The greening of spring has begun in earnest and homeowners scramble to give their lawns that manicured look. But even the best-maintained lawns still manage to sprout unwanted visitors. These include dandelions and common blue violets.

For many people, the first reaction upon seeing a weed is to grab some weed killer and head out to do battle. This usually has the desired effect, but the side effects can be troubling. Runoff from toxic weed killers can enter streams and ponds. Also, breathing fumes from and even touching some of these products can harm our health. And for what? To kill some dandelions? There has to be a better way.

From a physical standpoint, the only alternative to weed killers is to dig or pull weeds by hand, a tedious enterprise. So perhaps it’s time to change our point of view. Instead of damning flowering weeds, how about embracing them? Remember, a weed is a weed only if we think it’s a weed. Looking at it differently, that same weed becomes a pretty wildflower.

Dandelions create dazzling waves of bright yellow. Some lawns have so many dandelions that the entire lawn acquires this pretty yellow color. And later on in spring, common blue violets have a similar effect, only they treat us to comforting patches of blue, rather than yellow. In addition to the visual appeal (once you get over thinking of them as “weeds”), dandelions have many useful properties.

Springtime tradition

It’s a rite of spring for many people to go out and dig dandelions for their edible leaves. These wild greens contain far more vitamins and minerals than any cultivated vegetable we could name. Most of us enjoy dandelion greens boiled, with a dash of vinegar and some butter, salt and pepper. Also, the young leaves make an excellent salad ingredient. But dandelions have far more to offer. The unopened flower buds make one of the better wild foods. Cooked with the greens or separately, these rank as one of the finer products from nature.

When dandelions go to blossom and the leaves become bitter, most of us lose interest in them and go out of our way to mow them down. But in a day or two, these resilient wildlings put out new blooms. So here again, instead of mowing every other day, we are better served to hand-pick the blossoms and treat them as an ephemeral treat.

Yes, dandelion blossoms are edible. Surprisingly, the blossoms have no trace of bitterness. To prepare dandelion blossoms, first wash the blossoms thoroughly to remove any foreign material. Then put oil in a pan and set heat to medium. Dip the blossoms in a batter and drop in the pan to fry. Any batter will do, but I find a tempura batter makes a good thing even better. After cooking to a golden brown, remove from the pan and place on paper towels to dry.

Violet time

My lawn consists of a mixture of grass, dandelions and common blue violets. The violets put on such a spectacular color show that I hesitate to mow my lawn while they are at their peak of bloom. And here again, violets are more than just another pretty wildflower. Violet blossoms make wonderful nibbles, just pick and eat. They have a pleasant, rather nutty flavor.

The leaves, too, make fine cooked greens. Pick the leaves while they are still paper-thin and haven’t yet developed the thick veins typical of older leaves. Set some water to simmering in a saucepan and cook the washed leaves only until they turn a dark green and become well-wilted. Drain and serve immediately.

The late Euell Gibbons had violet leaves and blossoms analyzed and found that a half-cup serving contained as much vitamin C as four oranges, as well as providing more than the average minimum daily requirement for vitamin A. Violets are nature’s vitamin pills.

Tom’s tips

I was alarmed to see that the Waldo County Soil & Water Conservation District is offering wild clematis, or virgin’s bower, as part of its spring plant sale. Potential buyers should know that wild clematis, a vining plant with long, white pom-pom blossoms, is highly toxic.

Touching any part of the plant can result in a rash similar to, or even worse than, that produced by poison ivy. Ingestion can lead to digestive upset and convulsions. This is definitely not a plant to have where children are present, so do consider this warning if you were planning to purchase this lovely-but-toxic plant.