelion
Distribution: Northern Hemisphere
Habitat: Grasslands and Pastures
Bloom Time: April-May; September-October
Other: Edible, Medicinal (whole plant)
The dandelion is an early colonizer of open soils and disturbed grounds, quickly forming dense stands wherever given the chance to germinate. This prolific character is what makes it valuable agriculturally- in fact, it was first introduced to North America from Europe as a crop plant and has since naturalized across the temperate regions of the world. A nuisance to gardeners and farmers, and the bane of anyone trying to maintain a manicured lawn, resistance to their spread may be futile- their strong taproots grow to a depth of 50cm, and a single plant can produce up to 1,000 seeds in a year. These seeds remain viable for up to nine years, and their dispersal by wind makes their spread even more difficult to contain.
Rather than fighting them, it might be time to embrace their many positive qualities. Starting in spring, the young, vitamin-rich leaves can be harvested and eaten raw in salads or cooked as spinach for a high dose of beta carotene, iron, and vitamin C. The flower buds can be plucked and prepared like capers, and have a nutty aroma. The blossoms have long been made into liquor or syrup, and the roots are famously dried, ground, and used as a coffee substitute, but can also be consumed raw when young, prepared similarly to other root vegetables.
Traditionally, the plant was used as a laxative and as a diuretic, and was generally regarded as a body cleanser. Modern medicine has backed this up- the high potassium content of the leaves is likely what give the plant its diuretic effects. Today, it is used medicinally to relieve digestive problems, including constipation, flatulence, and appetite loss.
The puff-ball seed heads are perhaps as much an identifying characteristic for this plant as their yellow blossoms. Long an amusement for children and adults alike, their beauty and whimsy is often overshadowed by the daunting thought of weeding out their offspring.
Want to rediscover the beauty of the dandelion? Have a look at the work of these artists to be inspired.
Dandelight is the work of the design group Studio Drift, based out of Amsterdam. Using genuine dandelion seeds attached to an LED lamp, it captures the soft, filtered light quality of a summer’s meadow full of dandelion puffs.
Paris-based botanical artist Duy Anh Nhan Duc utilizes the fragile dandelion seeds in many of his sculptures and full-scale installations, whose creation requires patience, meditation, and realization of the fragility of nature.
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