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.