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Scientific Name: Taraxacum officinale
Other names: Blowball, Cankerwort, Clock Flower, Irish Daisy, Lion's Tooth, Milk Witch, Monk's Head, Piss-a-bed, Priest's Crown, Puffball, Swine Snout, Telltime, White Endive, Wild Endive
Family: Asteraceae

A perennial, the Dandelion is a member of the sunflower family, the name comes from the French, 'dents de lion' ("teeth of the lion") due to the edge of the leaves resembling jagged teeth. A native to Europe, it is now widespread as it was taken around the world for its medicinal and culinary, uses. Dandelions are popular with beekeepers as they are an early source of nectar.
There are a number of folklore beliefs mostly related to the white globe of fluffy pappus in the seedhead. Blowing it away completely in one go while making a wish will make it come true, or it means that you have a passionate lover; however if some remain your lover has reservations and a lot remaining means you are not in favour at all. The number of blows taken to remove all of the pappus reveals the time (Telltime). The number of seed remaining after one puff indicates the age at which you will die. Blow the seed in the direction of a friend to send a message. For a good outcome to all of these superstitions it would be best to choose a really dry, ripe seedhead.

The dark green leaves form a rosette close to the ground which remain green all year round and are not killed by close mowing. The fleshy tap root goes down vertically and a small portion can regenerate if left in the soil. It is a resilient plant and can force its way up through tarmac. If a portion of root is left it comes back as a multi-crowned plant.
The flower buds form at the centre of the rosette in early spring and a hollow stem grows to raise them up, it can reach 45 cm in long grass. The yellow composite flowers open to be pollinated by insects or the wind. The bracts at the back of the flower close up again and the seeds ripen. The stem lays down to protect the ripening seedhead then rises again and the bracts open to reveal a sphere of fluffy parachutes each carrying a seed. Even if severed from the plant they still manage to open, so they should be taken away and destroyed. Some US scientists have found that the seeds are organised so that they are released in different directions. They seem to be programmed to be freed in a wind from one direction and resist wind from another and this ensures a widespread dispersal. The individual 'parachutes' also respond to atmospheric humidity, opening out when drier, windy conditions and closing with moister air so don't fly off.
The seeds provide food for birds such as Goldfinches and House Sparrows which will break into the base of the maturing bud and pick them out - harvest mice also take them.

The flowers can be used to make wine, the leaves boiled like spinach or added uncooked to salads (the midrib is the bitterest part so tear of the softer green part). Young leaves growing in shade are less bitter. The roots are used as a vegetable or roasted and brewed for a coffee-like beverage. Dandelions used to be grown in unheated greenhouses to provide salad leaves in winter. Covering the plant with an upturned pot or bucket to block out light produces tender, blanched leaves after about 10 days, which are less bitter. They contain potassium (proportionately more than in bananas), sodium, phosphorus and iron. The leaves are a richer source of vitamin A than carrots and also have some C, E and B vitamins.

The Dandelion is one of the most frequently recorded plants in folk medicine. It is a mild laxative and diuretic, has been used for coughs and colds, as a tonic and blood purifier, for skin conditions, joint pain, eczema and liver conditions such as hepatitis and jaundice. It contains high levels of lecithin which reduces cholesterol so preventing strokes and heart disease. Its most popular use in folk medicine is for removal of warts by dabbing the white sap from the roots on them. In parts of Ireland the leaves were used as a remedy for toothache because of the leaf shape.
Dandelions can reduce blood-sugar levels so should be avoided by diabetics; also if pregnant or breast feeding.

All parts of the Dandelion plant give off ethylene gas which can have an allelopathic effect on surrounding plants. Some fruit producers grow them below the canopy of their trees to promote even ripening. The leaves and flowers can be placed in a bag with fruit to help it to ripen. Ethylene released from the roots can have an inhibiting effect on the growth of neighbouring plants (allelopathy).

One of the more novel uses of Dandelions is to make rubber. The white sap or latex, contained in all parts of the plant can be converted to rubber by allowing it to dry. Coating a piece of fabric with it and letting it dry will make it waterproof, although it remains sticky - Charles Macintosh invented this by creating a sandwich with the rubber in the middle, hence why waterproof coats are called macintoshes or macs. Curing the crude rubber with heat and sulphur is the vulcanisation process in commercial production to stop the stickiness. The Russian Dandelion, Taraxacum kok-saghyz is a better source of the latex and has commercial uses.
Tyre manufacturer Continental are developing tyres made with dandelion rubber.

When removing it dig up the whole plant using a fork to reduce the likelihood of breaking the root. Small fragments of roots will regenerate, so care must be taken during cultivation not to break them up. If repeated a few times you can eventually rid a lawn of an infestation by teasing out the plants, any part left will produce several new plants. Victorian gardeners would sever the root just below soil level and place a teaspoonful of salt on the remaining root. The younger the plant is the better the chance of complete removal.
There will always be a return from new seed which float in; they can travel up to 10km on a moderately windy day, but most fall close to the parent - the record for distance travelled is about 60 miles (96.5km). It often germinates close to other plants after the floating seed became trapped, the most difficult instance is in a clump-formimg plant where it has grown in the centre. To remove it lift the plant and tease out the weed or paint the leaves with a systemic weedkiller.
Uprooted plants or severed near mature seedheads have enough sap to open them and disperse the seeds, so all such material should not be left lying around.

A systemic weedkiller such as Glyphosate or a selective agent can be used, any flowers or unopened seedheads should be removed as they can mature before the plant dies away. Contact weedkillers destroy the topgrowth and must be repeated several times to be effective similar to the use of treatment with a flame gun.

picture of DANDELION

A herbicide like Glyphosate is best. Pull off any flowers and buds as they can mature and produce seed before the chemical can act. In the lawn a selective weedkiller should work, or use Gylphosate as a spot weeder.

Nicholas Culpepper
(17th century astrologer-physician)
"It has an opening quality and, therefore, very effectual for removing obstructions of the liver, gall bladder and spleen and diseases arising from them, such as jaundice.
It openeth the passages of the urine both in young and old and will cleanse ulcers in the urinary tract. For this purpose the decoction of the roots or leaves in white wine, or the leaves used as pot herbs are very effectual. It is a wonderful help in cachexia, the severe wasting condition in severe illness. It also procures rest and sleep in those with fever. The distilled water can be drunk in pastilential fever and be used as a wash for sores. This common herb hath many virtues, which is why the French and Dutch eat them so often in the spring."

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