May 25, 2004 > Dandelion Adventures
by Pat Kite
I still love to take a deep breath, make a wish, and blow white dandelion puffballs into the air. When I was a teenager, it was always some not-sensible young man that was the object of my airborne hopes. As I get older, thoughts have transfigured. I hope for a fine summer day, that my kids are fine and dandy and I'll be able to resist that piece of chocolate cake or candy waving to me.
Dandelion seed parachutes can travel at least 100 miles with a good wind. While many pristine gardeners consider them a pest, it wasn't always so. When early settlers came to North America, the women often brought dandelion seeds along with other useful seeds. Why? Young dandelion leaves were used in stews. They have vitamins A, B, and C, plus the minerals calcium, sodium, and potassium.
Native American Indians soon saw their usefulness, and added dandelions to their food supply. Before the settlers came, there were no dandelions in this country. Now there are quadrillions. Amazing, isn't it? Going back at least a thousand years, the ancient Egyptians used the dandelion for various purposes. It got its formal name from an Arabian physician, who first formally recognized that the dandelion had medicinal properties. Scientifically it is called Taraxacum officinale, from the Greek word "taraxos" for "disorder," and "akos" for "remedy."
Nowadays we have all kinds of effective, tested, medicines available. Long time ago, it was hit and miss. The famous English botanist Culpeper found dandelions "under the dominion of Jupiter. It is of an opening and cleansing quality, and therefore very effectual for the obstructions of the liver, gall and spleen, and the diseases that arise from them, as the jaundice and hypochondriac..."
Children got into the name game soon enough. Dandelions have been called Monk's head (if you blow all the seed parachutes off, the appearance does somewhat resemble the shorn heads of monks in medieval times), Heart-Fever-Grass, Blowball, Telltime, Irish Daisy, Pissabed (some thought the dandelion had diuretic properties), and Swine's Snout (after the flowering head closes up, it somewhat resembles a pig's snout).
The name "dandelion" is believed to have started with a German physician, who thought the jagged leaf edges resembled a lion's tooth. His lengthy name eventually shortened to the Latin "Dens leonis," which led to the Greek word "Leontodon," and then to the French "dent-de-lion," i.e. lion's tooth, which we Americans cheerfully pronounced "dandelion."
As a note, yellow dandelion flowers have lots of pollen and nectar, providing food for at least 93 different kinds of insects, including our endangered bees.
Now that you hopefully appreciate dandelions a bit more, how do you get rid of them? Digging up roots, and mowing before the flowers open is a safe method. However roots do go down a long way. If you don't dig out the entire root, it grows back, sometime double. There are, of course, herbicides of all kinds at your garden store. Read the label. But never even accidentally eat, or even taste, anything that might have been sprayed with this stuff, even if you wash it. Also, in many areas, the soil in which dandelions grow has been contaminated with this and that, so these are an absolute "no-no" too.
What to do? You can grow your own edible dandelion patch, or go to the organic section of your local market and buy the young leaves and perhaps even the roots. Check out your library plant and food section for recipes for dandelion coffee, tea, wine and salad recipes. There are also books which tell about dyes made from dandelion flowers, and books that instruct on concocting dandelion herbal baths and facial rinses.
Have fun...and when you blow off all the white puffballs, your wish just might come true. And if there are some seed parachutes left, that's supposed to tell you what time it is. Possibly time to garden. Best of summer, Pat