As far as prolific growth and prevalence go, the dandelion is definitely Berlin’s plant of the moment. Yellow blossoms are carpeting every median strip and every unoccupied patch of grass in the city…
…at least, everywhere I’ve been lately (although in Treptower Park today, wild garlic and daisies were giving it some competition). I even had the opportunity to find out how dandelions look when they are sleeping, which I tried to capture in a flash photo:
Dandelions are a forager’s dream. Almost every part of the plant is edible: the roots can be roasted and ground as a coffee supplement or substitute, much like chicory; the young leaves can be added to salads or sautéed; and the flowers are good for making syrup or dandelion wine. The puffs of seeds are the only part for which I’ve never heard of a culinary use, but there are plenty of other fun things to do with them. However, in the city, it can be a challenge to find an unpolluted spot to gather them, where you know whether pesticides, contaminated soil or animal waste are a concern. In this matter, people with their own gardens have an advantage.
Culinary uses aside, dandelions are pretty interesting urban plant specimens in their own right. Because they are so widespread, they play a role in numerous languages and cultures. The Wikipedia article on dandelion explains, among other fascinating things, that each of several different characteristics of the plant turn up in its name in several different languages. Some names describe its toothlike leaves (dandelion comes from the French dent de leon, lion’s tooth); others, its diuretic properties (Fr. pissenlit, It. piscialletto, piss the bed).
I also like dandelions for their sheer pluck. They are brave little colonizers not just of lawns, but more notably, of countless little nooks and crannies that you’d think would simply be uninhabitable. They make their home in cracks in the sidewalk, gaps between buildings and pavement, and clogged gutters. They are the very picture of tenacity and adaptability.
Is it also dandelion season where you are? Send us a picture this coming week, or a favorite dandelion recipe: urbanplantresearch at gmail dot com, or, if you are on Instagram, tag your picture #urbanplants. We’ll post a selection on Friday.