Taraxacum officinale; Taraxacum alaskanum; Taraxacum ceratophorum
Other Names and Etymology:
Lion’s tooth, dent-de-lion, dandy-lioness, Irish daisy, fairy clock, puffball, wild endive, pissenlit. In Latin, ‘taraxos’ means “disorder”, and ‘achos’ means “remedy”. Officinale signifies that it is a official medicinal plant.
Asteraceae (aster, daisy, or sunflower family)
Hairless perennial from stout taproot, to 2 ft. Milky sap. Basal rosette of oblong to oblanceolate leaves, deeply lobed and toothed. Familiar flowers in solitary head on hollow, leafless stems, surrounded by two rows of floral bracts. Bright yellow flower. 5 – 60 cm tall. The flowers open in sunshine and close on dark or cloudy days. The flower becomes a mass of fuzzy white puffs, to which individual seeds are connected to be dispersed by the wind. The dandelion is a prolific seed producer, with up to 200 elliptical seeds produced per head. Dandelion roots are thick and dark brown on the outside, with a white milky interior.
A good description from A Modern Herbal:
From its thick tap root, dark brown, almost black on the outside though white and milky within, the long jagged leaves rise directly, radiating from it to form a rosette Iying close upon the ground, each leaf being grooved and constructed so that all the rain falling on it is conducted straight to the centre of the rosette and thus to the root which is, therefore, always kept well watered. The maximum amount of water is in this manner directed towards the proper region for utilization by the root, which but for this arrangement would not obtain sufficient moisture, the leaves being spread too close to the ground for the water to penetrate.
The leaves are shiny and without hairs, the margin of each leaf cut into great jagged teeth, either upright or pointing somewhat backwards, and these teeth are themselves cut here and there into lesser teeth. It is this somewhat fanciful resemblance to the canine teeth of a lion that (it is generally assumed) gives the plant its most familiar name of Dandelion, which is a corruption of the French Dent de Lion, an equivalent of this name being found not only in its former specific Latin name Dens leonis and in the Greek name for the genus to which Linnaeus assigned it, Leontodon, but also in nearly all the languages of Europe.
There is some doubt, however, as to whether it was really the shape of the leaves that provided the original notion, as there is really no similarity between them, but the leaves may perhaps be said to resemble the angular jaw of a lion fully supplied with teeth. Some authorities have suggested that the yellow flowers might be compared to the golden teeth of the heraldic lion, while others say that the whiteness of the root is the feature which provides the resemblance. Flückiger and Hanbury in Pharmacographia, say that the name was conferred by Wilhelm, a surgeon, who was so much impressed by the virtues of the plant that he likened it to Dens leonis. In the Ortus Sanitatis, 1485, under ‘Dens Leonis,’ there is a monograph of half a page (unaccompanied by any illustration) which concludes:
‘The Herb was much employed by Master Wilhelmus, a surgeon, who on account of its virtues, likened it to “eynem lewen zan, genannt zu latin Dens leonis” (a lion’s tooth, called in Latin Dens leonis).’
In the pictures of the old herbals, for instance, the one in Brunfels’ Contrafayt Kreuterbuch, 1532, the leaves very much resemble a lion’s tooth. The root is not illustrated at all in the old herbals, as only the herb was used at that time.
The name of the genus, Taraxacum, is derived from the Greek taraxos (disorder), and akos (remedy), on account of the curative action of the plant. A possible alternative derivation of Taraxacum is suggested in The Treasury of Botany:
‘The generic name is possibly derived from the Greek taraxo (“I have excited” or “caused”) and achos (pain), in allusion to the medicinal effects of the plant.’
There are many varieties of Dandelion leaves; some are deeply cut into segments, in others the segments or lobes form a much less conspicuous feature, and are sometimes almost entire.
The shining, purplish flower-stalks rise straight from the root, are leafless, smooth and hollow and bear single heads of flowers. On picking the flowers, a bitter, milky juice exudes from the broken edges of the stem, which is present throughout the plant, and which when it comes into contact with the hand, turns to a brown stain that is rather difficult to remove.
Each bloom is made up of numerous strapshaped florets of a bright golden yellow. This strap-shaped corolla is notched at the edge into five teeth, each tooth representing a petal, and lower down is narrowed into a claw-like tube, which rests on the singlechambered ovary containing a single ovule. In this tiny tube is a copious supply of nectar, which more than half fills it, and the presence of which provides the incentive for the visits of many insects, among whom the bee takes first rank. The Dandelion takes an important place among honey-producing plants, as it furnishes considerable quantities of both pollen and nectar in the early spring, when the bees’ harvest from fruit trees is nearly over. It is also important from the beekeeper’s point of view, because not only does it flower most in spring, no matter how cool the weather may be, but a small succession of bloom is also kept up until late autumn, so that it is a source of honey after the main flowers have ceased to bloom, thus delaying the need for feeding the colonies of bees with artificial food.
Many little flies also are to be found visiting the Dandelion to drink the lavishly-supplied nectar. By carefully watching, it has been ascertained that no less than ninety-three different kinds of insects are in the habit of frequenting it. The stigma grows up through the tube formed by the anthers, pushing the pollen before it, and insects smearing themselves with this pollen carry it to the stigmas of other flowers already expanded, thus insuring cross-fertilization. At the base of each flower-head is a ring of narrow, green bracts the involucre. Some of these stand up to support the florets, others hang down to form a barricade against such small insects as might crawl up the stem and injure the bloom without taking a share in its fertilization, as the winged insects do.
The blooms are very sensitive to weather conditions: in fine weather, all the parts are outstretched, but directly rain threatens the whole head closes up at once. It closes against the dews of night, by five o’clock in the evening, being prepared for its night’s sleep, opening again at seven in the morning though as this opening and closing is largely dependent upon the intensity of the light, the time differs somewhat in different latitudes and at different seasons.
When the whole head has matured, all the florets close up again within the green sheathing bracts that lie beneath, and the bloom returns very much to the appearance it had in the bud. Its shape being then somewhat reminiscent of the snout of a pig, it is termed in some districts ‘Swine’s Snout.’ The withered, yellow petals are, however soon pushed off in a bunch, as the seeds, crowned with their tufts of hair, mature, and one day, under the influence of sun and wind the ‘Swine’s Snout’ becomes a large gossamer ball, from its silky whiteness a very noticeable feature. It is made up of myriads of plumed seeds or pappus, ready to be blown off when quite ripe by the slightest breeze, and forms the ‘clock’ of the children, who by blowing at it till all the seeds are released, love to tell themselves the time of day by the number of puffs necessary to disperse every seed. When all the seeds have flown, the receptacle or disc on which they were placed remains bare, white, speckled and surrounded by merely the drooping remnants of the sheathing bracts, and we can see why the plant received another of its popular names, ‘Priest’s Crown,’ common in the Middle Ages, when a priest’s shorn head was a familiar object.
Habitat and Range:
Widespread weed of lawns, meadows, roadsides, garden edges, and disturbed soils. Alien – was imported to North America on early sailing ships. Taraxacum officinale is one of the most widespread vascular plant species in the world: circumpolar including NWT and the Yukon, Canada, United States, New Zealand, Australia, India, South America. Taraxacum alaskanum grows in natural areas, woodlands and the Arctic tundra, and is an alpine plant.
Plant Parts Used:
Roots, stems, leaves, flowers. All parts edible.
Roots: Early Spring, prior to plant flowering, or Early Autumn after the first frost. Roots are less bitter in the Autumn.
Young Leaves: Early Spring and throughout the Summer. As the leaves age and mature, they become increasingly more bitter (it’s better to pick them in Early Spring)
Flowers: When in full blossom. Use immediately after harvesting, as the flower heads tend to close up rather quickly, making it hard to extract the petals.
*Note: Do not take from the sides of the roads, or areas where you are unsure of insecticides or not. Stay away from polluted areas.
Antibilious, anti-rheumatic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, astringent, bacteriostatic, bitter, cholagogue, chloereretic, digestive, diaphoretic, diuretic, fungistatic, galactagogue, hepatic, laxative, stomachic, tonic
Decoction, extract, flower essence, oil, salve, tea/infusion, tincture, vinegar
Dandelion was historically prescribed by physicians to treat liver disease and jaundice and to stimulate bile flow. It is mildly diuretic and laxative; used for kidney disorders, stomach ache, dyspepsia, low back pain, menstrual cramps, allergies, and arthritis. Because of the high content of Vitamin A and C, the young spring leaves are often taken as a tonic. Considered a blood tonic or blood purifier, useful for treating anemia and chronic skin diseases and for stimulating lactation. Used for treatment of loss of appetite and dyspepsia with a feeling of fullness and flatulence. Roots approved for use as a chloeretic and cholagogue because of its treatment of bile-flow disturbances, and as a diuretic.
Dandelion roots digestive and bitter properties are used for indigestion, spleen disorders, relieving heartburn and constipation, and stimulating the appetite. If taken before a meal, dandelion will increase the production of HCl in the stomach, increasing bio-availability of nutrients, especially calcium. Some studies report that the inulin found in dandelion root may assist helpful bacteria in the digestive tract. In addition, dandelion’s anti-inflammatory properties are used to treat rheumatism, gout, and eczema. The root may also help with lowering cholesterol and high blood pressure. Diuretic properties help increase urine output, which allows the body to reduce water retention. Historically used to prevent and treat kidney stones.
When both flowers and root are infused in an oil, can be used to reduce breast cysts, clear long-held emotions, and improve liver function.
The stem is filled with a milky substance that can be used topically to reduce warts.
Before the greens emerge, the ‘blanched’ rosette of leaf stems can be dug out of the ground and eaten as a fresh salad. Later, when the leaves form, they can be picked and eaten either raw or cooked. Once the flower stalks reach full height, the leaves are generally too bitter to eat. The fresh flowers taste light and lovely and slightly sweet, and can be added to salads, battered and fried, turned into dandelion wine, oil, jelly, syrup, or used as tea. The roots can be eaten in early spring or late autumn (after the first frost) and can be cooked like a root vegetable, or dried and powdered and turned into dandelion coffee.
Dandelion roots and leaves are rich in calcium, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, silicon, and zinc. Also a good source of Vitamin A, B complex, C, and D. They also supply beneficial carotinoids, fatty acids, flavonoids, and phytosterols. High volumes of potassium and Vitamin A.
The first documented use of dandelion was the Chinese in the 7th century. It is also known that the dandelion was used by Arabic physcians in the 11th century and the Welsh by the 1300s. Dandelions were native to Europe and Asia, where they were wide spread as a culinary and medicinal herb. They were brought to the Americas with the some of the earliest settlers and were integrated into various cures and uses by Native American tribes.
Folklore from here:
Dandelion “He loves me, he loves me-not.”
Folklore has an interesting spin on determining whether or not you are loved. Instead of picking the petals off a daisy, try blowng the seeds off a dandelion globe. It’s said that if you can blow all the seeds off with one blow, then you are loved with a passionate love. If some seeds remain, then your lover has reserveations about the relationship. If a lot of the seeds still remain on the globe, then you are not loved at all, or very little. Source: “Unusual Vegetables, Something New for this Year’s Garden,” Rodale Press Emmaus, PA.
If blowing seeds is not your idea of telling time, consider this:
“The dandelion is called the rustic oracle; its flowers always open about 5 A.M. and shut at 8 P.M., serving the shepherd for a clock.” Source: Folkard (448. 309), from “The Child and Childhood in Folk-Thought,” by Alexander F. Chamberlain
Folklore says that blowing the seeds off a dandelion is said to carry your thoughts and dreams to your loved one. At least, so they say… Source: “Unusual Vegetables, Something New for this Year’s Garden,” Rodale Press Emmaus, PA.
“Are you separated from the object of your love? Carefully pluck one of the feathery heads; charge each of the little feathers composing it with a tender thought; turn towards the spot where the loved one dwells; blow, and the seed-ball will convey your message faithfully. Do you wish to know if that dear one is thinking of you? blow again; and if there be left upon the stalk a single aigrette, it is a proof you are not forgotten. Similarly, the dandelion is consulted as to whether the lover lives east, west, north, or south, and whether he is coming or not.” Source: “The Child and Childhood in Folk-Thought,” by Alexander F. Chamberlain
Dandelion Barometers (it’s true!)
“The dandelion is an excellent barometer, one of the commonest and most reliable. It is when the blooms have seeded and are in the fluffy, feathery condition that its weather prophet facilities come to the fore. In fine weather the ball extends to the full, but when rain approaches, it shuts like an umbrella. If the weather is inclined to be showery it keeps shut all the time, only opening when the danger from the wet is past.” Source: “Camping For Boys,” by H.W. Gibson
Deity: Hecate, Brigid, Belenos
Power: Divination, Wishes, Messenger
Astrological: Pisces, Sagittarius
The roots and leaves of Dandelion plants can be made into teas for spells or rituals concerning divination, luck, calling spirits, psychic powers, and wishes. Roots, leaves, and flowers can be used in sachets or dream pillows for psychic dreaming and wishes. The flowers can be sewn into small red flannel bag and worn around the neck for wishes.
Pediatric: To improve digestion, adjust the recommended adult dose to account for the child’s weight. Most herbal dosages for adults are calculated on the basis of a 150 lb (70 kg) adult. Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20 – 25 kg), the appropriate dose of dandelion for this child would be 1/3 of the adult dosage.
Adult: Ask your doctor to help you determine the right dose for you. Some traditional doses include:
- Dried leaf infusion: 1 – 2 teaspoonfuls, 3 times daily. Pour hot water onto dried leaf and steep for 5 – 10 minutes. Drink as directed.
- Dried root decoction: 1/2 – 2 teaspoonfuls, 3 times daily. Place root into boiling water for 5 – 10 minutes. Strain and drink as directed.
- Leaf tincture (1:5) in 30% alcohol: 30 – 60 drops, 3 times daily
- Standardized powdered extract (4:1) leaf: 500 mg, 1 – 3 times daily
- Standardized powdered extract (4:1) root: 500 mg, 1 – 3 times daily
- Root tincture (1:2) fresh root in 45% alcohol: 30 – 60 drops, 3 times daily
*Do not use if you are taking certain medicines used to treat infection (ciprofloxacin (Cipro(R)), gatafloxacin (Tequin(R)), levofloxacin (Levaquin(R)), norfloxacin (Noroxin(R)), ofloxacin (Floxin(R)), sparfloxacin (Zagam(R)), trovafloxacin (Trovan(R)))
*Do not use if you are taking potassium supplements (examples: Slo-K(R), K-Dur(R), Polycitra-K(R), Klor-Con(R)))
*Do not use if you are taking lithium with out discussing it with your doctor first
*Do not use if you are taking blood thinning medicine (examples: warfarin (Coumadin(R)), clopidogrel (Plavix(R)), aspirin, enoxaparin (Lovenox(R)), dalteparin (Fragmin(R)))
*Do not use if you have gall bladder problems (or stones)
*Do not use if you have stomach problems or irritable bowel
*Do not use if you are allergic to dandelion. Persons allergic to chamomile, chrysanthemums, yarrow, feverfew, ragweed, sunflower, or daisies may also be allergic to dandelion.
*Discontinue use if you show signs of being allergic such as breathing problems, tightness in the throat or chest, chest pain, rashes, hives, itchy or swollen skin, digestive discomfort or pain.
Peterson Field Guides: Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs, by Steven Foster and Christopher Hobbs
Growing and Using Healing Herbs, by Gaea and Shandor Weiss
Lone Pine: Plants of Coastal British Columbia
The Boreal Herbal, by Beverely Gray