PAXSON — There aren't many dandelions here yet. Paxson Lake is still ice-covered and the willow leaves are tucked away. Green grass, varying hares and porcupines are on the road edges, but alas, dandelions are in short supply. I get incredulous looks when I pick dandelions and put them in a bucket. I have asked if I can pick dandelions from someone's lawn and typically get the sideways look (it's just that kooky dude from Paxson — let him go ahead).
But why do folks hate dandelions?
Two years ago, Alaska Dispatch News ran an article by some guy who wanted to rid his world of dandelions. Where does this mentality come from? While it is true that Taraxacum officinale is a non-native transplant, dandelions came over on the Mayflower, as did we. We came on purpose; so did dandelions.
Dandelions were likely brought to America for their medicinal benefits. They carry a ton of vitamin C (there was no scurvy on the Mayflower). Dandelions also are high in vitamins A, B, and D. They have substantial amounts of potassium, zinc and calcium. They have been used for thousands of years to treat all types of liver issues. The roots are used to stimulate appetite. One can make wine from the flowers. They secrete a natural latex.
German scientists have successfully enhanced the production of latex through cultivation. Continental Tire has been testing tires made from dandelion blends the past few years and finally has some on the road. Red dye is made from dandelion roots. The fresh juice has antibacterial properties and can be used to heal cuts. A salve made from the base of its leaves helps fade freckles.
The list goes on and on.
I don't wish to make wine or red dye, but our horses love dandelions. Our reindeer go crazy for them, too, and they're the first thing hares eat. Porcupines prefer them to fireweed. All non-native transplants aren't noxious weeds. Potatoes aren't native to Alaska either. Nor are apples. Yet we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to grow them. We put fertilizers in the ground that may not be organic, either.
In futile attempts to eradicate the plant the French named "Lion's Tooth," Alaskans spray toxic chemicals on their lawns. But these beautiful, beneficial yellow flowers continue to flourish whether we want them or not.
"Not" is the word for many folks. The National Park Service spends many hours removing the plants from the roadside — because dandelions are not natural and the road is? I have trouble seeing the downside of these plants.
Someone explain to me why city dwellers remove dandelions from their lawns, then spend money at the greenhouse on marigolds they plant. When I drive by their yards, it's tough to tell the difference.
Tastes like spinach
Go for it; pull the dandelions from your lawn. But leave some. They have long tap roots that pull up nutrients for more shallow-rooted plants. They also attract pollinating insects to your other plants.
And save the ones you pull. Young greens can be sauteed in olive oil and garlic, delivering a taste similar to spinach. Mature greens should be boiled for a couple minutes, drained, and boiled again for two more minutes. This technique removes the bitterness. Again, use garlic, salt and olive oil.
A recipe I have not tried is dandelion fritters. Pull the flower heads, being sure to take off the stem, but leave the base of the flower so it holds together. Mix a batter using a cup of milk, one cup of flour and an egg. Salt to taste. Rinse the flowers to keep from eating the bugs that also love dandelions. Dip flowers in the batter and fry them hot. Some cooks use beer instead of milk.
I spent a fair amount of time researching dandelions and did not find any information on why it is a bad thing to have beautiful flowers growing in one's yard. My guess is that a chemical salesman started a rumor that dandelions are pests. The woman in Denali National Park who is responsible for removing alien plants answers her phone as the "dandelion queen." I wonder what the park's varying hares think of that?
John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.