Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Not-So Humble Dandelion

I couldn't resist this attractive gif when I found it on a blog to which I subscribe, called "Spydersden.

Funnily enough, or call it serendipity, I received on the same day, an email from my sister complaining about the number of dandelions swamping her Canadian garden.
This winter, there hasn't been as much snow as usual in Ontario - her garden usually looks like this -

and there is now in fact a bit of a drought with no snow-melt to swell all those rivers and lakes.
Ontario is a land of much water, a fact reflected in its beautiful  Native Indian tribal place-names.I make no apologies for referring here to a poem I knew by heart as a kid, and loved to recite with its repetitive but infinitely pleasing cadences - The Story of Hiawatha by Longfellow. Here is a brief extract that plays upon the beauty of those old names:

By the shores of Gitche Gumee, 
By the shining Big-Sea-Water, 
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, 
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis. 
Dark behind it rose the forest, 
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees, 
Rose the firs with cones upon them; 
Bright before it beat the water, 
Beat the clear and sunny water, 
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

But come what may, snow or no snow, rain or no rain, in April the hardy annual dandelions re-appear, in Canada, Cornwall, Corfu and China, and pretty much all over the world..

Dandelion - its English name comes from the French dent-de-lion, a reference to the jagged edges of its leaves.

 As kids, we were always told not to pick it or we would wet the bed, and indeed its common French name is pissenlit which  means just that.
To the majority of British gardeners it is a tiresome weed to be fought with nuclear weapons if necessary.
But to Greeks, it is a valuable food, there for the gathering in all the places where nutritious herbs and other plants grow wild, on sunny hillsides, in meadows, on any uncultivated land. Its bright golden head appears amidst the swathes of spring flowers, crowning a cluster of leaves and stems that are bursting with valuable nutrients.Spring is the best time to gather dandelions for eating, before the flowers appear, and indeed any other wild greens, with a re-appearance in autumn.

When I went to live at Kanoni, just outside the town of Corfu, after years of living in the town itself, I was stunned by the rich variety of plants, cultivated and wild, that burst into life in March and April each year.
To me, it was just a display of Nature's exuberant beauty, but to my mother-in-law, when she came to stay with us on a visit from Piraeus,  it was a glimpse of Paradise.

Like all Greek women, she had been brought up to value the plants and herbs that grew so abundantly in the countryside. Living in a city, she had little opportunity to get out and gather these freely available foodstuffs.
In Corfu, she was almost delirious with pleasure, and together we would set out with sharp knives and bags to gather  horta.

She taught me to identify many of the plants that could be eaten, as salads, steamed, sauteed or boiled, or as the filling in pies. Our expeditions were rewarding in every sense, and they brought us into a closer, warmer relationship. We found a way into an abandoned estate, where the old mansion had long ago disintegrated and been reclaimed by Nature, but where orchards and kitchen gardens had been left to their own devices and still flourished in a decadent, overblown way.

Two of the old Kanoni estates

We went home with bags of every kind of citrus fruit, with a great deal of horta, and with mushrooms and armsful of narcissus. We went, too, to the flat fields that surround the lagoon, heedless of the occasional aircraft landing not so very far away, our feet crunching on the millions of tiny snail shells that made up the springy surface below the grass and other plants. On the banks of the tributary streams that fed into the lagoon we found wild asparagus, wild celery and horseradish.
Sometimes we found ourselves searching the ruins of ancient Roman and Greek buildings, still not yet excavated - it is said that wherever you dig on the Kanoni peninsula you will strike an ancient building.

Ag. Theodora

Later, when my mother-in-law was too weakened by diabetes to come with me, I used to go out alone to pick horta for her. I was always joined then by Athina, a local woman living in what could only be called poverty, in a ramshackle shed, with her cows and sheep and goats, taking them out to feast on the lush Kanoni pasture every day. Athina was amused with my amateur horta-picking knowledge and did a great deal to encourage and teach me. She was an unmarried woman, the victim of the often cruel old dowry system - no dowry, nu husband. Despite her grimy hands and battered wellies, her grey hair and drab clothing, she was beautiful and had a classic grace about her that was worthy of the goddess for whom she was named.

My mother-in-law not only ate the boiled horta, she also drank the liquid it was boiled in, believing it to be good for her. Judging  by the quote from the Spydersden blog with which I am ending my own blog, she was right.

The Ancient Greeks knew the value of wild plants of all kinds, and used dandelion, which they predictably called leontodon, as a medicine for arthritis and rheumatism

When I was first married to my Greek husband, we spent a couple of years in England. I lived in a leafy suburb in Essex. as estate agents like to call such desirable habitats, and it was just a short walk from my home to the country lanes that were still not built upon. Dandelions grew there, leaves about 2 metres long it seemed to me, along with wild parsley, garlic and dill. I had learned that even the thistles had a tender heart that added its own flavour to the tangy mix of greens. I would walk home, the pushchair basket stuffed with loot, to be greeted by the neighbours with jocularity. 'You got rabbits, then,'
'No.' I would reply.' a Greek husband.'
That shut them up.

For those unwilling or unable to go horta-picking themselves, cultivated dandelions, if that is not an oxymoron, can be bought in greengrocers' shops and markets. There are several varieties, but they are all, as far as I know, called radikia.


They come neatly trimmed and bundled and require very little preparation. An easy way to obtain your dandelions, if you like, but for me nothing can compare with the pleasure of searching for the edible plants,bending down to inhale the satisfying fragrances of soil, moss and herbs, separating the tender young leaves from the tougher old ones. You learn not to mind worms and beetles and even spiders, and you begin to truly appreciate the variety and complexity of Nature.

Just look at the dandelion clock for example, a cluster of tiny seeds on delicate, fragile parachutes, just waiting for a breeze, a passing animal or human, to assist in the distribution of those seeds far and wide. Simple? I think not. It gives rise to some very deep questions about how such efficiency evolved.
I recommend picking edible plants as a highly therapeutic exercise, one that challenges the brain and the back!.

Here is an extract from the Spydersden blog. that got me thinking (and reminiscing) about dandelion foraging.
" The ubiquitous dandelion, that perennial bane of lawn fetishists all across the land, is one of the healthiest food items on the planet. Instead of spraying it with herbicides every spring and thus saturating our lawns in poison that finds its way into water supplies, other plants, and the food chain, we should be feeding the dandelion to ensure its continued growth and the resultant nutritional values it provides.

According to the USDA Bulletin #8, "Composition of Foods" (Haytowitz and Matthews 1984), dandelions rank in the top 4 green vegetables in overall nutritional value. Minnich, in "Gardening for Better Nutrition" ranks them, out of all vegetables, including grains, seeds and greens, as tied for 9th best. Dandelions are nature's richest green vegetable source of beta-carotene, from which Vitamin A is created, and the third richest source of Vitamin A of all foods, after cod-liver oil and beef liver. They also are particularly rich in fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, cobalt, zinc, boron, molybdenum, vitamin D, and the B vitamins, thiamine and riboflavin, and are a good source of protein.

Internally, dandelion is especially important in promoting the formation of bile and removing excess water from the body. The root decidedly affects all forms of secretions and excretion from the body. By removing poisons from the system, it acts as a tonic and stimulant as well. It cleanses the blood and liver. It is especially good as a blood cleanser for diabetes, dropsy, and eczema. Because of its high mineral content, it is used to treat anemia. It reduces serum cholesterol and uric acid levels. Lukewarm dandelion tea is useful for dyspepsia with constipation, fever, and insomnia.

Dandelion improves the functioning of the pancreas, kidneys, spleen, and stomach. An infusion of the fresh root is good for gallstones, jaundice, and other liver problems. For stomachaches, drink 1/2 cup of the infusion every 30 minutes until relief is obtained. The root is a specific for hypoglycemia. Take a cup of the tea 2-3 times a day and maintain a balanced diet. With a good diet, the root tea can eliminate adult-onset diabetes. The root tea will also help lower blood pressure, thus aiding the action of the heart.
Dandelion relieves menopausal symptoms and is useful for boils (taken internally), breast tumors, cirrhosis of the liver, constipation, liver and spleen enlargement, fluid retention, hepatitis, bronchitis, low blood sugar, and rheumatism. It may help prevent age spots on the skin. Serious cases of hepatitis have been cured with the use of dandelion root tea within a week or two when the diet is controlled properly and limited to easily digested foods.
The fresh juice is particularly effective, but a tea can also be prepared. Dandelion leaves are healthful as salad greens, especially in springtime. The roasted root is a nutrient rich coffee substitute."
And here is an interesting link.

It gives an extract from the book

The link takes you to the excellent page on dandelions, but before you rush off and buy the only copy left at - read the customer reviews!

Apart from my own photos, I must thank my sister Katy, Frosso and Bob of Spydersden, for the use of theirs.


  1. when i was a kid i drank dandelion on burdock, which now a retro drink and gone posh x

  2. Fascinating stuff. I love dandelions and consider those gorgeous wispy seed formations to be a thing of utmost beauty.

    I must confess, I have not gathered nor eaten of the dandelion, but I just might begin.

  3. Always enjoyed them in salad but hadn't realised they were stuffed full of so much goodness, vitamins, minerals etc.... very interesting article plus links. Thank you very much - brilliant! x

  4. ok you persuaded me! I;ll start eating them...too! (It never ends this, mothers, trying to persuade children to eat what's good for them...)

  5. If anyone fancies coming here to my garden in Canada, there are a gazillion dandelions for the picking! they came early, like everything else in this weird spring, and now the temps have gone back nearly to freezing, they are all closed up and not visible!

    My mum used to receive garden bouquets from me, when I was a sprog, - dandelions, daisies, grasses, and said, dont pick dandelions, they make you wet the bed! I still dont!


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