In Praise of the Dandelion by Paula Carnell
More than just a pretty face, dandelions re-nourish soil, feed bees and somehow communicate with insects, says natural beekeeper Paula Carnell.
My favourite honey is dandelion. I can state this with confidence as I have over 300 varieties in my personal collection and have tasted many hundreds of honeys from around the world; as a Honey Judge. The creamy texture, gorgeous sunshiny colour, and the taste of chamomile flowers. (The aroma is distinctive - smelly socks, ammonia - but worth ignoring to appreciate this rich, flavoursome honey.)
But honey is not the only reason I am so passionate about this common ‘weed’.
Orchard growers have been advised to mow dandelions if they are blooming alongside fruit blossoms, as the bees will favour them instead. (Crane, 2018) So what is it about them that attracts bees so much?
I often refer to the Welsh Botanic Gardens’ research on the honey their own bees produced. Despite more than 8,000 species of plants in their gardens, analysis on their honey showed the bees preferred hazel, willow, alder, bramble, clover and dandelion. This surely indicates that a wild plant contains more nutrition than a cultivated one? Dandelion honey has been shown to be a combination of glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, fructomaltose and melezitose with 12 identified amino acids - certainly more nutritious than white sugar!
Over the years I have been connecting snippets of wisdom from various beekeepers and plant experts and combining them with my own learnings through my herbal medicine studies.
Jacqueline Freeman’s book Song of Increase discusses how the bees’ buzz records the location of various mineral sources in nectar, and the march of dandelions and other wildflowers across the land.
Dandelions have long tap roots which delve deep into the soil. They break down and process the solid ‘metallic mineral’ form of potassium and calcium. In the new easily digestible form these minerals are easily absorbed by the insects that need the nectar and pollen; the humans that eat the leaves or root - and the soil into which they rot.
The real magic is that the seeds of a dandelion will only root in soil that REQUIRES those minerals. If this is only one plant, imagine the work done by thousands of other plants, thought of as weeds, that appear randomly and re-balance our soil.
Isobella Tree in her book Wilding shares an incredible story of their project in Knepp, Southern England. Using a completely ‘hands off’ approach to wilding, they found much of their land covered in thistles, to the annoyance of neighbouring farms. Patience soon resolved the issue when they woke one day to millions of painted lady butterflies drawn from across the channel in France to their thistles to mate and lay eggs. The caterpillars, rapidly ate the thistles, leaving no trace. The purpose of the thistles completed, new ‘weeds’ were free to take seed in the fields.
This story made me wonder how the butterflies, thought to be almost extinct in that area, knew the thistles were there. Scent and colour would surely not reach across the English Channel? This is where the frequency emitted by plants by means of communication to insects steps in. A pure electrical wave, like a song, calling the pollinators, with details of nectar and pollen contents. It is now accepted science that trees communicate using such frequencies via the mycelia-coated roots, yet when first suggested, it was thought of as crazy.
The first settlers to North America brought their own herbal seeds to sow for medicine. They were amazed to meet the native Americans, so tall, strong and healthy. The settlers asked for advice and the natives shared their wisdom of the plants and their natural medicine cabinet. When asked how they knew which plants were medicinal, the reply was, ‘they tell us’.
Sadly, this response was merely confirmation that the natives were ‘savages’ instead of what we now realise - that they had true connection to their environment.
I believe that our intuition is our connection to nature. As a beekeeper I, and I know many others, are more in tune with our intuition, sensing when bees welcome our intervention, and when they don’t! Also the placing of hives, where we ‘feel’ would be an ideal spot. Could it be that as humans we can return to communion with nature, understanding the messages sent out by plants and insects constantly?
My mission is to share the story of the dandelion, it’s importance as a soil improver, an important early spring forage for bees, and naturally, a medicine for humans, either raw or in the form of delicious dandelion honey. Dandelions have been used to detoxify and as a diuretic, with a study in 2004 finding the root has marked anti-cancer activity. Surely some of these benefits must be transferred into the honey? We have to stop poisoning these important plants, and see them for what they really are, millions of rays of pure sunshine, shared with us through ‘Vitamin Bee’.
Paula is a naturopathic beekeeper, speaker and author of Artist to Bees and Bees in Bhutan. Find out more at www.paula.carnell.com.