Younger days were filled with carefully picking and tying the most beautiful of dandelions to wear as a necklace, blowing the fluffy parachuted seeds off the dandelion heads to make wishes, and running around the schoolyard screaming, “momma had a baby and its head popped off” while flicking flowers off with our little thumbs as we laughed. Dandelions are a wonderful part of childhood so why do some adults hate them with such a vengeance? Americans are smart and strong-minded so why have a majority been brainwashed by lawn care companies?
Now that I’m older, my interactions with dandelions have changed but my love for them has only grown. As a beekeeper in the metropolitan area, the single most valuable early spring wildflower is the dandelion. They bloom when there are few other flowers for my bees to visit. They provide a vital source of both nectar and pollen at a time of year when the bees’ food stores are at their lowest. Just like a plate of chicken and rice for dinner, the pollen is the bees’ source of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals and the nectar, what the bees use to make honey, is their carbohydrate source. To ensure good nutrition, the bees visit and collect from other flower types too.
Dandelions turn an uninspiring expanse of green lawn into a smorgasbord for pollinators and your family! They are a member of the aster family, which includes chicory, escarole, endive and radicchio. Served in the finest of restaurants, dandelion greens (the young leaves) provide impressive nutrition. One cup of raw dandelion greens is a very good source of dietary fiber (8% DV), Vitamin A (112% DV), Vitamin C (32% DV), Vitamin E (9% DV), Vitamin K (535% DV), Thiamin (7% DV), Riboflavin (8%DV), Vitamin B6 (7% DV), Calcium (10%DV), Iron (9% DV), Potassium (6% DV), and Manganese (9% DV). To use the fresh dandelions in a salad, chop up the young leaves and sprinkle them over mixed greens. The bitterness of the dandelions is lost but the overall flavor of the salad is enhanced.
As Italian menus have long celebrated bitter greens, Southold’s Ken Dolney remembers eating dandelion salad with his stepfather Goffredo Luciano. “In the ’60s, my mom would tell me to go pick dandelions from the yard and the next thing you know, we were eating dandelions as a salad.” Dandelion greens are naturally bitter and are best picked when they are young and tender, typically between mid-April to early-May. Thinking more about dandelions, Dolney adds, “Years ago, the ‘in thing’ was having dandelions in your lawn. When did it change?”
Spring is a time of new beginnings—a time to embrace our past loves of childhood and let the dandelions flourish. Feed the bees and feed ourselves! Go dandelions!
Laura Klahre is owner of Blossom Meadow, an artisan honey and beeswax company, blossommeadow.com. She is a full-time beekeeper and life-long conservationist. Her new store is located on the North Fork in Cutchogue, inside Coffee Pot Cellars, 31855 Main Road, just east of King Kullen, coffeepotcellars.com.