Unfortunately, clover gets a bad reputation, with most people simply assuming that it is a harmful weed that reflects laziness on the part of the lawn owner. This myth was perpetuated with the rise of synthetic weedkillers, which include clover among the “weeds” that are killed by the product. For this reason, it is not uncommon to see ads or commercials mention that they kill clover, implying that it falls within the same bracket as weeds that actually are bad for your lawn—this is pretty ironic considering that four leaf clover is supposed to be a good luck charm. To be sure, there is any number of reasons why you may not want clover on your lawn, but it is important to gain an accurate understanding of exactly what it does to and for your lawn. For this reason, in this post we review the benefits of clover and in the event that you do want it removed, we discuss some safe practices for getting rid of it.
Is Clover Okay for Your Lawn?
- How to Kill Clover Without Chemicals
- Why You Might Want to Keep Your Clover
- Reason 1: Clover Fertilizes Your Lawn
- Reason 2: Clover Prevents Weeds
- Reason 3: Microclover Provides Clover Benefits without Drawbacks
- How to Eliminate Clover Without Chemicals
- Step 1: Fertilize Your Lawn
- Step 2: Mow High
- Step 3: Kill the Clover – Organically
- Step 4: Water Properly
- Final Note
- Why rolling in clover is good for your lawn
- Discover Beneficial Weeds in the Garden
- Holding Topsoil
- Pulling Up Nutrients and Water
- Providing Food
- Controlling Insects
- Indicating Soil Conditions
- Your Weedy Lawn Is A Good Thing
- Why Weeds in the Lawn Can Be Helpful
- Weedy Lawns are Healthier
- Defending the Dandelion: It’s Not Just Another Weed
- Dandelions are not as invasive as commonly thought.
- Dandelions add color to the drab landscape of early spring.
- Dandelions are an important source of food for wildlife.
- Dandelions encourage biodiversity.
- Dandelions protect the soil.
- Dandelions aerate and condition distressed soil.
- Dandelions are edible from root to flower.
- Dandelions have medicinal value.
- Anyone under the age of 10 loves a good dandelion patch.
- Money Crashers
- Eating Dandelions
- How to Harvest Dandelions
- Final Word
Benefits of clover
One of the main reasons why clover is so useful is that it requires very little effort to maintain. You will not need to water it nearly as often as you would with your lawn, and it is exceptionally adept at avoiding insects and diseases. Those lawn owners who dislike mowing should really appreciate it, as it grows very low and rarely needs to be mowed. Clover is also very versatile, as it can withstand drought far more effectively than. Because it holds nitrogen, it is also great at stocking nitrogen in the root systems. Finally, this may be a result of its poor reputation, there may be some who just don’t like the appearance of clover, but it could also be argued that it is more attractive than grass—in any event, it is better-looking than crabgrass or other weeds and lawn diseases.
How to get rid of clover
If you really want to eliminate clover, it’s best to apply a nitrogen-based fertilizer during the growing season. It is also acceptable to apply a selective herbicide. Alternately, you could just dig it up directly from the soil. If you do this, though, be sure to fill holes with topsoil.
There really is no need to view clover as harmful, and with all of its benefits, you may want to plant it on your lawn. It may not look as nice as grass and so you may not want it to replace grass altogether, but with all of its environmental benefits and easy maintenance, it’s a great idea to plant a patch of clover on your lawn.
How to Kill Clover Without Chemicals
Does your lawn look like the lawn pictured below? Are you seeing a lot of white flowers in your lawn and don’t like the look of them? Maybe you’re concerned about the clover attracting bees and making it more likely for your kids to get stung? If this is your lawn and you’d like to get some more grass and less clover, keep reading, we’ll get there…
Why You Might Want to Keep Your Clover
But, before we talk about How to Eliminate Clover without using chemicals, let’s spend a second looking at the benefits of clover and perhaps convince you that you’d like to keep the clover after all.
Reason 1: Clover Fertilizes Your Lawn
Clover has a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that attach themselves to its roots. These bacteria can absorb nitrogen (the main nutrient that gives grass its green color) from the atmosphere, meaning that it doesn’t need to be fertilized. Even better, if you have a good mix of clover (or microclover) you shouldn’t need to fertilize your lawn much. Contrary to poplular belief, clover won’t take over your lawn, it will help your lawn. Notice how the side of the soccer field below that is planted with microclover is greener than the side to the right – clover can keep your lawn greener with less fertilizer!
Reason 2: Clover Prevents Weeds
We talk about mowing your lawn high to help prevent weeds. Mowing High helps prevent weeds because the taller the grass, the more it shades the surface of the soil and makes it difficult for weeds to establish. Clover, with its umbrella like leaves, shades the soil better than blades of grass do, so it shades the soil very well. If you have clover in your lawn, you can even mow at a more normal mowing height (2.5 inches). So, if you like mowing your lawn short, clover can help you avoid having a million other weeds. See how the section of grass that has microclover in it below has far fewer dandelions than the non clover section?
Reason 3: Microclover Provides Clover Benefits without Drawbacks
Over the years many people have called us wondering how to eliminate the clover in their lawns without using chemicals. Once they understand the benefits of clover they’re often to leave the clover and even consider purchasing additional microclover to help make the lawn more uniformily clover covered!
The image above is of a lawn seeded with our Microclover which flowers much less prolifically than standard white clover and is aggressive enough to spread evenly through a lawn. We’ve found that lawns planted with microclover stay greener, healthier, and have fewer weeds than lawns with no clover. In addition, they need less fertilizer and water. So, if you have convinced yourself that if you can’t “beat clover, join clover” then you might want to learn a little more about microclover by visiting our website at www.whygoodnature.com/microclover or purchasing it in our online store by visiting store.whygoodnature.com/microgreen-microclover.
How to Eliminate Clover Without Chemicals
Ok, if you’re still determined to eliminate clover that’s no problem, let’s do it with out chemicals!
Step 1: Fertilize Your Lawn
Clover thrives in underfertilized grass because it has the advantage – it can make its own fertilizer and grass really can’t. So, if you fertilize your grass with a good organic fertilizer in the spring and fall then you will give the grass the advantage.
Step 2: Mow High
Clover has no problem being mowed nice and short, but your grasses don’t love it. When you cut your lawn under 3 inches tall, the clover will appreciate it and the grass will get a little stressed. So, mow high to give your grass an advantage over the clover.
Step 3: Kill the Clover – Organically
There is an exciting new organic weed killer on the market for killing weeds in your lawn without killing the grass. If you spray this new organic weed killer (Adios) on the clover in the grass, it will weaken the clover without harming the grass and give your grass the advantage it needs to outcompete the clover. Adios is the product and I’ve had some great success with it killing clover in our trials.
Step 4: Water Properly
If you’re going to use Adios to kill the clover in your lawn without chemicals, you should keep your lawn properly watered. It’s best if you can water deeply (1 inch – enough to fill a tuna can) once or twice per week. The day after one of those deep waterings when the grass is not stressed out, you can apply adios to kill the weeds in your lawn without killing the grass. If you spray the Adios on a lawn that isn’t getting water and is stressed out by heat and drought, you may end up killing your grass as well. So, before you spray Adios to kill the weeds in your lawn organically, make sure you’re keeping your lawn well watered.
The Clover we’re referring to is White Clover, a perennial weed. There are other annual weeds that people often call Yellow Clover – typically Black Medic, and Oxalis get called Yellow Clover. You can use Adios to kill these “yellow clover” plants as well but don’t need to because they are annuals and will die at the end of the season anyway. The best way to fight the yellow clovers is by using organic fertilizers, mowing high, and watering properly.
Why rolling in clover is good for your lawn
Microclover (microclover.com), which is now available from grassseedsuperstore.co.uk as “eco-lawn”, came out initially in 2007 with interest in it surging in the past couple of years. The familiar trifoliate leaf is about a third of the size of the usual lawn clover leaf, though the tighter you mow it the smaller the leaf. Guy Jenkins, the consumer manager for DLF Trifolium, says that on their plots in Worcestershire, which have dry, free-draining, highly sandy soil, the microclover looked embarrassingly green compared to their other mixtures whenever water became scarce. In dry, shady conditions it usually outperforms grass mixtures designed for shade, partly because it has deep roots to capture moisture and partly because the larger leaf area helps catch more of the elusive sun’s rays.
Microclover usually forms just five per cent of the seed mix, with dwarf rye grasses and fescues making up the rest. In poor conditions the lawn will look as though there is mainly clover there in the first year after sowing, then as the clover sheds the nitrogen the grasses benefit and become more dominant. In richer soils the grasses are more dominant from the start. If you want to reduce the amount of clover, a light dressing of nitrogen fertiliser will help. Other advantages are the suppression of weeds especially dandelions and daisies.
Photographs of plots with and without microclover show no visible dandelions in the clover plot and masses of them on the immediately adjacent clover-less plot. In the winter the microclover becomes dormant, but is still green and the grass contingent becomes more dominant. The mowing regime is similar to that of a clover-less lawn. Sadly microclover does not burst into a mass of white clover flowers.
Vegetable gardeners over the years have also benefited from clover’s ability to fix nitrogen by using it as a green manure, usually sown in the late summer or autumn (but it can be sown pretty much any time) and cut down before flowering and then dug in. If you are a no-dig vegetable gardener, Trifolium resupinatum, Persian clover, a short-term aggressive annual (cotswoldseeds.com) is the one for you as this is killed at -7C, so you let it die back and leave the worms to work it in. Sow it between July and August.
There are many beautiful clovers too, such as the Chocolate clover, Trifolium repens ‘William’, (15cm high) which has seductive maroon flowers and large maroon shaded leaves. The flowers, leaves and roots are edible, and highly nutritious. T repens ‘Harlequin’ has grey foliage with green centres and maroon/red markings with matching maroon-marked white flowers, and it grows to around 15cm high. Both are fabulous ground cover/edging plants for less than perfect conditions. They are available from Cotswold Garden Flowers (cgf.net). According to David Hoffman’s Holistic Herbal, red clover is excellent for treating several skin conditions and coughs.
My favourite clover, though, is the four-leaved clover. A friend, Annie Maw, who has been a leading light with the charity that built Horatio’s Garden (horatiosgarden.org.uk) sent me a beautiful home-made card with a watercolour of a four-leaf clover on the front and a real, pressed, four-leaf clover on the inside, possibly the best card ever. In a neglected flower pot, Annie noticed a stunted little self-seeded clover plant which had two, maybe even three, four-leafed heads on it. She gave it a stay of execution and now it is has produced quite a few more good luck tokens. I checked out the RHS Plant Finder and see among the 67 different clovers listed there is one Trifolium repens ‘Quadrifolium’, which produces about 70 per cent four-leaf variants, but unfortunately the sole stockist listed has lost it. If anyone knows someone who has it please let me know! The purple form is readily available, but in my book the four-leaf version of the shamrock should be green. Apparently, the four-leaf variants pop up one in every 10,000 leaves, so if you have a microclover lawn you will probably be able to nose out a fair few.
Discover Beneficial Weeds in the Garden
When we get cut, a scab forms to protect the injured spot while it’s healing. In the same way, weeds bandage the earth— moving in fast wherever there’s bare soil. (Any gardener can attest to that!) This is nature’s way of ensuring that valuable topsoil won’t be washed or blown away. Indeed, weeds have saved incalculable amounts of this precious fertile earth from erosion—and with little thanks from us.
So if you have an idle garden area that’s coming up in weeds, consider them a free cover crop. True, if the invader is toxic (like poison ivy), a tough grass (like Johnson grass) or a perennial that spreads by underground runners (like sheep sorrel), you will want to root it out. But why not let nonspreading annuals like spurges, purslane, lamb’s-quarters, chickweed and ragweed anchor that fallow ground?
Just cut the plants down before they go to seed and compost them or—once they’ve wilted—turn them under into the soil. (If the plants have matured, you can compost them in a pile that heats up to at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit to destroy the weed seed.)
Pulling Up Nutrients and Water
Unlike our pampered produce crops, weeds have had to get by without human-supplied water and fertilizer. Hence, many have learned to send taproots down three, five or even 15 feet in search of their supper.
This serves the gardener in several ways. First, if we compost or turn under those weeds, the valuable nutrients and trace minerals they’ve brought up will get redistributed to the topsoil.
Weeds can also break up hardpan, that underground layer of compacted soil caused by regular mechanical cultivation. Hardpan keeps salts and other toxins from leaching downward while preventing domestic plants from reaching lower soil nutrients. It can also inhibit good soil drainage. But deep-rooted weeds like dandelions, prickly lettuce, spiny sow thistle, wild amaranths (often called pigweeds), cockleburs, nightshades and Queen Anne’s lace can break that soil barrier and blaze a route for domestic roots to follow.
To take advantage of those weeds’ soil-probing abilities, don’t disturb a fallow area filled with the ground breakers, or leave a deep-reaching weed every 10 or 20 feet among your crops. Over time, this practice will do a great deal to open up your soil.
Weed roots can break a trail to underground water reserves. Moisture from those depths is also wicked upward outside the weed roots by capillary action.
Once upon a time, the year’s “Pick of the Crop” vegetable selections would have included purslane and dandelions. Lamb’s-quarters would have received the seed catalog praise we now give to tomatoes. Today we neglect such no-effort crops in favor of ones that require hours of toil.
We shouldn’t. Some weeds make superior eating. Lamb’s-quarters, yellow dock, young dandelion leaves, purslane, chick-weed, land cress and sorrel have two or three times the nutritional value of spinach or Swiss chard. Try these sautéed in garlic and olive oil and drizzled with lemon juice.
Many weeds, either in or just outside your garden, can help control harmful insects or attract beneficial ones. Research in Florida showed that fall armyworm damage was lower in cornfields containing repellent weeds like dandelion, cockleburs and goldenrod. Other studies have proved that milkweeds repel wireworms and that grassy weeds deter many pests.
Some weeds can work as trap crops, luring damaging insects away from valuable vegetables. For instance, lamb’s-quarters attract leafminers that might otherwise attack your spinach. And multiflora rose lures Japanese beetles away from garden goodies.
Then, too, several flowering weeds such as Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod, evening primrose, wild mustard, amaranth and dandelion can attract beneficial insects that prey on harmful ones. More research is needed to identify repellent and attractant plants, though. Observe which ones work in your garden (try making crop sprays of some), and you could make an important discovery.
Indicating Soil Conditions
Like a good water dowser, certain weeds can tell you what’s going on underground. This can help you when you’re shopping for land, choosing a new garden site or trying to improve an existing plot. The list below shows the preferred habitat of some common weeds. But don’t assume you’ve determined the ground conditions just because you’ve spotted one or two weeds in a category. Look for three or four, and check their health, as well. I’ve seen lamb’s-quarters and sow thistle, both of which love rich soil, growing in a gravel road, but they were doing a bonsai imitation.
Your Weedy Lawn Is A Good Thing
The next time your neighbor with the emerald green lawn casts a look down their nose at your less than perfect lawn, don’t feel bad. The fact of the matter is that your weedy lawn is doing more for your garden, the environment and your wallet than the supposedly “perfect” lawn your neighbor maintains.
Why Weeds in the Lawn Can Be Helpful
One of the major benefits of having a weedy lawn is that many weeds in your lawn attract butterflies and caterpillars. Common lawn weeds, such as plantain, dandelion and clover are sources of food for the Buckeye butterfly, Baltimore butterfly, Eastern tailed blue butterfly and a great many others. Allowing some of these common weeds to grow in your garden, encourages butterflies to lay their eggs in your yard, which will result in more butterflies in your garden later on.
Weeds also help to attract other beneficial bugs to your garden as well. Many good bugs, like predatory wasps, praying mantis, ladybugs
and bees find food and shelter in the weeds in our yards. These “good” bugs will help to keep the “bad” bug population down in your garden as well as providing pollination to your plants. The more weeds you have in your lawn, the less money and time you will have to spend on battling back the bugs that can hurt your plants.
Many weeds are also blessed with a natural insect repellant. Letting weeds in your lawn grow near your more weed free flower beds can help drive out even more “bad” bugs from your plants.
Weeds can also help keep down erosion of topsoil on your property. If you live in an area that is prone to drought or live in an area that is unfortunate enough to experience a drought, the weeds in your lawn may very well be the only plants that survive. Long after your grass has died from the heat and lack of water, those weeds will still be there, holding down the precious topsoil that will be vital when the rain returns and you can replant the grass.
Weedy Lawns are Healthier
Beyond that, many of the chemicals we use to keep our lawns “healthy” and green are actually carcinogenic and very bad for the environment. Run-off from chemically treated lawns finds its way into sewer systems and then into water ways, causing pollution and killing many aquatic animals. Even before these chemicals make it to the water, they may cause harm to your local wildlife. While you may be able to keep your kids and pets off a chemically treated lawn, a wild animal or a neighbor’s pet cannot read the sign that says your lawn has been chemically treated.
So instead of cringing at the glares you get from your neighbors with over treated lawns when your lawn becomes polka-dotted with dandelions, smile politely and inform them that you are growing an environmentally-friendly, baby butterfly nursery.
Defending the Dandelion: It’s Not Just Another Weed
The ever-pervasive dandelion. It’s one of the first plants to sprout in spring, when the ground is barely free of frost, and remains steadfast through the season with vibrant pops of yellow and downy balls of seeds so nostalgic of childhood wonderment.
The benefits of dandelion are many yet somehow, somewhere along the way, this humble plant that has fed and healed humanity for thousands of years became a blight on our landscape.
Dismissed as a weed, eradicated at all costs, cursed and scorned for its stubbornly long taproots that often refuse to give from the earth, it’s earned a reputation for invasiveness and uselessness.
But I’m here to make a case for the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), which you might be eyeing right about now, weeder in hand, as a galaxy of yellow blooms starts spreading across your Kentucky bluegrass.
While you might consider it the bane of an otherwise perfectly manicured lawn, here are a few reasons why the lowly dandelion is the unsung hero of your yard.
Dandelions are not as invasive as commonly thought.
Though they’re non-native to North America (originally hailing from Europe), dandelions are not considered invasive by federal agencies. An annoyance, perhaps, but far from being aggressively spreading plants that alter natural habitats, the hallmark of a truly invasive species.
Dandelions have naturalized throughout all 50 states (as well as most of Canada and even Mexico) and are believed to have been brought over by the Pilgrims, who planted the herb as a medicinal crop.
Dandelions add color to the drab landscape of early spring.
As soon as frost has passed, dandelions begin to dot the southern slopes, brightening the brown and gray landscape with pops of chartreuse.
In a matter of weeks, those same dandelions start to unfurl into a carpet of gold against all the new green — a brilliant bloom of color and texture, all without you sowing a seed or lifting a trowel.
Dandelions are an important source of food for wildlife.
When bees, butterflies, and other pollinators emerge in early spring, a tricky time with few other flowers blooming, they depend on dandelions as an early source of pollen and nectar. The flowers provide nectar for nearly 100 species of insects, while the seeds and leaves feed over 30 species of birds, chipmunks, and other wildlife.
Got backyard chickens? Let them go to town on a patch of dandelions after a long and dreary winter. The greens provide plenty of nutrients for rich golden yolks, and happy chickens scratching (and pooping) in the dirt means healthy aerated soil.
Dandelions encourage biodiversity.
Their presence alone attracts and supports several key species in the local ecosystem, including bees, butterflies, moths, and birds, which in turn pollinate fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other flowers that feed even more species.
Hummingbirds use dandelion down to line their tiny nests, and beneficial insects and lizards seek shelter under the low-growing leaves (which often rest on the ground in a dense rosette).
Dandelions protect the soil.
And they do so just by growing: the roots hold the soil together to help prevent wind and water erosion. Since the plants grow so quickly, they spread widely to cover bare soil and act as a natural mulch by providing shade and conserving moisture.
Dandelions aerate and condition distressed soil.
The long, strong taproots of dandelions push through into dry, cracked, compacted earth, helping to break it up, create channels for air and water to penetrate, and maintain a loose soil structure that allows earthworms to do their work.
The plants draw calcium, iron, and potassium from deep in the earth into their leaves. When they die and decompose, they leave behind mineral-rich organic matter that nourishes the soil.
(Gardening tip: To maintain their spread, cut the plants back before the seeds disperse into the wind. Tuck them under the mulch for a tidier garden, or let the plants compost in situ. Leave the roots in the ground. As a perennial plant they will often regrow, or eventually decay and enrich the soil food web.)
Dandelions also make great compost heap additions, but they can go to seed even after they’re picked. If you don’t want dandelions throughout your yard, turn the compost regularly so the heat of the mound can kill the seeds.
Dandelions are edible from root to flower.
Though we typically think of dandelions as flowers, the plant is a perennial herb and is one of the oldest herbs used for food and healing — since before Roman times! Every part of a dandelion is edible, from root to flower.
As a relative of chicory, dandelion root can be dried and roasted and used as a substitute for, or addition to, coffee. The root can also be peeled and cooked like a turnip.
Young dandelion leaves are among the most nutritious you’ll find of any leafy green, and can be used in a salad, on a pizza, or in a pesto. Mature leaves can be sauteed or added to soups and stews. Ever tried dandelion chips? (You can make them like kale chips!)
(Here’s a fun fact: The name dandelion is a corrupted pronunciation of the French dent de lion, or “lion’s tooth,” referring to the jagged leaves that are characteristic of the plant.)
As for the flower, it can be tossed with a salad, steeped into tea, or turned into wine.
Dandelions have medicinal value.
For thousands of years, various parts of the dandelion plant have been used to naturally detoxify the body and support healthy liver function and kidney function.
The herb is well-documented as a diuretic, hence its other French name, pis en lit (which sounds much more romantic than its English translation, “piss the bed.”)
Dandelions have been used holistically to stimulate the appetite, settle upset stomach, improve skin issues, encourage breastmilk production, and treat a host of other ailments including heartburn, mastitis, inflammation, constipation, and hormonal imbalance.
Preliminary animal studies also suggest that dandelions may help normalize blood sugar and lower cholesterol.
Anyone under the age of 10 loves a good dandelion patch.
I remember skipping down the sidewalk and picking every dandelion globe in my path, giving a mighty blow and watching with delight as the puffs fluttered through the air.
Little did I know at that young age that I was inadvertently distributing the seeds far and wide. To me, the puffs were akin to fairy dust, or a mini snowstorm in my arid hometown of Las Vegas.
And who doesn’t love the whimsy of a dandelion clock? You know: the childhood game where the number of breaths needed to blow away all the seeds is the hour of day. It might be three o’clock or ten o’clock or twenty o’clock, but no matter — you can try and try again until you get it right.
I also remember lying on the grass on a lazy afternoon with my friends, making dandelion crowns for ourselves and our dolls. Or dipping the flowers in paint and stamping them onto paper to make an abstract masterpiece for the fridge. Or picking a handful of flowers to bring home and put into a glass of water — something I still do to this day, as a cheery little bouquet of blooms always makes me smile.
So I will try again, here: dandelions are wonderful because they’re part of nature’s calendar. A cheerful spring yellow, they tell us summer is on its way, that the end of winter is finally in sight. They remind us of childhood, of blowing “dandelion clocks” (and, in my case, being told off for spreading the seed by our gardener parents). But most importantly they’re an essential source of food for insects that so desperately need it at this time of year. Dandelion pollen isn’t particularly nutritious, compared to that of clover and vetches, but it’s available when little else is about.
And that’s why they’re so valuable: dandelions are simply there, from March through to November, a reliable source of food for all manner of bees, beetles, butterflies and hoverflies. I’ve seen hordes of pollen beetles crammed on to dandelion flowers in late February, presumably getting their first fix of pollen of the year.
I’ve seen many types of bee visiting dandelions and I’ve rescued grounded bumblebees by popping them on a dandelion flower, watching them probe the florets for life-giving nectar they would have surely died without. My favourite bumblebee, the red-tailed Bombus lapidarius, apparently prefers yellow blooms and it’s this one I see most on dandelions, the yellow of the flowers bringing out the rich black and red velvety coat. I’m fizzing with excitement at seeing them together again.
And yet most of us miss out on all this joy, of seeing insects on dandelions, because we pull them out, pour poison on them, blast them with flame guns or drown them in water.
We’re told, from the moment we start gardening, that we mustn’t trust weeds, that we mustn’t let them flower or seed, that there are other, prettier ways to feed the bees. But some bees really like dandelions. Tiny bees, like the solitary Andrena and Halictus species, or the red mason bee, Osmia bicornis, which uses our bee hotels. And it’s not just bees, or butterflies or hoverflies that visit dandelions. Some species of moth use dandelions as a caterpillar food plant. They include the glorious garden tiger, which has declined by 92 per cent in the last 40 years. Then, after flowering, dandelion seeds are eaten by goldfinches and house sparrows.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t let dandelions flower everywhere. They have free rein of my lawn, which I mow every three weeks, allowing them and other weeds to flourish between cuts. On the allotment I let them flower in “wild” areas, little patches of long grass and the space in front of my log pile. They can seed themselves on to the path or into my nettle patch if they want to, but I don’t let them take hold in the beds.
Every spring our yards are filled with the bright, sunny appearance of dandelions. Well, at least I think they’re bright and sunny. Many people view the common dandelion as a weed, and wage a small war to eradicate the plant from their lawns.
Personally, I welcome the appearance of spring dandelions for one reason: I love to eat them.
I know, it sounds strange. Why on earth would someone want to eat dandelions?
Well, this innocuous “weed” is actually one of the most nutrient-dense plants you can eat. It blows superfoods like spinach and kale out of the water. Everything, from the flower all the way down to the roots, is edible. And, dandelions also happen to be delicious. The taste of dandelion resembles a slightly bitter green like arugula. You can eat them fresh in salads, or cook them on the stove.
The best part about eating dandelions just might be the price. Since they grow wild pretty much everywhere in the country, you have a completely free food source right in your backyard.
Nutrients and Health Benefits
Dandelions have been used in herbal medicine for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The benefits of this common plant will probably surprise you.
For instance, one half cup of dandelions contain more calcium than a glass of milk, and more iron than spinach. One cup of dandelion greens contains 19 mg of Vitamin C, and the leaves contain more Vitamin A than carrots. And if you need some Vitamin K in your life, there’s no better source than dandelion leaves; 55 mg of leaves contain a whopping 535% of your daily value.
Dandelions are also chock full of other essential minerals such as potassium, folic acid, and magnesium.
And that’s not all. According to The New Age Herbalist by Richard Mabey, dandelion leaves are a great source of fiber (which helps relieve constipation). The high fiber content also makes you feel full, making it a great food to eat if you’re trying to cut calories and lose weight. They also help stabilize your blood sugar, making it a great food for diabetics.
Dandelions are also incredibly high in antioxidants, and because they are a diuretic, they help cleanse your body of toxins.
So, are you convinced yet? This sunny little weed is awesome, and I look forward to harvesting them every year. So how exactly do you do it?
How to Harvest Dandelions
Although dandelions grow through the fall, the best time to harvest dandelions is in the spring. Dandelions get bitter the older they get, so if you can pluck them young you’re going to experience a sweeter flavor. However, I ate dandelion leaves all last spring and summer, and enjoyed them all.
The cool thing about dandelions is their unique look. There’s really no other plant or herb that closely resembles the dandelion, which is why many herbalists consider it to be one of the safest plants to harvest wild. The distinct, jagged leaves and bright yellow flower is familiar to all of us.
Now, there are a few words of warning about harvesting dandelions.
- Never harvest any dandelions close to a road. They can pick up pollution.
- Never harvest dandelions from an industrial lot, or any space where past pollution might have been an issue.
- Never harvest dandelions from a yard where pesticides and fertilizers have been used.
Dandelions often grow where land has been disturbed. So, roadsides and medians are common places to find them. I always pick dandelions right out of my own yard (since I never use pesticides or fertilizers), but I also pick them from a huge field in my neighborhood. I know the field (which is owned by the local elementary school) is never sprayed by chemicals, so it’s another safe source.
Dandelion Leaves & Greens
Now when it comes to harvesting, you want to try to pick the youngest leaves, which will be located on the inside of the growth. The oldest (and bitterest) leaves will always be on the outside. You’ll get the best greens from dandelions that haven’t yet produced a yellow flower.
To harvest the leaves, simply pluck them out of the ground and collect them in a basket or bag you have with you. They’ll keep for a day or two in the fridge, but personally I like to take them right inside and cook them immediately. They’re so delicious!
If you happen upon a plant that just produced a crown (a densely packed circle of small leaves that are just about to produce the yellow flower) then by all means pick it. Crowns are the sweetest parts of the plant!
The flowers are also edible as well. To harvest the buds, simply pluck them off the green stem. Try to separate the flower from the green base, which is very bitter.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also harvest the root. Yes, dandelion root is edible and you might be amazed at what you can do with it. Dandelion root can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. And yes, I’ve drank dandelion coffee many times; I have a bag of roasted dandelion root in my kitchen right now. Heated and served with milk it is amazing (and far more nutritious than regular coffee)!
The best time to harvest dandelion root is in the spring, since this is where all the vitamins and minerals are stored during the cold months. Simply dig out the long tuber roots, clean them thoroughly in the sink, and chop them into pieces just as you would a carrot.
So, now that you have a basket full of dandelion flowers, leaves and roots, how do you cook them? In the next part of this series, I show you how to cook dandelions (including roasting the root for coffee), and I pass along some of my favorite dandelion greens recipes for you to try!
First, though, I’d love to hear back from you. Have you ever eaten dandelions? Would you ever give them a try?