Are dandelions friends or foes? Delicacies or weeds?

It’s that time of year again. Sunny yellow blossoms pop up all over the landscape, bringing smiles to children’s faces — and frowns to those who favor manicured lawns. Love ‘em, hate ‘em or don’t pay them much attention, there’s a lot to be said about dandelions (Taraxacum officianale).

Its common name comes from the French “dent de lion,” meaning lion’s teeth, a reference to the appearance of its leaves. Native to Eurasia, dandelions were introduced to North America in the 1600s by colonists who grew them for medicine and food.

Dandelions return year after year, producing the familiar yellow flowers from spring into summer. Popular advice says to let them continue to grow in spring as an early nectar source. Indeed, if there’s little else in bloom in the area, dandelions will provide a welcome food source for bees and other insects, and their seeds will provide food as well as nesting material for birds.


Historically, people have consumed dandelions as both food and drink. The tender young leaves or a sprinkling of petals make a tasty addition to salads. More mature leaves can be eaten like spinach, boiled or steamed.

You’ve probably heard of dandelion wine, but did you know roasted dandelion root can be steeped and served as a coffee substitute? The roots, leaves and flowers are edible and can be used to brew an herbal tea. You can find more information at

A word of caution: If you do decide to nibble on a dandelion flower, make a salad with dandelion leaves or brew a cup of dandelion tea, harvest only from areas that are free of contaminants, such as road salts, pesticides or lawn treatments, be sure to rinse them well and be certain you’ve positively identified the plant.

Dandelions contain Vitamin C and beta carotene (an antioxidant that the body converts to vitamin A) and other important vitamins and minerals. They’ve historically played a part in folk medicine, and some people have used dandelions as health remedies. However, you should always consult with your doctor before trying any such remedy.

Once their flowers pass, dandelions produce a round head of seeds adorned with white fluff that flies easily on the breeze or a puff of breath. Those seedheads have amused children of all ages, but if you’re concerned about a dandelion invasion, be sure to remove the flowers before they go to seed or you may find a field of dandelions in bloom next spring.

There are a number of ways to deal with unwanted dandelions in your garden. They have a long taproot, so trying to pull them by hand can be a chore. If you don’t remove the entire root, the plant can grow back.

Fortunately, there are a variety of tools that work well to remove dandelions. They include specialty hand weeders and long-handled, clawed weeders, which remove dandelions with a simple twist.

If you opt to use an herbicide for removal, be sure to select one intended for dandelions and apply according to the label’s directions.

If you don’t see the need for a pristine, monoculture carpet of green for your lawn, let dandelions grow and simply mow them with the grass. Why? Because those long taproots that make them so difficult to remove benefit your lawn by aerating compacted soil.

The next time you see a dandelion’s yellow flower, remember, it’s so much more than just a weed.

(Deborah J. Benoit is a University of Vermont Extension master gardener from North Adams, Mass., who is part of the Bennington County Chapter.)