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The Common Dandelion: The Most Versatile of Weeds

Above left, familiar yellow flower head.  Above right, going to seed.

Above left, familiar yellow flower head. Above right, going to seed.

Taraxacum Officinale

This profuse, successful plant has had many different names over the centuries. It was originally called Dent-de-lioun from a Middle English term which came from the old French word, dentdelion.  That literally translates as tooth of the lion.

The plant has been known by many other regional names. Some are listed here:

  • Bum-pipe, Burning fire.
  • Clocks, Clock flower, Clocks and watches, Combs and hairpins, Conquer more.
  • Devil's milk pail, Dog's posy.
  • Fairy clocks, Farmer's clocks.
  • Golden suns.
  • Horse gowan.
  • Irish daisy.
  • Jack-piss-the-bed.
  • Lay-a-bed, Lion's teeth.
  • Male, Mess-a-bed.
  • Old man's clock.
  • Peasant's clock, Pishamoolag, Piss-a-bed, Pissimire, Pissy beds, Pittlebed, Pittley beds, Priest's crown.
  • Schoolboy's clock, Shepherd's clock, Shit-a-bed, Stink divine, Swine's snout.
  • Tell-time, Tiddle beds, Time flower, Time teller, Twelve o'clock.
  • Wet-the-bed, Wet-weed, Wishes.

The round seed heads are commonly known as fairies, parachutes, chimney-sweepers, or sugar-eaters.


The dandelion will grow in almost any soil, provided it is not too moist. It flowers from February to November in Europe, but especially in April and May. Its leaves, and consequently its roots, can be found at any time of year, except the very coldest.

It has been valued as a good herb for urinary ailments and as a vegetable for centuries. Its leaves are rich in minerals. Cultivated varieties have been developed in the USA and France.

Especially useful as a salad plant, the flower heads can be added to salads for colour, and the soft honey flavour complements the tartness of the leaves.

Blanching dandelion leaves makes them less bitter, but reduces the goodness in them. Many people prefer the piquant, bitter flavour of the unblanched leaves.

For some dandelion recipes, read my hub entitled Free Food: Dandelion Recipes.

Blanching Dandelion Leaves

At intervals during the autumn, dig up the roots and twist off the bitter foliage. Plant in bundles of roughly a dozen roots in a box or pot to exclude all light. Store in a greenhouse at a temperature of not less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Water frequently, but be careful to not over-water. The blanched leaves are ready to use in about a fortnight.

Alternatively, blanching may be done in a warm cellar or dark cupboard in the kitchen. Cover each flower pot with another pot to exclude all light.

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In the spring, plants can be blanched in the open air by covering with a thick layer of straw or a flower pot as soon as growth appears.

Medicinal Use

For centuries used as a diuretic and laxative in country medicine, the plant has been more recently been scientifically proven to contain high levels of potassium.  It can, therefore, replace potassium lost in normal urine secretion, thus boosting potassium levels in the body.  Potassium is a mineral that is important for the kidney to function normally.

Dandelions are said to have the power to remove acid deposits from the body, and for this reason, can be used to help arthritis sufferers.  Other uses include the treatment of herpes, genital warts and obesity.  Dandelion can also be given as a tonic for loss of appetite, biliousness, indigestion, gout and rheumatism. 

Both dandelion tea and dandelion wine are considered good remedies for chills of the bladder, or so-called liver attacks.

A Little History

In the late 1800s, well-to-do people in Britain would grow dandelions in their unheated greenhouses for winter salads. At that time, it was difficult to grow lettuce throughout the winter. Dandelion was believed to flush out the kidneys and help prevent gout and rheumatism amongst the rich port-drinking gentry.

For this reason, dandelion salad was popular; also, sandwiches of thin brown bread and butter would be served for afternoon tea.

As recently as the 1920s in Britain, when times were hard, people would dig up wild dandelion roots from the fields and sell them to the chemists to get money to buy bread.

Dandelion roots were roasted and used for coffee during the Second World War when real coffee was unavailable.

Children's Games

  • Blow the seeds from the round seed heads, or dandelion clocks, to tell the time. The number of blows needed to remove all the seeds gives the hour.
  • If you can catch a seed or a 'fairy' on the wing, you can make a wish.
  • Using a long stalk of dandelion and removing the head, make a raspberry noise by splitting one end downwards about a half an inch, placing the split inside the mouth, and gently blowing.
  • Make bracelets from dandelion chains.

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