Updated: Nov 9, 2022
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) – are well known as the bane of a well tended garden, but the more I look into these yellow flowered ‘weeds’ the more I have grown to love and revere them. They are not just beautiful sunburst-like flowers, they are also power houses of edible and medicinal goodness. Yes, they have long tap roots which are hard to get rid of, they're annoyingly adaptible, and they self-seed like anything – those are the negatives – but to be honest I don’t really know where to start with the list of positives for these little garden flowers.
Dandelions are indigenous to Europe and abound in English gardens from spring to autumn. Their flower heads are reminiscent of a bright yellow sun, and they are linked to the sun – they open with sunrise and close at sunset giving them the nickname ‘shepherds’ clock’.
They flower very early in spring and are one of the most vital early spring nectar sources for a wide host of pollinators. No-mow May, an initiative by https://plantlife.love-wildflowers.org.uk/ has brought this to the attention of many, and highlights how important it is for us to leave wild flowers to grow if only for a short time in spring.
There are so many myths and beliefs about these flowers and their ephemeral globes of seeds. There are many interpretations about blowing the seed-heads alone. Some say that when you blow the seed-head the number of seeds left on the stem is the number of children you’ll have, some say it’s the number of years you have left to live. Others believe that if you blow on a seed-head and all the seeds scatter you are loved, but if some seeds remain your beloved has reservations about the relationship. Some people believe that if you make a wish immediately before blowing on a dandelion seed-head your wish will come true, others say that only if all the seeds fly away when you blow will your wish come true.
As well as blowing the seed-heads, there was also a story I read that children used to collect dandelion flowers in early spring, and the height of the highest stem they could find indicated how much taller they would grow in the coming year.
Stories and associations about dandelions can be found as far back as medieval times, when the bright golden colour of the flowers was linked to wealth. In a similar way to buttercups being held under the chin to see if a child likes butter, dandelions were held under the chin of a child, and if it glowed gold the child would be rich. In the 18th century it was believed the more the dandelion glowed gold under the chin the kinder and sweeter the child.
Dandelions represent many things to many people. Dandelions in dreams represent happy unions, and are also symbols of hope, summer and childhood. They are sometimes woven into a wedding bouquet to bring good luck to the married couple.
Other beliefs around dandelions are that a tea of the roots increase psychic powers, a tea of roots left steaming beside the bed will call spirits, and dandelion buried in the northwest corner of a house will bring favourable winds.
All this is without even having touched on the edible and medicinal power of this little powerhouse of a plant! They are packed with vitamins C, A and K, plus potassium and powerful antioxidants. All parts are edible so it’s a valuable survival tool! Be aware, however, that Dandelion absorbs pesticides, heavy metals and other substances from the environment, so don’t eat wild dandelion grown by roadsides or in areas of pollution.
You can eat the roots, leaves, buds and flowers. You can make a tea with the flowers and the roots which is said to aid digestion, and you can also make a caffeine free coffee from the roasted roots. The flowers can be dried or used fresh, likewise with the root. Roots are best harvested in autumn when the concentrations of inulin (dietary fibre) are at their highest.
The Chinese were the first to describe dandlion’s medicinal virtues in purifying the blood and increasing the immune system, and in the 11th century there is evidence of it having been used by Arabic cultures to treat the liver and kidneys.
The list of dandelions perceived medicinal qualities would have us believe that this is a panacea growing right under our noses. They are high in beta carotene, vitamin C and numerous minerals. They have variously been used to treat stomach and liver complaints, diabetes, heart problems, high cholesterol, heartburn, gastrointestinal disorders, anaemia, acne, eczema, respiratory problems, consumption (tuberculosis), toothache, and sprains, sore eyes, cuts and nervousness… even broken bones and even cancer! While many of these are herbal remedies and folklore, there have been studies that have linked dandelion to some real and validated benefits.
I found a great website - https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-benefits-of-dandelion-root-89103 - on which I found some interesting information about research into dandelion medicine, outlined below:
Dandelions are often associated with being a diuretic. The French word for dandelion ‘pissenlit’ translates to ‘wet the bed’! There have been some studies which back this up. A 2009 study overseen by the National Institutes of Health in the US show that taking a dose of dandelion extract increases the frequency of urination. (It can also irritate the bladder so beware). Some scientists believe that dandelion’s diuretic properties may have medicinal uses, including the treatment of bloating, water retention and pre-diabetes.
A 2015 study from Canada reported that dandelion extracts are able to block harmful ultraviolet UVB radiation when applied to skin, lowering the risk of cancer. It can also irritate the skin so proceed with caution...
A 2016 review of studies from Aarhus university in Denmark suggested Dandelion extract stimulates pancreatic cells to produce insulin, helping control blood sugar and avoiding hyperglycemia.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology reported that mice fed a dandelion root extract experienced a significant slowing in the progression of liver scarring (fibrosis) compared to a placebo. The extract was able to inactivate the primary cells involved in fibrosis. This all but lifted the oxidative stress on the liver, allowing the liver to heal and slowly regenerate.
A 2012 study from the university of Windsor, Canada, reported that dandelion root extract was able to induce apoptosis (cell death) in pancreatic and prostate cancer cells in test tube studies, either slowing their growth or preventing their spread.
Several later studies have shown that different dandelion root extracts were able to trigger apoptosis in leukemia and melanoma.
Wow, pretty amazing don’t you think? This little plant can grant your wishes AND heal all ills. Pretty much. I have a wholly newfound respect for this plant.
One of the things I’m most taken with as a flower lover and an artist, however, is that they are just so pretty. I think we should rename them ‘lawn dahlias’. My mum would have been surprised and horrified to hear me expound the beauty and usefulness of a dandelion - the scourge of many a garden! - but their gorgeous bright yellow flowers dotting an expanse of bright green in springtime is a thing to behold.
If, like me, your love of flowers doesn’t end in the garden and if you can envisage one of these original Dandelion prints hanging in your home, they are available to buy through the website while stocks last.
Disclaimer! Please do your own research and consult a professional to see if Dandelions are safe for you to use before trying any of the herbal remedies above - there are side-effects as well as the potential benefits of using Dandelions.
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