Dandelion

dandelion

I keep dreaming about dandelions so this post was inevitable.  The humble dandelion is much overlooked, considered a nuisance and is the bane of gardeners lives.  But what other plant embodies the sun, the moon and the stars?  The dandelion is the true plant of cyclical life.  They move from their bright yellow flower to their fluffy white head and finally their little seeds disperse.

Dandelions acquire their strange name from the shape of their leaves which are considered to resemble lions teeth, in french this is dent-de-lion.  But they go by many many names including blowball, cankerwort, doon-head-clock, witch’s gowan, milk witch, yellow-gowan, Irish daisy, monks-head, priest’s-crown, puff-ball, piss-a-bed and fluffy puffy.  In Gaelic, apparently they are called beanan bride, which means little notched plant of bride.  It was said that St Bride or St Brigit claimed the plant and yet another name for this flower is Saint Brigit’s flame.

The dandelion lights its spark
Lest Brigid find the wayside dark.
And Brother Wind comes rollicking
For joy that she has brought the spring.
Young lambs and little furry folk
Seek shelter underneath her cloak.

– Winifred Mabel Letts

Brigid is associated with Imbolc, celebrated in early February to mark the returning sun,  the beginning signs of spring and fertility, whether that is literal in the sense of childbirth or in the sense of birthing a new venture or idea.  Fertility is something we tie strongly to women but it can refer to the fertile earth, the fertile inner landscape which helps creations to blossom.  I wanted to add this because as someone who can’t have children, the focus on fertility and motherhood can feel exclusionary at times.  Interestingly, many types of dandelion produce seeds without pollination!

Brigid is also a figure of healing and creativity and alchemy.  She is the spark that comes before the full light of spring to give us hope and guide us through the last days of darkness.

Their roots reach deep into the earth, making them resilient, grounding them and giving them the strength to thrive in any situation. Think about the dandelions you see pushing their way through the concrete and the pavement.  They have the ability to flourish wherever they land.  Staying with the link to Imbolc, the dandelion is taking root in our darkest self and taking that pain and transforming it into a spark of visible light.

Despite our modern day perception of the dandelion as a tenacious weed, they have been used as food and as a herb for a long time.  Their leaves are high in vitamin A and C and have been eaten in a similar way to spinach; blanched, in salads and in sandwiches.  The whole plant is edible – flowers can be used to make wine and the roots can be used to make a coffee type drink.  The latex from the stem of the dandelion has been used to cure warts.  They are said to aid digestion, act as a mild laxative and act as a diuretic.

And if that’s not enough to redeem the dandelion, they are important plants for bees, providing an early source of pollen.  Because they flower early in the year, the early emerging pearl-bordered fritillary (a butterfly) also uses it as a source of food.

For all those embittered gardeners struggling to remove the full dandelion route from their flowerbeds, you might like to know it’s actually a beneficial weed.  The root brings up nutrients for plants with shallower roots, they add minerals and nitrogen to the soil and they attract pollinating insects.  Perhaps instead of fighting the dandelion, we could learn to live with it, alongside it.

None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research.  Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year.  Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.

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