It is definitely dandelion season here, the bright yellow blossoms bursting forth everywhere they are allowed to grow. Where I grew up, dandelions were non-existent. My family home had no dandelions. Nor did our neighborhood. This was by design. Chemicals were used to eliminate them.
Growing up with this lack of tolerance for them, surely affected my own ideas of dandelions–at least for a time. I saw dandelions as something that needed to be eliminated. And then I became a beekeeper.
Once I became a beekeeper, I learned how valuable dandelions are to honey bees. One flower is actually 100 florets, each providing pollen and nectar. Scientists believe that dandelion pollen is a high-quality pollen which contributes to worker longevity. Pollen is critical for feeding honey bee brood, or baby honey bees. Without enough good-quality pollen, honey bees may fail to increase hive population enough to survive. Honey bees like dandelions so much that some apple farmers are known to mow them down during apple blossom time, as honeybees may choose to visit a dandelion flower instead of an apple blossom (and they love apple blossoms.)
Dandelions are also a rich food source for native bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects. Goldfinches and house sparrows eat the seed of dandelions.
For people, dandelions offer great nutrition and medicine. The greens are high in Vitamin A, K, C, calcium and iron. They also contain potassium, thiamine, riboflavin, and other trace minerals. Some other uses for the leaf and root include kidney and liver ailments, constipation, kidney stones, poor digestion, poor circulation, arthritis, water retention, skin conditions, colds, and imbalances of blood sugar. The root can also be ground into a coffee substitute. A tea made using its leaves helps calm stomach aches.
Dandelions are also good for the soil, with their deep roots accumulating potassium, phosphorus, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, and silicon, while loosening the soil.
The War Against Dandelions
The most common way to get rid of dandelions is to use a “weed and feed” product for the grass. Each year Americans apply an estimated 27 million pounds of “weed and feed” products–in part to kill dandelions. A mix of three herbicides, 2,4-D, dicamba and mecoprop, are typically blended together. The mixture kills broadleaf plants, such as dandelions, while sparing grass.
2, 4-D was 50% of “Agent Orange”, the chemical mixture used against Vietnam during the Vietnam war. A list of veteran diseases linked to the exposure of Agent Orange, can be found here.
2, 4-D can cause cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, kidney/liver damage, and is toxic to dogs, fish, birds, earthworms and beneficial insects. And you guessed it–2, 4-D is toxic to bees too. This chemical has been found to reduce honey bee offspring. In addition 2, 4-D has the potential to contaminate groundwater, with low concentrations detected in surface water and drinking water in the U.S.
Dicamba causes skin and eye irritations, muscle cramps, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, skin rashes, and loss of voice. Neurological effects have been noted in dogs. Exposures to dicamba doubles the risk of contracting cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, two decades after exposure. Dicamba can evaporate and drift easily, which means you could be affected if your neighbor uses it.
Mecoprop has the potential to cause cancer and birth defects.
Really? All this risk to ourselves and loved ones so we can get rid of some weeds? An overreaction that smells like madness, if you ask me. Keep in mind that there is no “safe” dosage of these chemicals, since scientists know that individuals can react differently to chemicals, with children being the most vulnerable.
But I need to ‘fess up. All my gushing for the dandelion, and I don’t embrace them everywhere. Despite their good, they do spread quickly. So we compromise. They get to stay in our back orchard area. And boy do they like it there. For our front lawn by the street, I hand-pick them out with my “dandelion digger”. Or if they move too fast for me, we mow them with a bag on the mower. But never any chemicals.
How do you feel about dandelions? Is it time to make peace with this cheery yellow flower?