What is a dandelion and its uses?
A look at the dandelion as more than a weed, including it’s medicinal value, a recipe, it’s place in folklore and superstitions, and as a favorite of children.
The dandelion or Taraxacum officinale, is one of the hardiest plants known to man. It has numerous uses; from medicinal to child’s play, yet many people spend hundreds of dollars each year trying to eradicate this plant from their yard and garden. Classified by most people as a weed, as with many things in life, what is one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. This adage certainly applies to the dandelion. Do not use it before talking to you doctor.
The dandelion grows prolifically across the United States and Canada, averaging 8” to 12 inches in height, each flower an average ¾ to 1”across. The blossom is a deep yellow with a lighter yellow edge. The dandelion grows one flower per stalk, and when the stem is cracked, the center will ooze a milky substance. The growing period is long, averaging from early spring until late fall in most areas.
Nicknamed Lion’s Tooth, because some feel the jagged edge of the leaves resembles the jaw and teeth of an animal or lion. The name dandelion itself is actually from the French dent-de-lion, referring directly to the plants edge resemblance.
Also nicknamed puffball or Blow Ball, because when the plant seeds, the flower turns into a white ‘puff ball’ that when blown on, has given children of all ages, for time immortal, a way to have fun!
The dandelion has many uses. It is a natural diuretic and some people consider the roots, when processed correctly, as the best laxative ever. Herbalists to treat liver ailments also use it in different forms. The roots of the plant are often roasted to make a drink similar to coffee or tea. This is also often added to regular coffee to improve on the coffees flavoring. Many wild birds rely on the seeds for use as a main staple of their diet. Bees frequent the plant for its nectar, and many beekeepers swear that dandelions help produce some of the world’s best honey. Farm animals have varying likes and dislikes for it. Pigs seem to love the plant, while horses will not touch it. The greens can be used in a variety of recipes and even wine making.
As a young child, I would be sent outside early on Sunday mornings to collect the green of the plant for the afternoon meal. The leaves need to be picked early, before the flower has opened. If picked after the blossom has opened for the day, the leaves can be extremely bitter. I would also look for new plants, ones that had not even sprouted a flower, as these would be of the best quality. After gathering several handfuls, these would be washed the same as a leaf lettuce, in cold water. Once clean, they would then be thoroughly dried by shaking and then laying out on clean paper toweling. The earlier in the year the better also. Spring plants always made a better salad than late summer or fall plants. The recipe for my mother’s salad follows:
Clean, dried dandelion greens, approx. two handfuls
Five strips of bacon, fried crisp, let cool and break apart
½ cup vinegar
Small red onion diced
¾ tsp. Sugar
In a shallow pan of boiling water, add dandelion leaves for just long enough to heat, drain off water and add remaining ingredients, only adding enough sugar to cut any remaining bitterness. It is best to experiment with the sugar. Salt and pepper may also be added to taste. Serve while still warm.
Besides salads, the greens can also be used as a sandwich ingredient alone, with a bit of salt and oleo to taste, or as a substitute for lettuce. The nutritional value of the dandelion greens is believed to include vitamins A, B, and C.
Dandelions also hold a place in superstition and folklore. If a dandelion blossom stayed open all night, it was believed to foretell of rain the following day. Sniff a dandelion, if your nose turns yellow, you are in love with a fellow, if your nose does not turn, no fellow is in love with you. It was believed good luck to carry a few (just two or three) dandelions amongst your wedding bouquet, as it would bring prosperity to the marriage in money, children, and health.
It was good luck for a young woman to wear a necklace of dandelions if she made them, but not lucky if someone gave them to her. Bad luck to pick dandelions in a cemetery. Worse luck if they brought them home from a cemetery, and even worse if they gave them away after picking them in the cemetery, except to lay them on a loved one's grave. Some would rub a dandelion between their hands and rub the yellow on any spot that ached or swelled.
Dandelions and the uses and myths around them are as plentiful as they are themselves. Children have found many uses for dandelions throughout the years. Because of their plentiful supply, and supple stems, they have been braided into many a bracelet or necklace by little girls. Once they have turned to seed, children would blow them off into white swirls, for each blow it took to empty the puffball equaled one hour of the day that had passed. Long a favorite from the past and destined to continue as one.