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Dandelions by Rhonda Feree

Take a new look at dandelions

URBANA, Ill. - Earth Day falls every year on April 22. Rhonda Ferree, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, recommends using the day to reflect about our world around us.

"You might even try to look at a small piece of our world from a completely different viewpoint," she said. "Take dandelions, for example. To many people the dandelion is a weedy pest that invades our lawns, but other people find many positive attributes in the plant.

"Kids love dandelions and enjoy collecting masses of blooms to give to their mothers. As a mother, I equally enjoy receiving the clumps of yellow blooms. My sons Derek and Tyler routinely gave me dandelions, and I loved every one. They don't last long, but the thought is what really matters," Ferree said.

Kids also love the seed heads that follow flowers. Who can't remember blowing dandelions and watching them float on the breeze?

"Dandelions actually have several uses, including culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, and commercial," she said. "For at least 1,000 years, the dandelion has been in constant use as both a food and a medicine. Like so many plants, its origins were in the Mediterranean regions of Europe and Asia Minor."

History shows that the dandelion was brought to this country for its culinary uses. There are even books that detail how to grow this "new" crop.

"About four pounds of seed to the acre should be allowed, sown in drills, one foot apart. The yield should be four or five tons of fresh roots to the acre in the second year," Ferree said.

Can you picture an entire field of dandelions?

Today dandelions are used commercially in the United States. Large quantities of the plant's leaves are used as fresh spring greens in many ethnic grocery stores and supermarkets.

"Dandelion roots are domestically grown for use in patent medicines, and more than 100,000 pounds are imported annually to fulfill the pharmaceutical needs," Ferree said.

In addition to the leaves, dandelions are cooked as a potherb or infused as a tea. One source said that it's the dandelion flowers that pack a wallop. Yes, the flowers are also edible.

"My grandma used to fry them like mushrooms in the early spring, and I enjoyed eating them," Ferree said.

Pamela Jones, the author of Just Weeds, said, "If you have never tasted dandelion herbal wine, it is one of the most elusive, delicately fragrant flavors imaginable, the color pure liquid gold."

So look at the dandelion differently on Earth Day. You might even celebrate the day with a salad of dandelion greens followed by fried flower heads and a glass of dandelion wine.

"Supposedly the best dandelions are found where no lawn mower has touched them," she said. "But it is of utmost importance to look for a lawn that has not been sprayed if you plan to eat from it."