Many people think of the dandelion as little more than an alternative to a daisy for playing “he loves me, he loves me not.” Indeed, it’s said that if you can blow all of a dandelion’s seeds off with one try, then you are passionately loved. If some seeds remain, your lover has reservations about your relationship. And if a lot of seeds stay stuck to the globe, you are supposedly loved very little or not at all.
But taraxacum officinale, as dandelion is botanically known, is good for much more than mere child’s play. Full of Vitamins A, B, C, D and K, as well as iron, potassium and zinc, young dandelion greens make a tasty and nutritious addition to any meal. In many parts of the world, dandelion is also consumed as a medicine, though claims about it have not been clinically tested in humans. It has been used for centuries, however, to treat dyspepsia (indigestion/upset stomach), dropsy and liver disorders, and as a mild laxative for chronic constipation. It is also said to improve the appetite and promote digestion.
The first mention of dandelion as a medicine appears in 10th and 11th century treatises by Arab physicians. The name of the genus, Taraxacum, comes from Arabic tarakhshaqūn (wild chicory), via Latin. It is thought originally to derive from Greek taraxos (disorder), and akos (remedy), on account of its curative properties, or possibly from Greek taraxo (“I have excited” or “caused”) and achos (pain).
However, it is the resemblance of its leaves to the canine teeth of a lion that gives the dandelion its common name. The word is a corruption of the French dent de lion (tooth of the lion), itself likely derived from the Latin dens leonis. Other common names for the dandelion include Priest’s Crown and Swine’s Snout.
Before watches became common, people used the dandelion to tell them the time of day. Some sources say that the number of breaths it took to blow off all the seeds showed the hour of the day (using a 24 hour clock). Other sources refer to the dandelion as the “rustic oracle,” because the flowers tend to open at about 5 AM and close at around 7-8 PM.
The dandelion is also used to predict coming rain. In fair weather, the ball of the flower opens fully, but when rain approaches, it shuts like an umbrella. If the weather is generally wet, the dandelion won’t open at all, but will wait until the threat of rain is gone.
Dandelion is an important source of honey for bees, since it flowers from spring until late autumn, when fruit trees generally have stopped producing pollen and nectar. As many as 93 types of insects use the dandelion’s pollen to cross-fertilize other flowers. Small birds are fond of the seeds, and the entire plant is eaten by pigs, rabbits, goats and, on occasion, cows. Horses find it too bitter, as do many people. Young leaves, however, especially if blanched, are tasty in salads and soups, and more mature leaves can be cooked with sweeter greens, such as spinach. The leaves should always be torn rather than cut, in order to preserve their flavor.
Dandelion beer is a rustic fermented drink common in many parts of the United Kingdom, while in other parts, the flowers are used to make dandelion wine, considered a tonic good for the blood. The roots, when roasted, can be used to make dandelion coffee, which is said to be almost indistinguishable from the real thing. It carries the added advantage — for some — in that it has no caffeine and is less likely to irritate the stomach.
So the next time you find yourself wondering whether he loves you or he loves you not, remember what Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said — don’t forget to love yourself. And what better way to do that than with one of the the most nutritious foods in the world?