The Dandelion – what does that name mean to you? A weed? An obnoxious plant that destroys your green lawn? An invasive species? An unwelcome pest? Something to get rid of? A plant created just to take over the world? A worthless, unwanted, unloved, and unneeded plant?
As a young child, I learned to dislike dandelions from my family and friends – and later from television. It was a “given,” a universally accepted “truth,” that dandelions were “bad,” without any redeeming qualities. Yesterday, taking a picture of a dandelion for one of my greeting cards, I saw it as a part of nature that has its own beauty, but is not considered of value by us humans. I had planned to use it as an example of finding beauty among the humblest of nature’s flowers. However, researching the dandelion uncovered incredible uses and value provided by the much-maligned plant. Seeing this aspect of the dandelion gave me a respect for the plant that I had never considered before. My hope is that you, too, see the “other side” of the dandelion.
Although cursed and maligned as a weed, the dandelion is a hardy herb with a surprising number of uses and symbolism. Thought to have evolved about 30 million years ago in Eurasia and found in remains in Russia from the Pliocene period, the perennial plant’s name developed in the 15th century from the Latin dens lionis, through the French dent-de-lion, to Middle English dandelion – all meaning “lion’s tooth.” The plant has been used as food and as an herb by people throughout recorded history, with the dandelion well-known to ancient Egyptians, Greek, and Romans, and used by the Chinese for traditional medicine for over a thousand years. The plant probably migrated to North America on the Mayflower, as an invited guest due to its medicinal benefits.
The flowerhead consists of numerous small flowers and is a vital early Spring nectar source for pollinators – although most varieties of dandelion produce seeds without pollination, resulting in new plants that are genetically identical to the parent plant. Each seed is attached to fine hairs, providing a parachute for wide dispersal. Dandelions have been cultivated as a companion plant because its taproot brings up nutrients for shallow-rooted plants, and it adds minerals and nitrogen to the soil and ethylene gas which helps fruit ripen.
The entire plant is edible and healthy, and was once considered a delicacy eaten by Victorian gentry, primarily in salads and sandwiches. Dandelion flowers have been made into wine, and a tea made from its root is believed to relieve kidney and bladder issues. Dandelion leaves contain abundant vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C, and K, and are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese. The raw flowers contain high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants, and are anti-inflammatory and anti-angiogenic (stopping the growth of tumors such as cancer); it has been used for a variety of aches, pains, and illnesses. The dandelion was also used to make the traditional “dandelion and burdock” British soft drink, and it is one of the ingredients in root beer.
Even the prestigious WebMd website (https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-706/dandelion) devotes several webpages to the dandelion, providing the following information:
- Dandelion is used for loss of appetite, upset stomach, intestinal gas, gallstones, joint pain, muscle aches, eczema, and bruises. Dandelion is also used to increase urine production and as a laxative to increase bowel movements. It is also used as skin toner, blood tonic, and digestive tonic. Some people use dandelion to treat infection, especially viral infections, and cancer. In foods, dandelion is used as salad greens, and in soups, wine, and teas. The roasted root is used as a coffee substitute.
How does it work?
- Dandelion contains chemicals that may increase urine production and decrease swelling (inflammation).
- Dandelion can cause allergic reactions when taken by mouth or applied to the skin of sensitive people. People who are allergic to ragweed and related plants (daisies, chrysanthemums, marigolds) are likely to be allergic to dandelion.
- Dandelion contains significant amounts of potassium. Some “water pills” can also increase potassium levels in the body. Taking some “water pills” along with dandelion might cause too much potassium to be in the body.
Scientists in Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology in Germany have developed a type of dandelion that secretes latex of the same quality as rubber trees and is suitable for commercial production of natural rubber.
The cheerful little dandelion can grow anywhere there is a bit of soil or a crack in the sidewalk. Medieval peasants and modern spiritualists consider the dandelion a symbolic flower. Its symbolic meanings include:
- healing from emotional pain and physical injury
- emotional and spiritual intelligence in dealing with every kind of situation
- warmth and power like the rising sun, due to its sunny color and the fact that the flowerhead closes at night and opens with the morning sun
- surviving through challenges and difficulties, the ability to rise above one’s challenges, and fighting through the challenges of life and emerging victorious
- long-lasting happiness and joy, through its cheerful color and by being of help when depression or grief makes it difficult to stay “sunny”
- fulfilling your wish, from a long-standing folk belief that blowing the white puffball of seeds will grant you one wish – perhaps in addition to the spreading of the seeds for the addition of more dandelions
Perhaps you may be moved to gather up a small bouquet of dandelions from your yard for occasions such as:
- Celebrating the return of summer
- Overcoming an obstacle, especially by using your innate intelligence
- Trying to connect with the sun and its power
- Celebrating any event that brings joy and the energy of youth into your life
Dandelion’s message is: do not give up, even if others seem to be trying to get rid of you.
“Dandelion” may be doomed to be the despised plant that must be destroyed, eradicated, and killed. Perhaps renaming it – to Healing Plant, Lion’s Tooth, Taraxacum (its genus name), or Potassium Plant, or even considering it a vegetable and/or herb such as Healing Herb, Rubber Herb, or Potassium Vegetable – will emphasize its beneficial qualities and allow us to see its beauty, hardiness, and simplicity as a part of nature, and to remove one more judgment from our experience.
My wish for you is that, now knowing more about the abundance of benefits provided by the common dandelion, you may become a bit less judgmental about the plant – and perhaps about other little-known and/or misunderstood aspects of your life, as well. And remember the dandelion’s message: DO NOT GIVE UP.
P.S. If your yard is filled with dandelions, tell any critics that you are growing your own food, medicine, and a local renewable resource of latex materials to produce rubber.