There is a story from Celtic lore, for example, which tells the origin of the flower. When man first appeared on the earth they couldn’t see the fairies, elves and ‘little folk’ who already lived there, so kept treading on them. To avoid this, the dwarves and the gnomes went underground to hide, whilst the elves went to live amongst the rocks. However, the fairies wanted to stay above ground to play in the open spaces in the sunshine. In order to avoid being seen by humans, they turned themselves into bright, yellow dandelions that grow in open sunny spaces.
This connection with fairies may explain why it has been associated with good luck and it is said that if you rubbed yourself all over with dandelion you will be welcome everywhere and your wishes will come true. The flower’s name comes from the shape of the leaves, which are thought to resemble the teeth of a lion, or in French le dent de lion – which became corrupted to dand-e-lion. The Latin name for dandelion, Taraxacum, comes from the Greek word Taraxo meaning disorder and takos meaning pain, pointing to its early use as medicinal herb. In fact, although Avicenna the Arabian herbalist used dandelion in the 10th century, it did not appear in Western herbals until the 13th Century when it first got its English name.
Of course, many people still call dandelion ‘wet the bed’ or ‘piddlybeds’ and in France it is often called Pissenlit. These names point to its use as a diuretic and modern herbalist make use of this to treat water retention, high blood pressure and kidney disorders. In fact dandelion is one of the best and most effective diuretics and because the leaves are high in potassium, it increases urine output without depleting the body of potassium as so many diuretic drugs do. However, dandelion leaves should never be used to replace drugs without consulting an herbalist or your GP.
Dandelion leaves make an excellent salad herb and the young leaves are commonly used in salads on the Continent to help stimulate the digestion, though this has never been the case in the UK. Culpeper, the famous 17th century herbalist noted, “You will see here what virtues this common herb hath and it is the reason the French and Dutch so often eat them in the spring; and now if you look a little farther, you may plainly see, without a pair of spectacles, that foreign physicians are not so selfish as ours are but are more communicative of the virtues of plants to people.”
The dandelion root is a gentle liver herb and is used to stimulate the appetite and to treat constipation. It promotes the flow of bile and is used for gallstones as well as to treat gout, arthritis and clears the body of toxins and excess hormones in conditions such as acne or PMS. It’s gentle stimulation of the liver also makes it an ideal hung-over cure.