Those brilliant yellow disks growing in your yard were brought here on purpose. “Why,” you might moan, “would anyone purposely bring these plants to mess up my yard?”
Plenty of reasons. And all these reasons existed before having a solid uninterrupted expanse of green, no matter how large or small, was considered a necessity. In American heritage are cottage gardens growing food and herbs, hard packed dirt used as outdoor workspaces and out buildings for storage… and dandelions as part of the daily diet.
By the mid 1800’s folks began to have more leisure time with many wishing to emulate the wealthy of Europe. Those European lawns were mowed by herds of sheep, cared for by shepherds. Lawns take time, as anyone who has cared for an expanse of mono-cropped grass can attest. Lawn mowers could be used in place of sheep (which didn’t work so well on small lots, anyway) to give the appearance of being wealthy. Lawns became an outward expression of conformity and upward mobility.
The reel mower made having a lawn accessible to nearly everyone in the early 1900’s, then the gas-powered mower became available, and after WWII the use of chemicals to obtain the desired effect of perceived flawlessness.
So here is Jami’s overview of the war against dandelions: because of the desire to emulate the European elite, Americans have pushed the care of grass and keeping of a lawn to that of status symbol. In this pursuit American’s have developed the major of “Turf Science” as a field of study after converting chemicals that were developed for use in warfare for lawn maintenance. Who maintains lots of lawn? Golf courses.
A University of Iowa study found that working as a golf superintendent significantly increased one’s risk of getting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, brain cancer, lung cancer, large intestine cancer, and prostrate cancer. Other experts are starting to find that golfers, and non-golfers who live near golf courses, are experiencing similar health problems.
And that’s not all:
Beginning in the late 1970s there have been reports linking pesticides to leukemia in children. A 1987 study by the National Cancer Institute showed that children living in pesticide-treated homes had nearly a 4 times greater risk of developing leukemia (cancer of the blood). If the children lived in homes where pesticide was sprayed on lawns and gardens, the risk of developing leukemia was 6.5 times greater. All the children in the study were 10 years of age or younger. (Dr. John Peters, University of Southern California, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, July 1987.) (emphasis mine.)
Which is more important:
a pristine & prestigious mono-cropped green lawn,
prevention of cancer and leukemia?
Now Let’s raise a cup of dandelion tea to irony!
That cup of tea has garnered $217,000 for research into the effectiveness of dandelion tea to treat cancer. Dr. Siyaram Pandey of the University of Windsor, located in Ontario, Canada, created a simple formula of dandelion root and water to test whether there is an active ingredient found in dandelions that works to fight cancer cells. The same cancer cells found in leukemia caused by the chemicals used to create lawns. What the doctor found is that the dandelion caused the cancer cells to kill themselves’ (called apoptosis) while being non-toxic to normal cells.
Other claims of benefit from dandelions include:
1) the treatment of breast tumors
2) detox of vital organs
3) fights infections
4) helps with weight control
5) is a mild laxative
6) is beneficial to menopausal women
7) boosts immunity and memory associated with age-related memory loss
8) treats anemia
9) lowers blood sugar levels and may be used to treat Type-1 and Type-2 diabetes
10) relieves flatulence
11) is a natural diuretic (used to lower blood pressure & treat urinary tract infections)
12) helps reduce high cholesterol
13) it is an antioxidant food and a mood enhancer
14) treats acnes, eczema and psoriasis
15) is a good addition to your compost.
16) and have many other benefits, including being high in iron, potassium and B-vitamins.
Dandelions can be used as a salad green (best to use the tender small springtime greens) and the root in salads. The blossoms can be used to make wine and battered and fried as mushrooms. The root of the dandelion can be used as a caffeine free coffee alternative.
Be aware that although there are few side effects linked to the use of dandelions as a medicinal, talk to your doctor if you are pregnant or a nursing mother, or if you have or are being treated for any of the listed disorders before use.
Whether you would like to use the dandelion for food, as a medicine, or to avoid carcinogenic chemicals used to treat lawns, the call to action can be clear. If you treat your lawn, stop. If your neighbors treat their lawns, talk to them about the health concerns. Bring this topic up in conversations with neighbors, in neighborhood association meetings and write letters or call your local government officials to state your concerns.
NOTE: Since this article was originally published in April 2012, Dr. Siyaram Pandey has gained acceptance and support for his research. Click here to learn more about Dr. Pandey’s research at the Windsor Cancer Research Group.
Florida Native Plant Society