Dandy Lion Pickin’ Time….

Late Spring and late Autumn are the traditional times to pull up danelions for their roots, and today is my day. The first flowers have all died and released their seeds and Butch’s brother-son, Bobbie, and the chickens have done a great job of mowing the front yard for me this past week, so the time has come to pull up taproots for food and medicine.

I didn’t pull dandelions last Spring because it was my first year here and I didn’t want to disturb the ground until I saw everything that grows. I transplanted some dock and St. John’s Wort already, and I’m waiting for this ugly Affrikan hummingbird plant, “Lucifer Crocosmia,” to send up stronger greenery before I move all of the corms to a better location. I dug up gnarly rose canes from old field roses that were evidently mowed down for years without being allowed to flower to live in their own bed along the front walkway stairs, and I dropped wildfower seeds and planted garlic bulbs in amongst them to help them along.

The ancient lilac bush above the house gave me one lone flower stalk; last year she gave me nothing. I’m torn about how I should proceed in trimming her back more effectively, as the chickens love to nest in her shady branches and find shelter there from the hawks, and I don’t want to take their refuge away from them, but I miss having lilacs, and the season for them is almost gone.

When I was growing up, my Grandma Susan had a lilac hedge that ran along the whole backside boundary of her acreage from the East to the West. Behind the hedge was a low, ancient white picket fence put up by her neighbour to the South, and a small, shallow, gurgling pebble-strewn creek that meandered through the backsides of both their gardens. There were violets and lily-of-the-valley planted in thick carpets underneath, and white and pink peonies every few feet that dropped their sugar syrup in thick, amber rivulets for hordes of tiny black ants that made a nuisance of themselves everytime I went under the hedge to read a book, take a nap, or dream up faerie tales in my head. According to her, Grandma’s own mother, my great-grandmother, Bessie Olive, had planted all of these things there whilst my great-Grandfather, Donald, was still building the house that had been passed down. At some point Grandma taught me how to trim the lilacs so that they would bloom ever more furiously the next season, and I eagerly set to work, standing precariously in barefeet on a tall upholstered kitchen stool with a squishy seat, whacking away with hedge trimmers and kitchen shears at the beautiful hedge every weekend during the season, stuffing the trunk of my parents’ car until it could hold no more with mounds and armfuls of lilacs that I would trim up and shove tightly into vases laced with aspirin, lemon slices and epsom salt so that my whole bedroom looked and smelled like a lilac bush had grown there. The sickly odor of the last lilacs turning sour and grey in my bedroom always marked the sad end of summer for me, and I have missed the opportunity of that experience for ages. But something absolutely has to be done about this bush if I ever hope to have lilacs in my bedroom once more. Sometime this next week I’ll pull out the hedge saw and start cutting back everything that doesn’t belong on a healthy plant in the hopes of new growth next year. For today, it’s back to the dandelion harvest.

Dandelions are only weeds when they are unwanted. In my yard, they are a valuable medicinal. The leaves when they are dried can be given to the chickens (they don’t like them freshly cut), and once the roots are scrubbed clean and dried, I can do myriad things with them – roast them for coffee, make tinctures for stomach upset and kidney health, grind them to dust for astringent drawing poultices to treat wounds won in all of my many bloody tangles with blackberry thickets and unseen gnomish attackers in the woods. Dandelions are the food of Springtime and, now that their harvested flowers have been steeped into tea and frozen until I have time later on to make wine, it is well to take the remaining harvest now before the weather heats up and their chemistry changes. Most herbalists like to wait until Autumn when all of the sap is drawn down from the summer leaves and the taproots become most potent, but for most things I prefer the less bitter, more mild harvest that I’ll get today.

I can think of worse ways to spend a cool, overcast Sunday afternoon….

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