Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion is the ubiquitous, quintessential weed that everyone and their mother knows by her beautiful golden blossoms and irresistibly puffy seed head.

Most of us remember blowing upon dandelion seed heads, just for the joy of it as children, watching the seeds magically float off to unseen worlds. In fact, many of us still find joy in that simple practice as adults, at least from time to time. I know I do.

But like many others, even though I likely passed by Dandelion on a daily basis throughout most of my life, I was unaware of the treasures that Dandelion offers to our gardens, our kitchens and our hearts and souls.

Dandelion is ever present from city to suburb to countryside. In fact she is is found growing plentifully on all continents except Antarctica. Dandelion is easily one of the most common plants growing close to humans far and wide. But as Dandelion proves with every bloom, “common” beings can embody magical beauty. Just look closer and you’ll see!

Dandelion blossom

There is a saying among herbalists: the medicine we most need in this moment grows right outside our doors. While that statement is true of many common weeds that grow near humans, perhaps it is most true of Dandelion. The food and medicine she offers is not just for our bodies, she offers medicine for our spirits too.

The simple, humble act of meeting and spending some time with Dandelion can raise our conscious awareness.

Dandelion is a great connector. She connects the underground world with the above ground world. She connects humans with other plants in the garden. She introduces us to the world of edible, nutritious weeds. She connects us with our ancestors.

Dandelion can survive, reproduce and even thrive in some of the harshest environments. Like between the cracks of a sidewalk in the blistering heat of summer. Dandelion has thrived and continues to live with vibrancy as a weedy species in the face of mass genocide of her species (in the form of herbicidal warfare against weeds and in the name of purity and monocultures).

Perhaps we can relate to Dandelion in the way that she has evolved to survive, and even thrive, in unforgiving environments. Despite our endless creature comforts, many modern humans suffer from a plethora of ailments, such as stress, cardiovascular problems, anxiety, anemia, diabetes, depression and on and on and on.

Modern human bodies are suffering from lack of nutrition found in factory farmed food, and our hearts and spirits are suffering from loss of deeper connections. For myself, these are a few of of the main reasons why I chose homesteading as a lifestyle.

And whether we are homesteaders, urban foragers, or just looking for more connection, Dandelion is here to help on all levels, as she has for thousands of years. I assume that many of my ancestors likely allied with Dandelion on a regular basis. She is patiently smiling and waiting to re-connect with us, and to help re-connect us, as we unplug from the “matrix” and plug back into Mother Earth.

As we define a Homestead Culture through our daily actions, let’s redefine our relationship to weeds, wild food and garden spaces. Let’s redefine what it means to be a modern human on this planet. Lets look to Dandelion for guidance on opening our industrially hardened hearts and our monoculturally closed minds.

Dandelion blossoms

Dandelion is bold, bright, and sunny. She pushes through cracks in cement and worms her way into the mortar of stone walls. Cheerfully. Dandelion’s Medicine is perseverance. But not the perseverance of the martyr. Instead Dandelion is the eternal optimist . . . She’s the shaman and the buddha, and her message is this: happiness is an inner landscape that has little to do with where you’re planted. When you’re ready to make your own joy — whatever life throws at you — call on Dandelion.

Maia Toll, The Illustrated Herbiary
Dandelion blossoms and seed heads growing in the grass.
Look down. There just might be a dandelion underfoot.

Following in the footsteps of many other creation stories, one popular legend ascribes dandelion’s birth to the work of fairies. Many thousands of years ago, when the world was populated with fairies and elves, the first humans arrived. They soon caused these tiny creatures many problems as the humans were usually unable to see the wee folk and would step on them. So the fairies took to dressing in bright yellow garments and eventually were changed into dandelions, which have the ability to spring back up if trodden upon. Thus, it is believed that dandelions recover so quickly from being stepped on because each contains the spirit of a fairy.

Brigitte Mars, Dandelion Medicine

Etymology

The name Dandelion comes from Dent de Leon, a French name, which literally translates to “Tooth of the Lion”. (Similarly Diente de León in Spanish.) Dandelion earned the name because her leaf margins have toothed edges which, at times, can resemble lion’s teeth (albeit green).

Dandelion’s toothed leaf margins inspired her namesake; Tooth of the Lion

What’s more, a field or patch of yellow dandelion flowers is called pissenlit in French, which translates to “Piss-a-bed,” hinting to Dandelion’s diuretic properties.

The patch of yellow flowers can help you remember Dandelion’s diuretic properties. You might even adopt the clever moniker Piss-a-bed!

In some Italian dialects dandelion is known as pisacan, meaning “dog pisses”, because Dandelions are often found on the edge of pathways where dogs relieve themselves.

Perhaps a bit exaggerated, but I love how these names help us remember a plant by visual identification clues and its general uses! The colorful exaggerations stick to my memory better and bring me back into my inner child’s state of wonder and awe, helping me to see this plant anew, which had once been commonplace and almost unseen to me.

More of Dandelion’s many common names:

  • Swine’s Snout: Is said to represent the snout nose shape of the closed flower or unopened seed head. I would venture to suggest that this name can also refer to pigs using their snout to root up the delectable Dandelion!
  • Soffione: Italian word from soffio (puff or blast), which is derived from soffiare (to blow).
  • Pusteblume: German word meaning “to blow flower” from pusten (to blow) and Blume (flower).
  • Worm Rose: Referring to small insects often found in the flowers. From Swedish maskros.
  • Tell Time, Clocks: Children would play a game by counting the breaths it takes to blow all the seeds off the puff in order to tell the time of day.
  • Blowball: Referring to the round seed head that we blow upon.
  • Canker Wort: A plant that spreads easily and fast, like a canker (a benefit or curse depending how you look at it!)
  • Milk Witch: Refers to the magical and healing properties of the latex that flows from cut leaf, flower stalk or root.
  • Milky: From Lithuanian Pienė.
  • Horse Flower: From Dutch paarden bloem.
  • Butter Flower: The color of the flower is reminiscent of the color of butter (surely from pasture raised cows since CAFO raised butter is pale in comparison!) from finnish voikukka.
  • Milk Container or Milk Bin: Referring to the milky latex. From Danish mælkebøtte.
  • Butter: From Croatian maslačak, derived from maslac, which means butter.
  • Witch’s Gowan: A witch’s daisy, marigold or yellow flower. Likely from gollan (yellow flowered plants) or perhaps Old English golde (marigold).

Reading over this list and I am smiling because Dandelion is reminding me that we Humans, Earth children, are all kin to each other. All over the world we can all relate with the beauty, joy, magic, medicine and nutrition that Dandelion offers!

Child blowing a Dandelion's seedhead.
Children of all ages are invited to co-create a shared future by helping to spread Dandelion’s seeds far and wide.

Actually, Dandelion was historically (and certainly prehistorically) appreciated and held in high regards. In Europe Dandelion used to be extensively cultivated as a main food crop. You might be surprised to learn that there used to be many cultivars of Dandelion for prized leaves, or large roots, much in the same way that we enjoy lettuce cultivars today.

Native to Asia and Europe, the dandelion has been recorded in ancient writings, and Arabian physicians used the plant in medicine in the tenth and eleventh centuries.

The Dandelion, Circulating Now

You can still find seed for Dandelion cultivars on the market but its not nearly as common, especially in the US where we have declared a war on weeds for nearly a century. Dandelion is making a comeback in some circles, but she has always been here with us, ready to offer joy, beauty and nourishment.

Dandelion’s botanical name is Taraxacum officinale which translates to the official remedy for all disorders.

Taraxacum includes many flowering plants in the Asteraceae family that have similar traits. Taraxacum means remedy for all disorders from Latin taraxos (disorders) and akos or (remedy). An alternate story is Taraxacum was derived from a Persian word talkh chakok (bitter herb).

The species officinale (officinalis) means the “official” herb of the Taraxacum genus relative to its pharmalogical usefulness in remedying all disorders.

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