For 2017’s A to Z challenge, I’ll write about herbs and plants in literature. I hope to include information about their uses and our ancestors’ beliefs regarding them.


D is for Dandelion

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Delightful dandelion, tenacious bane of suburban lawns. Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Proud Little Apple Blossom” teaches a lovely bloom the value of the “pitiable” dandelion. When the apple blossom belittled the dandelion for its common appearance and ugly name, a sunbeam danced along and said, “I see no ugly flowers. They are all beautiful alike…” Children made crowns of the yellow puffs and an old woman made medicine from dandelion, proving its value to the haughty apple blossom.

Culpepper, Gerard, Bown, Grieve, and Fuch mention the many uses of the perennial in their herbals, touting medicinal values. Dandelion leaves can be dried and made into herbal beers and drinks, and the flowers are used to make Dandelion Wine. Ray Bradbury wrote a work called “Dandelion Wine,” an amazing exploration of living a full life and accepting death.

Dandelion acts on the body as a diuretic and was taken by our medieval predecessors for bladder and urinary complaints, gallstones, jaundice, cirrhosis, dyspsia, and constipation. Washes made with dandelion are said to help with acne, eczema, and acne, and the plant’s high content of vitamin C makes it an addition to spring salads. Culpepper adds, “It helpeth also to procure rest and sleep to bodies distempered by the heat of ague-fits.”

Roasted dandelion roots are made into a coffee substitute, as referenced by Susanna Moodie in her work. Her character said, “It possesses…all the fine flavor and exhilarating properties of coffee without any of its deleterious effects. The plant being of soporific nature, the coffee made from it when drank at night produces a tendency to sleep…” and goes on to compare the flavor with the best Arabian coffee.

What child hasn’t wished upon the grey dandelion-gone-to-seed? According to E.P. Roe in “The Home Acre,” dandelions are little earth stars that intensify the sunshine shimmering on the lawn. “Moreover,” says M. Roe, “they awaken pleasant memories, for a childhood in which dandelion had no part is a defective experience.” John Burroughs wrote of these common flower and calls it the pledge of May.

Folk wisdom grants dandelion the ability of prognostication. Blowing on its seed heads can predict true love. If no seeds remain after a single breath, the seeker is loved. If but a few seeds remain, the seeker’s love interest has reservations. If many seeds remain, alas, there is no reciprocation of passion. The blown seeds are said to carry thoughts and dreams to loved ones.

If the day got away from someone, blowing on a dandelion seed head would tell the time. Alexander F. Chamberlain in his “The Child and Childhood in Folk-Thought says,“The dandelion is called the rustic oracle; its flowers open about 5 AM and shut at 8PM, serving as a shepherd’s clock.” In H.W. Gibson’s “Camping for Boys,” observing seed-headed dandelions indicated weather changes. If full and fluffy, the weather would be fair. If closed like an umbrella, rain should be expected.

Walt Whitman, Hilda Conkling, Henry Sylvester Cornwell, and Helen Barron Bostwick wax poetic about the wild and wide-ranging flower. Other names for the plant from the Asteraceae family include Priest’s Crown, Swine’s Snout, Piss-a-bed, Dent de Lion, and Dens Leonis.

Sadly, Crayola announced yesterday it will be retiring the color “dandelion” this year. Artists will have to make their own equivalents from the remaining hundreds of colors.