Dandy Lines: Virtues of the Common Dandelion

I can never look at, or think of a Dandelion without thinking of my mother and smiling to myself at her zany, shy sense of humor: she has always referred to this delighful little plant as Dandy-Lines, on account of the curly scallopped leaves. The plant has been called by many names, but I think my mother's is the most flattering and endearing.

Oh! I will take you back, Kathleen
To where your heart will feel no pain
And when the fields are fresh and green
I'll take you to your home again!

The plant which we commonly refer to as the Dandelion is a great little friend. It may be found throughout the United Sates, Europe and Eurasia. Every part of the Dandelion is edible and the plant contains many pharmacologically active compounds and is widely used in herbal medicine throughout the world, having a millenary tradition in most civilizations. Native Americans have always made use of the Dandelion, and still do.

The Dandy Line is known for its ability to treat jaundice, gall bladder inflammation and cirrhosis. The dandelion also benefits the digestive system by acting as a mild laxative, increasing appetite, and improving digestion. It is also, notably, a mild but effective diuretic and is used to treat liver upsets. Dandelion is also effective in the treatment of urinary tract infections.

Dandelion is the common English name for Taraxacum officinale or Taraxacum erythrospermum, the two main species. It is of the same botanical tribe as chicory, Cichorieae, some of which characteristics it shares—but in a gentler, kinder way. Cichorieae include lettuce, chicory, dandelion, and salsify. The humble Dandelion has been held in great repute by a great many cultures and this has spawned a myriad fanciful names. Many languages, including English, derive the name from the old French Dent-de-Lion, although the plant is referred to in modern French as Pissenlit, which in turn gave rise to the English folk name Pissabed. The greeks call the plant κλέφτης which means thief, on the fanciful basis that the seed-bearing parachutes are hard to catch once airborne! The Latin name, Taraxacum is a transliteration from the medieval Arabic term tarashaquq. In Italian, this has become Tarassaco, while regional names such as Piscialetto and Pisciacane also exist.

Dandelions are good eating—from the leaves to the bright yellow flowers—and even down to the long taproot that, dried and roasted, makes a very pleasant ersatz coffee which has a full-bodied roundness and a nutty flavour. The root is also a very flavorsome addition to stews and soups, while larger specimens may be used as a vegetable: they are reminiscent of salsify. The young tender leaves, preferably picked in wet weather, make excellent salad greens and have a pleasant bitter vein: excellent mixed with Rocket and Lamb's Lettuce. The tougher, mature leaves, are excellent cooked, either simply steamed and served with butter, or olive oil and lemon juice; they are also good sautéed with olive oil, garlic and some dried chili pepper: a perfect accompaniment for good pan-fried Italian style sausages.

The bright yellow flowers are delicately superb, dipped in a tempura batter and deep-fried with the stalks on, in a light neutral oil, such as rapeseed, cottonseed or sunflower seed. Dandelions are used to make Dandelion Wine and, together with Burdock, are one of the ingredients of root beer. At least one Belgian brewery makes a seasonal beer which contains dandelion flowers. In Poland, a flavoured syrup is made, consisting of sugar boiled with water, dandelion flowers and lemon juice, which is claimed to be very beneficial for the liver.

And finally, a bit of trivia: four dandelion flowers are the emblem of Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, whose citizens celebrate Spring with an annual Dandelion Festival.

I am indebted to Tem42 who, by posting his piece Pissabed, put me in mind of my mother and her great love of the Dandy-Line and of plants in general. Here's looking at her, where'er she may be!