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Hunger Games Offers New Hope for the Dandelion

This dandelion, growing in a sidewalk, was spotted this morning.

This dandelion, growing in a sidewalk, was spotted this morning.

I spotted my first dandelion today. Warmed by the surrounding pavement, it was popping up through a corner crack in a sidewalk.

Every year when the first dandelion sighting happens, usually later than this year, I quietly pay homage to my late grandmother, for whom spring was the best season of all. With the canning cupboard and freezer picked bare by mid to late April, Gram would dig all the dandelions from her lawn and then trudge door to door down Reeves Road in Bradford, Maine, and ask the neighbors if she could dig theirs, too.

Home at the end of the day, her hands soiled and raw, she’d proudly display her “good mess of greens” and then force feed her fresh spoils to me.

“They’re good for what ails ya,” she would say amidst my protests.

Killing dandelions, of course, is now a multi-billion dollar industry. In the past two generations since my childhood, petrochemical companies and their clever marketers have convinced folks that they’re somehow un-American if they allow dandelions to grow on their lawns. Most people now seem to think of the yellow flowers as emblems of decadence, of unworthiness to reside in the best neighborhoods.

Hatred of dandelions, to me, is a symbol of all that’s gone wrong with modern American values.

NEW HOPE FOR THE NUTRITIOUS FLOWER

Lately, however, I’ve been hearing more and more about the once lowly dandelion. The newest literary phenomenon has the blogs buzzing about Gram’s favorite food.

“I can’t stand to watch myself any longer, so I turn into the alley,” says Katniss, the lead character in The Hunger Games. “Growing through a crack in the pink and grey paving stones is a single yellow dandelion. Peeta. I bend down, pluck the flower from its home, lift it to eye-level. And I watch as my hands and fingers sprout flames that engulf the dandelion in a flash.”

Later in the story, Katniss — who is herself named for a different edible pond “weed” — has another encounter with what the French call dent-de-lion.

“I had just turned away from Peeta Mellark’s bruised face when I saw the dandelion and I knew hope wasn’t lost,” writes author Suzanne Collins in Katniss’s voice. “I plucked it carefully and hurried home. I grabbed a bucket and Prim’s hand and headed to the Meadow and yes, it was dotted with the golden-headed weeds. After we’d harvested those, we scrounged along inside the fence for probably a mile until we filled the bucket with the dandelion greens, stems and flowers.”

Readers, especially young people, are now asking: “What’s with all the dandelion references?” Teachers are assigning essays to their students with the question: “What does the dandelion represent?”

In her post-apocalyptic tale, the Connecticut-based author offers her own answer in Mockinjay, the third book of her trilogy: “What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again.”

Outside on the lawns, parks and playgrounds, it can be good again, too. All we need to do is look to the North, in Canada, where it’s against the law to apply synthetic chemicals to kill dandelions in most provinces and municipalities. All we need to do is study recipes from celebrity cooks like Martha Stewart, who publish dandelion recipes galore.

And all we need to do, ultimately, is to look into the faces of our children. They love the dandelion flowers and seed heads the same way we did, even if they protest at the taste just like Mommy and Daddy. Eventually we all learn that Gram knew best.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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