“No creature is fully itself till it is, like the dandelion, opened in the bloom of pure relationship to the sun, the entire living cosmos”. D.H. Lawrence
Spring is a river in full flow here in England and while out walking I’ve also been visually documenting its presence. The commonest of our wild flowers is a delight to the eyes after the visual deprivation of a long cold grey winter. And our commonest wild flowers and plants are often taken for granted, so I decided to do a short series of blogs on a selection of them.
The dandelion – Taraxacum Officinale – is, along with the daisy and the buttercup, probably the most ubiquitious and tenacious of our native wild flowers. Its tenacity is well-known and every gardener knows that no matter how sophisticated the tool for uprooting one of these, if you snap even the slightest morsel off the end of its root while pulling it, it will grow again. It’s because of its tenacity that the dandelion is generally considered a weed, but the dandelion has a variety of medicinal qualities and is also a food.
The botanist Carl Linnaeus named the dandelion species, in 1753, Leontodum Taraxacum. Taraxacum is either from the Arabic Tharakhchakon or the Greek Taraxos. The dandelion has many colourful common names: blowball, lion’s-tooth, cankerwort, milk-witch, yellow-gowan, Irish daisy, monks-head, priest’s-crown and puff-ball; faceclock, pee-a-bed, wet-a-bed, canker-wort and swine’s snout.
The name dandelion is a distortion of the of french dent-de-lion (literally, tooth of lion, lion’s tooth) which is a reference to the plant’s jagged-edged leaves. The french common name for dandelion is the inelegant piss-en-lit (piss-the-bed) which points to the diuretic qualities of the plant when taken as an infusion, i.e. as dandelion tea.
Despite the brightness of its flower, its ‘sunny’ face, dandelions are symbols of grief and of the Passion of Christ in theological symbolism; as is the thistle.
The plant’s tenacity seems at odds with its apparent fragility, once its flower has gone-over into its clock stage. Yet this fragility is in fact its strength, for the clock of the dandelion is its ripe fruit, waiting to be disseminated by the gentlest of breezes – or the slightest of breaths. The seeds are even borne away by their own ‘parachutes’ and thus can spread themselves further afield than other plants. And studies have shown that its seeds can germinate many years after their production.
Here’s something I didn’t know: the word ‘officinalis’ and it variations (as in Taraxacum Officinale) attached to a botanical name signifies that it has value as a medicinal herb. The word’s related to opificina, later officina, meaning workshop or pharmacy. It’s a hint, but it doesn’t mean you can gorge your face on any plant with this tag!
In the case of the dandelion, the entire plant is useful for medicinal or food purposes. You can eat the whole plant raw and here are some other suggestions:
- young leaves are the least bitter
- roots can be roasted and used in place of coffee. (These are best collected in spring or autumn)
- Try adding unopened flower buds to salads or stir fry
- Then there’s dandelion jam, made from the flowers
- And dandelion wine, also made from the flowers
One serving of dandelion greens contains the same amount of calcium as half a cup of milk (which is good news for vegans and people with milk-intolerant systems). The dandelion is a good source of potassium, vitamins A and C.
The roots are used as a diuretic (under licence so don’t experiment at home based on my blog!) and the ‘milk’ from the stems is a deterrent for mosquitoes. An infusion of the leaves is supposed to purify the blood, treat anaemia, jaundice and nervousness. Taken before a meal, dandelion ‘coffee’ is said to stimulate the digestion and tone up the liver.
I’m trying to find some time to do some linocuts of dandelions, meanwhile, next in this series: Herb Robert
- God Made Dandelions, Man Made Weed-ex…who do you trust? (sueannporter.wordpress.com)
- John Switzer: Of dandelions and dogwood (dispatch.com)
- Urban Forager | Growing a Salad in Winter (cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Dandelion: The Healing Weed (wildflowerbotanicals.wordpress.com)
- Dandelion Bouquets (heritagephotographyonline.wordpress.com)