Years ago, I loved gardening. I wasn’t a wonderful gardener, but spent many happy hours digging in the dirt.
I loved the feel of the soft, mellow soil on my bare feet.
When we first moved to Kansas 40 years ago, it took a while to find out how different it is to garden in Kansas than Canada.
Peas and spinach have to be planted in late February or early March, when our garden in Canada was still covered with snow.
And it’s impossible to grow lettuce in Kansas in the middle of the summer.
I also found that the northern asters and snapdragons didn’t take kindly to our hot summers. Gradually, I began planting native grasses and flowers with good results.
During that experimental stage, I tried all kinds of unusual things. Blueberries, which failed because our soil was too alkaline and the weather too hot.
After that, I tried garden huckleberries as a substitute for blueberries, a plant from the tomato family. But no one wanted to eat them!
Then I planted a few “exotic” plants: burdock and dandelions. Yes, I actually bought seed from a garden catalogue!
I planted the burdock for nostalgia purposes. It reminded me of a time long ago, when I used to sit on the ground and play house, using the huge burdock leaves for plates.
Today, when all my other “experiments” are long gone, these two sturdy plants still flourish. Just last week, in fact, we had a delicious salad of dandelion greens.
The dandelion is a perennial plant with a long, sturdy tap root, which means you can cut it down before it flowers and the plant will come back next year with more fresh, nutritious salad greens.
A serving of dandelion greens gives you iron, calcium, and potassium, as well as vitamins A, C, and K.
While we only use the leaves for salads, the flowers often are used to make dandelion wine while the roots can be ground and roasted as a coffee substitute.
The dandelion also has medicinal properties and traditionally was used by the native Canadians, the Chinese, and European herbalists, and it still can be bought in health stores today.
Dandelion root sometimes is used for liver and gallbladder problems, and dandelion leaves are a natural diuretic.
The dandelion also is used to help normalize blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, assist with urinary tract infections, and support kidney function.
Of course, as with all herbs, you have to be careful about interactions if you are taking prescription medicine.
With all of its nutritional and medicinal properties, I would like to know why the dandelion is seen as a “pesky weed” today!
It makes me think of the star-crossed lovers from feuding families in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
Juliet lamented, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.”
What’s in a name? Capulet or Montague? Weed or vegetable?
Take a few moments this spring to really look at that “pesky weed” before you pull it. Pick a few leaves and make a tasty salad.
Then think about other names that might be limiting what you see in the world around you.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.visit-snider.com