Is there a more cheering sight than the sunshine-yellow blooms of this common park and garden plant that thrives in even the most difficult of conditions? Those who like their lawns pristine might beg to differ, but the humble dandelion is not a weed - it's an oh-so versatile flower that heralds the arrival of spring. But that's not the only reason to love this wonderful plant. Here's five more:
Regarded by many as a pernicious weed, the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is relatively indestructible. It will flourish almost anywhere, including the smallest of cracks in a footpath or wall. That's largely because dandelions have long tap roots that are able to seek out water and nutrients in hard to reach places. It's also super-effective at propagating itself thanks to its glorious seed heads which disperse far and wide.
Let the dandelion flourish in your garden and the birds, bees and butterflies will thank you. It is the pollinator's best friend and will provide a valuable source of food, particularly in the early part of spring when bees emerge from hibernation. Each flower is made up of dozens of individual florets, each one packed with juicy pollen and nectar. And when they go to seed, birds such as house sparrows and goldfinches will also enjoy feasting on them.
There is a lot of folklore and superstition associated with the dandelion. If you make a wish while blowing on the seedhead, it is said that your wish will come true. You can tell the time by the number of puffs it takes you to disperse the seeds - so two puffs equals two o'clock, three puffs equals three o'clock and so on. Other myths suggest that the dandelion, once it has seeded, can act as a barometer for the weather: when good conditions are on the way it will extend into a full ball; when it's bad it will fold up and remain tightly closed.
Every single part of the dandelion - flower, stalks, leaves and roots - is edible. You can turn the flowers into wine, fry the flowers, make tea out of the stem and seeds, and use the leaves in salads. The leaves also make a sensational tasty pesto if ground up with a little good-quality olive oil, some garlic, pine nuts and parmesan cheese, perfect to have with freshly made pasta.
The dandelion is generally valued for its good looks, but this plant also has many medicinal benefits. It is rich in vitamins (A and C), iron, calcium and antioxidants. It can boost bone health, alleviate acne and help with everything from liver disorders to high blood pressure, urinary problems to jaundice. The dandelion is also said to promote weight loss. In all honesty, what's not to like?