A big nuisance or actually rather necessary? What are they and why don’t we like them. To answer this question, we need to first define what a weed is…
They are defined as plants that grow in areas that we don’t want them to grow. There are many plants that are considered weeds. With a little bit of training, common weeds can tell us a lot about the soil conditions in our garden especially regarding drainage, nutrient deficiency and pH levels. There are many misconceptions about weeds so we thought we’d do a series on them; what they say about your garden and what benefits they offer. First in the series is one of the most common weeds and one that everyone knows…
The Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale
This highly underrated plant was originally native to Europe and has now naturalized throughout the world – most commonly in the US and right here in South Africa. Interestingly, the name dandelion is from the French – Dents de lion(Teeth of the lion) – apparently for the shape of its leaves. Although most of us have the urge to pull out dandelions when we see them, they actually tell us a lot about the soil conditions. Being a hardy pioneer species, dandelions tend to grow in soil that is poor and low in fertility and high in acidity. So, if you have dandelions growing in your garden it could be an indication that your soil needs a fertility boost or your soil or water are fairly acidic.
Benefits of Dandelions to the soil and your garden
Dandelions have long taproots which, like the desirable and very useful Comfrey, grow deep into the base layers of the soil. This enables the plant to accumulate minerals like calcium and iron which other more shallow rooting plants, cannot access. This of course can be useful when the plant dies, it releases all those elements on the surface for other plants to suck up. If dandelions aren’t ripped out of the ground by the over-eager gardener, when they die, their roots will aid with soil building by decomposing in situ. These weeds are incredibly beneficial compost activators and added to compost will speed up the decomposition process.
As dandelions have strong, deep taproots systems, they benefit soil-borne invertebrates like earthworms by creating channels that act like elevator shafts, allowing them to penetrate deeper into the soil than they might otherwise. Dandelions also attract pollinators like bees and other beneficial insects like ladybirds and hover flies which in turn help to reduce the more harmful aphids and other pests. Dandelions are also producers of ethylene, a gas which is known for ripening fruit – an excellent companion for fruit trees! So while we think dandelions are unsightly and undesirable in our gardens, they truly do a lot more than we think.
Health and dietary uses of Dandelions
Dandelion are said to be rich in vitamins A, B, C and D – all excellent for overall health and wellness especially for bones, hair and teeth. Leaves can be served as an accompaniment in a salad or as an addition to a salsa verde. Lutolin and other compounds present in dandelion may help treat liver and kidney issues. They may also aid in stimulating and promoting digestion. It is also believed that dandelions may help with urinary disorders. The sap or milk of the Dandelion is said to be useful in treating skin diseases by microbial and fungal infections. The sap can apparently also be used to relieve itches. For teens dandelion juice can be used as a treatment for acne as it believed to be a good detoxifier and antioxidant. Further documented uses we found are for constipation, anaemia and high blood pressure. It is also said to be a good source of fibre.
After writing this blog, we are definitely more aware of the great benefits of the humble dandelion, we hope you found it as interesting as we did, happy gardening!