Synonyms: The dandelion has many synonyms. Here is a selection: blowball, cankerwort, fairy clock, lion’s tooth, pise-en-lit, pee-the-bed, priest’s crown, puffball, swine snout, white endive, wild endive.
Scientific Name: Taraxacum officinale Web. S. L.
Family: Asteraceae (daisy family)
The whole of the Northern Hemisphere.
Bitter principles, inulin, flavonoids, milky sap (latex).
One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock… Children love counting the hours on a fairy clock or catching a ‘fairy’ to make a wish. From March to April the meadows are full of dandelions, bathed first in a sea of gold and then in a mass of white from the seed heads made up of the parachute-like achenes. When the dandelions appear we know that spring has come! Their flower heads consist entirely of strap-shaped, or ligulate, florets and the flowers only open when the sun is shining brightly; on dull days they close. Gardeners are often less than happy at the sight of these perennial composite flowers with their milky sap which grow so well in their lawns. The long dandelion tap root can penetrate to a depth of up to 50 cm and anchors the leaf rosette firmly to the earth. Attempts to dig it up usually end with torn ends of root remaining deep in the ground. The dandelion continues to thrive. This little flower is indeed a very adaptable survivor with very diverse growth patterns. It flourishes wherever where its seeds land – whether in cracks in the pavement or on roofs and in chinks in walls.
Dandelion stimulates the body’s metabolic activities. It increases the activity of liver and kidneys and improves the constitution of frail persons. Because of its detoxifying properties it is a component of spring and autumn cleansing treatments, can help prevent gallstone formation and is beneficial for rheumatism and gout. It can also alleviate the symptoms of indigestion and bloating.
The meaning of the scientific name Taraxacum remains unclear. The word probably comes from the Arab world, where the dandelion was mentioned in writings as early as the 10th and 11th centuries. One explanation has the name derived from the Arabic tarak = to make and sahha = to piss, a reference to the diuretic properties of the dandelion. The epithet officinale is often applied to medicinal plants and comes from the French officine = pharmacy, laboratory. It indicates that the plant is used medicinally.
The first evidence of use of the dandelion for medical purposes is found in a work of the Renaissance printer, publisher and book seller Johann Prüß (1447–1510). In 1539 the botanist, physician and Lutheran priest Hieronymus Bock (1498–1554) gave a detailed description of the flower in his magnum opus ‘Das Kreütter Buch’. In it, Bock describes its medicinal effects but also a beauty lotion made from the leaves and roots of the dandelion. The women of his time used this for freckles and to clarify the skin. In the Middle Ages the milky sap was used to combat warts and inflammation of the eyes. Additionally, an amulet with seven dandelion roots dug up on St Bartholomew’s Day was supposed to protect against ailments of the eye. In Chinese medicine an energetic relationship is seen between eyes and liver: medicinal plants such as the dandelion, which affect the liver, are thus thought also to alleviate inflammation of the eyes.
Medieval Christian symbolism saw the dandelion with its widely disseminating seeds as a symbol of Christian teachings and their dissemination. In many paintings Maria, Christ and Veronica are depicted together with the dandelion as an expression of the transitoriness of existence.
Girls were wont to use dandelions to predict their future. They blew hard on a seed head and the number of seeds left revealed how many years they would have to wait to get married. If the plant head was white they would go to heaven – if it was dark, they were destined for Hell.
Dandelion leaves in salads and cheese stimulate the appetite. The fresh buds can be preserved like capers. The dried and ground roots provide a coffee substitute. The French prefer cultivated dandelions for culinary purposes. They are bigger and less bitter than their wild cousins.
The plant from another perspective
The dandelion not only possesses an impressive vitality, it is also incredibly adaptable and flexible. For example, no two dandelion leaves are the same. Each has its own pattern of ‘lion’s teeth’. Depending on where it is growing the plant can be compact or expansive. In its essence and due to its stimulating bitter principles it is related to the bile and the liver, which constantly transforms and adapts substances.