Saturday, February 21, 2009

She loves me, she loves me not

The dandelion must be one of the plants most people can recognise and name. For gardeners, it’s a plant to be hated … the archetypal weed. In lawns it lies flat to the ground avoiding any number of passes of the mower, then sends up flower heads, seemingly overnight, just to annoy us.

In flower beds it produces enormously long tap roots that test the abilities of even the most skilled weeder. Removing them is like pulling teeth, except that the root usually breaks just when it feels like it’s going to come out whole. And a few days later, up pop not one but half a dozen fresh shoots to mock the gardener.

But to children the dandelion is a pure delight. Every child knows the ball of fluffy parachutes that make up the dandelion seed head. And most are sure that blowing it will tell them the time of day, or whether “He loves me, he loves me not”, or that it will make their wish come true . It’s the seed heads that give the common name for the plant in a number of countries such as Pusteblume (blow flower) in Germany. But it’s the serrated leaves that provide the origin for the name most of us know – looking like a row of lions teeth or dent de lion in old French.

Ironically, in France, its common name is now pissenlit, and you don’t need a degree in French language to realise that translates as piss in the bed – not such an extraordinary or inappropriate name when you realise that the dandelion has very good diuretic properties.

In fact, the dandelion has a whole host of medicinal properties as the Latin name Taraxicum probably indicates. It’s thought this comes from the Greek words taraxos, meaning disorder, and akos, meaning remedy. Many herbalists regard the dandelion as an effective treatment for liver disease, useful even in such extreme cases as cirrhosis. It cleanses the bloodstream and increases bile production, and is a good remedy for gall bladder problems as well. The herb is also a boon to such other internal organs as the pancreas, kidneys, stomach, and spleen. The dried leaf, taken as a tea, is used as a mild laxative to relieve constipation.

So, how come a plant that’s got so much going for it has such a bad reputation?

It’s even got an extraordinarily beautiful flower.


BT said...

Very informative. Can't you also use the leaves in salads? We don't like it because it's such a successful 'weed' and I'm sure every one of those fluffy seeds makes a new plant!

DK Leather said...

ooh I LOVE this.
I thought the daisy was the 'loves me, loves me not' flower!
Absolutely true re using the leaves in salads, they're actually quite nice, if a little peppery.
Looking forward to the nuts about catkins entry now!

willow said...

I love dandelions and blogged on them last summer. Lots of fun childhood memories there.

Twisted willow said...

Your Mum said it was the daisy too. Where I was brought up in Yorkshire we used the dandelion head. You always blew particularly hard when it got to the "She loves me", but usually one seed hung on ... but "that didn't count".
I'm working on the catkins one ... lots of steamy stuff about SEX.
Thanks Willow, BT and I were discussing whether, in the age of WII and Nintendo and all those things, whether kids still delight in dandelion clocks and daisy chains etc. We decided they probably do. I hope so anyway, because nature is even more wonderful than the most sophisticated computer programme.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Pissenlit - that brought back memories, we always used to say as children that if you smelled the dandelion you would wet the bed. I had forgotten that.
An old lady who lived near my husband when he was a child, had lost her sight when very young and in old age a technique for restoring it meant that suddenly she could see again = not knowing any of the history of the dandelion, she picked great armfuls and put them in a jug on the table!
Also, a friend made the most superb quilt on the life of the dandelion - starting with a tiny green shoot and ending with a spectacular display of flying seed heads.
I do agree that from a gardener's point of view the dandelion is a flipping nuisance - but viewed objectively it is a lovely flower, wouldn't you agree?
Where in Yorkshire were you brought up? Glad to see you played against Sedbergh school - I have connections there now and they are still on that winning streak!

jinksy said...

Makes delicious Dandelion Wine, if you know the way!