Sunday, April 22, 2007


What’s blooming in the area: Apples, plum, bradford pear, white fence rows, purple-leafed flowering trees, first lilac, tulips, yellow iris, tansy and purple mustard, shepherd’s purse, hoary cress, stickseed whitebristle, alfilerillo, dandelion, native dandelion, downy chess grass.

What’s blooming in my yard: Peach, cherry, sand cherry, Siberian pea shrub, forsythia, grape hyacinth, hyacinth, daffodil, moss phlox, yellow alyssum, Mount Atlas daisy; buds on spirea, Bath pinks, and coral bells.

What’s blooming inside: Aptenia, kalanchoë, zonal geranium, coral honeysuckle.

What’s reviving in the area: Cottonwood leaves are beginning to fill the gaps between the bright green Siberian elms; leaves appearing on apricot, Russian olive, and Virginia creeper; sideoats gamma greening. Saturday men were burning weeds on the local chapel grounds; another crew was clearing and burning trash near the wide arroyo; several men were checking their dikes while their fields were flooding.

What’s reviving in my yard: Anthemis and coreopsis came up from seed; globeflower, baptista, Maximilian sunflower, chocolate and blanket flowers emerged; leaves appeared on tamarix; leaf buds showing on locust and rose of Sharon.

Animal sightings: Gopher attacked Maximilian sunflowers a few days after they emerged; large bumble bee on Siberian peas; black butterfly with white edges on its wings; horses were grazing near main road; turkeys were in a field near the orchards.

Weather: Waxing moon. Strong winds all week destroyed leaves on several newly planted roses; Russian thistle tumbleweeds collected on fences. Heavy clouds formed many days; yesterday they finally dropped less water than the winds had taken.

Weekly update: Dandelions are fabled forces of nature.

Years ago I read they weren’t widespread until the automobile. That urban legend assumes some mythic, prelapsarian world before European plants invaded, and blames technology for the despoliation.

In fact, John Josselyn saw the flowers in New England in the 1660's, centuries before Henry Ford. At that time, Nicholas Culpepper tells us, the French and Dutch on the continent were eating the leaves in the early spring while the English were using the taproot to treat urinary problems.

Its most common use as a diuretic entered European medicine through Córdova where a convert, Arib ibn Sa’d, included it in his gynecological treatise of 965. However, seeds winnowed from puffballs probably weren’t brought by the conquistadores: Hernández Bermejo and León note bitter greens like dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), chicory (Cichorium intybus), and comfrey (Symphytum officinale) disappeared from horticultural Spain with the reconquest.

When the milky-stemmed perennial appeared on Spanish lands in northern New Mexico, the settlers called it chicória (chicory) and consueldo (comfrey). Apparently all the colonists retained from their Iberian past were some words and a recognition the three species belonged to the same epistemological category.

They treated the actual plant as a curiosity to be tested until its utility could be discerned. None of the uses mentioned by Curtin were common in contemporary herbals. Those who talked to her in the late 1940's boiled and fermented flowers to treat heart problems and pickled the leaves to purify blood. They used the flowers to dye deer skins.

Local Tewa speakers also regarded k‘ot‘awo as a new discovery to be absorbed into traditional categories. In 1916, the Santa Clara were mixing dried leaves with dough for bad bruises. At San Ildefonso, ground leaves were made into a paste applied to broken bones. Both pueblos bound fresh leaves in bandages around fractures.

They may have borrowed the idea of a dandelion poultice from the Navaho with whom they had equivocal relations. The Ramah of McKinley County applied it to swellings. The only other tribes Moerman mentions who used dandelions as a plaster were the Iroquois, another Athabaskan speaking tribe, and the Aleut who share Alaska with Athabaskan speakers.

On the other hand, the Athabaskan speaking Apache who moved to the Mescalero reserve in Otero County from farther east were able to observe others who knew the traditional plant, probably whites. They adopted it to strengthen their drinks.

Even now, long after the Smithsonian visited the Espanola valley, dandelions are still regarded as a novelty. A few years ago my western neighbor put in a sod lawn. When the yellow flowers appeared, I assumed he would exterminate them at once. Instead, with none of the received wisdom of suburbanites, he let them be for several months.

The next year, the hollow stemmed composites were growing next to my garage on his side. Since then, they’ve spread to the tiles to the south of the garage and the drip line in back.

The history of the dandelion remains a series of dots - Arib ibn Sa’d, 965; New England, 1663; Santa Clara, 1916; my neighbor’s lawn, 1990's - with no connecting lines. Folk wisdom fills the gaps, whether it be a new use or a new origination tale.

Arib ibn Sa’d. Khalq al-janin, 964-65, cited by Hernández Bermejo and León.

Culpeper, Nicholas. Culpeper’s Complete Herbal and English Physician, 1650's, 1826 edition republished in 1981.

Curtin, L. S. M. Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande, 1947, republished 1997, with revisions by Michael Moore.

Hernández Bermejo, J. E. and J. León. Neglected Crops: 1492 from a Different Perspective, 1994, chapter on Spain on internet.

Josselyn, John. Cited by Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism, 1986.

Moerman, Dan. Native American Ethnobotany, 1998, and on-line database includes Meredith Jean Black, Algonquin Ethnobotany: An Interpretation of Aboriginal Adaptation in South Western Quebec, 1980; Edward F. Castetter and M. E. Opler, Ethnobiological Studies in the American Southwest III. The Ethnobiology of the Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache, 1936; James William Herrick, Iroquois Medical Botany, 1977; G. Warren Smith, "Arctic Pharmacognosia," Arctic 26:324-333:1973, and Paul A..Vestal, The Ethnobotany of the Ramah Navaho, 1952.

Robbins, William Wilfred, John Peabody Harrington and Barbara Friere-Marreco, Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians, 1916.

Photograph: Dandelion, 15 April 2007, just before the flowers were torn off.

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