Pull Up Your Plants: Dandelion
Aliases — Blowball, common dandelion, dandelion, faceclock, chicoria, consuelda, pissabed, swine’s snout, lǒwenzahn, agriomoroulia, pikraphake, earth nail, golden hair, pu gong ying, yellow gowan, fortune-teller, wild endive, bitterwort, Irish daisy, cankerwort, Fr.: Dent de Lion, Pissenlit. Ital.: Tarapaeo, Macerone. Span.: Diente de leon. Port.: Dente de leao. Germ.: Lowenrahn, Pfaffenrohrlein. Dut.: Pardebloem, Zeenwenand. Swed.: Legontand, Maskrason.
Binomial Etymology — Taraxacum officinale — Taraxi- is “confusion, or trouble;” -cum is “a wave” (Borror, 1960). Officinale is a distinction given to plants that were used in the official Roman pharmacopeia as a medicinal plant (Deane, 2016).
Binomial Pronunciation — tar-AX-a-kum oh-fis-in-AY-lee
USDA Classification — Weedy, invasive.
There are unquantifiable acts of human kindness and wonder attached to our dandelion. How many mothers have been handed a dandelion flower with love? How many wishes have ridden with dandelion achenes on the dreaming breath of children? Through what else but the corruption of adult commerce do we learn to devalue what is abundant, and to be unappreciative of the beauty that offers itself for free? It can be imagined that the allure of dandelions is made for the unjaded eyes of youth. However, the dandelion offers us salad, “coffee,” pickles, wine, capers, and so many medicinal comforts that it is widely considered a botanical panacea. Like a good friend, it seems the dandelion wants to be near us; it wants to laugh with us; it wants us to be well fed; it wants us to be healthy.
This ubiquitous perennial forb exudes a milky latex when broken. Its stemless leaves radiate in a rosette fashion from the crown of a long, sometimes carrot-like, taproot. The leaves can either be bluntly or sharply lobed with no spines or fuzz. The flower stalks are leafless, and hollow. The showy, yellow “flower” is actually a yellow inflorescence (a grouping of tiny ray flowers that coalesce to make what appears to be a single flower), or composite flower. Each ray flower is fertilized to produce a single achene (a fruit containing one seed) attached to a whispy, white, and fiberous “parachute.” The whole of these fertile seeds create the familiar and fluffy-white dandelion seed head.
This familiar cosmopolitan weed grows in moist/grassy areas such as lawns, parks, and meadows.
The leaves (especially the young ones) can be boiled, steamed, or eaten fresh as a delicious, although bitter, potherb. Parboiling (boiling in one or more changes of water) or soaking the leaves in baking soda decreases the bitter flavor. The flowers are used to make a beautiful, golden summer wine. The flowers also can be eaten raw, or can be battered and fried. The roots can be dried and toasted to make a coffee-dark tea. The flower buds can be pickled as a caper. The roots can be cooked and eaten as a root vegetable, and can apparently be pickled, although, I have not personally tried this and cannot attest to its culinary value.
The root tea and leaves are widely esteemed by modern herbalists as a safe diuretic, increasing the frequency of urination and thus working to “detoxify” the body. A tincture of the roots is said to ease the symptoms of hepatitis and strengthen kidney function; the whole of the plant is said to stimulate the liver, and the root tea is said to aid in dissolving kidney stones (Moore, 1989). Moore also claimed that the pickled root can be used as a powerful remedy for various incarnations of inflammation (1989). Further, the dandelion root is said to aid in lowering blood glucose levels, and body weight as well as acting against tumor growth; it has been said that the dandelion has been used in treating breast cancer for nearly 1,000 years. The medicinal uses of the dandelion by America’s native inhabitants are legion, so get ready.
The Navajo, and Ramah peoples used the pulverized leaves as a topical aid to reduce swelling; the Aleut used wilted leaves to quell stomach aches and sore throats; the Ojibwa used the plant as a means to reduce fevers; the Cherokee used dandelion tea as a mild sedative; the Shoshoni utilized the plant in decoction as an antiseptic wash; the Iroquois used the plant to ease back pain, amnesia, liver spots, puffy eyes, kidney trouble, dropsy, constipation, toothaches, swollen lungs, and crushed testicles (I hope to never put those words together again); the Kiowa employed the plant to combat menstrual cramps; and the Ojibwa used a root infusion to combat heartburn (Moerman, 2009).
Taraxacum officinale was utilized by the Scotts in the 18th century as a diuretic and in tanning leather (Smollet, 1756).
Two secondary metabolites, peptides named ToHyp1 and ToHyp2, were recently isolated from dandelion that were previously unknown to science; these novel compounds have shown notable antifungal and antibacterial activity (Astafieva, et al., 2015). Taraxerol and Taraxasterol — compounds reported to have anticancer activities — have been isolated in dandelion roots (Sharma & Zafar, 2016). Taraxacum officinale leaf extract has shown to strongly discourage hepatitis C viral reproduction without damage to the human cell in in vitro experiment (Rehman, et al., 2016).
A decoction of the dandelion root was employed as a witch repelling wash by the Iroquois (Moerman, 2009). It is said that if the dandelion seeds float away on a windless day, this is a divination of a coming rain (Beals, 1917).
The common name, dandelion, is a perversion the Latin, dens leonis, which gave rise to the French, dent de lion; both phrases translating to “lion’s tooth,” in reference to the dandelion’s sometimes sharply lobed leaves. In the 14th century, the dandelion was referred to as caput monachi or prestis croune (Henslow, 1912). The French lent a nickname to the plant, pissenlit, to highlight the plants diuretic qualities. This term was adopted later by the British as pissabed. Although many claim the dandelion to be a pinnacle elder in the pantry and human pharmacopeia, Taraxacum officinale remains strangely unrepresented from many ancient texts beyond a passing mention.
Theophatrus (371–287 BC), the Greek philosopher and pupil of Aristotle, wrote of the dandelion in his Enquiry into Plants that it was unfit for food because of its bitterness (Theophrastus). Although Taraxacum offinale is said to be roughly native to Greece, Pliny the Elder, Dioscorides, and Hippocrates are all strangely mum in mentioning this plant in their natural history publications. Much of this may have to do with the ambiguous nature of their descriptions coupled with uncertainty in what the proper title of dandelion was in ancient Greece.
Ballad of Dandelion Wine
He flowers of the country-side
More fragrant are than those in shops,
The beer that gives Milwaukee pride
Is brewed from malt and bitter hops;
Forswear the wire-bound cork that pops,
The juices of the foreign vine —
My dream of beverages stops
With good old dandelion wine!
Farewell to barley, grape and rye
From California or Kentucky;
While dandelion faces lie
To catch the sun, then I am lucky.
To wet a lusty raisin pie
Or pledge the lady that is mine,
There is no sweeter draught (say I)
Than good old dandelion wine.
Bespeak for me no old sloe gin,
No bubbly acid from a syphon —
This golden fluid, clear and thin,
Is what I choose to live my life on.
There are more costly brands of fizz,
But, for a tingle down your spine,
The very sweetest tipple is
Our good old dandelion wine!
— Christopher Morley (1916).
“…[The Dandelion is] of considerable importance ‘in rural economy and medicine. The roots are used in most of the Western Isles, and in the Orkneys, for tanning of leather; in which intention they are proved by experiments to be superior even to the oak bark. They are first of all boiled in water, and the leather afterwards steeped in the cold liquor” (Smollet, 1756).
“… how she had made chains of dandelion-stalks for youthful vowers of eternal constancy, dressed chiefly in nankeen; and how soon those fetters had withered and broken” (Dickens, 1862).
Dandelions are a rich in vitamins A,B,C, and E as well as calcium, potassium, phosphorus and iron (Elpel, 2013).
There are no known poisonous lookalikes to Taraxacum officinale. There are a few edible lookalikes including the false dandelion (Agoseris glaucum), the field sowthistle (Sonchus arvensis), and the mouseear hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella). Remember, a true dandelion will:
- Have no leaves attached to stems
- Will exude a milky latex when broken
- Will have lobed leaves
- Will have no spines
Borror, D. J. (1960). Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms (1st ed.). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.
Deane, G. (2016, August 2). Dandelions: Hear them roar. Retrieved August 5, 2016, from http://www.eattheweeds.com/dandelions-hear-them-roar/
Moore, M. (1989). Medicinal plants of the desert and canyon West. Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press.
Moerman, D. E., & Moerman, D. E. (2009). Native American medicinal plants: An ethnobotanical dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber Press.
Elpel, T. J. (2013). Botany in a day: The patterns method of plant identification: An herbal field guide to plant families of North America. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, LLC.
Henslow, G. (1912). The origin and history of our garden vegetables: to which is added their dietetic values. London: Pub. for the Author by the Royal Horticultural Society
Beals, K. M. 1851-. (1917). Flower lore and legend. New York: Holt.
Theophrastus, and Arthur Hort. Enquiry into Plants and Minor Works on Odours and Weather Signs. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1916. Print.
Morley, C. (1916, July 20). Ballad of Dandelion Wine. Life.
Smollett, T. (1756). The Critical review, or, Annals of literature. London: W. Simpkin and R. Marshall.
Dickens, C. (1862). Dombey and son. New York: Sheldon and Co
Astafieva, A. A., Enyenihi, A. A., Rogozhin, E. A., Kozlov, S. A., Grishin, E. V., Odintsova, T. I., & … Egorov, T. A. (2015). Novel proline-hydroxyproline glycopeptides from the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale Wigg.) flowers: de novo sequencing and biological activity. Plant Science: An International Journal Of Experimental Plant Biology, 238323–329. doi:10.1016/j.plantsci.2015.07.002
Sharma, K., & Zafar, R. (2016). Research article: Optimization of methyl jasmonate and β-cyclodextrin for enhanced production of taraxerol and taraxasterol in (Taraxacum officinale Weber) cultures. Plant Physiology And Biochemistry, 10324–30. doi:10.1016/j.plaphy.2016.02.029
Rehman, S., Ijaz, B., Fatima, N., Muhammad, S. A., & Riazuddin, S. (2016). Therapeutic potential of Taraxacum officinale against HCV NS5B polymerase: In-vitro and In silico study. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 83881–891. doi:10.1016/j.biopha.2016.08.002