March 2, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

This flower is native to Europe and North America. The origin of the word dandelion is a corruption of the French dent de Lion meaning lion’s tooth, though it also goes by the more poetic name of Florin d’Or – the golden florian.

Its ethereal seeding stage; a corona of misty-star like florets, is a fascination to children (and let’s face it, most of us). The Germans call it Pusteblume – the blowing flower, whilst the Greeks call it ‘kleftis’ – the thief – because its seeds are difficult to catch. In Persian it is known as ‘qasedak’ – the small postman – as it is believed to bring good news.

It is commonly held that catching an airborne dandelion seed is lucky, and children traditionally play with them as dandelion clocks. In Portugal a playground game is for two children to puff on two dandelion clocks; if no seeds remain, the father is bald.
Dandelions evolved around 30 million years ago in Eurasia and have been commonly used in medicine and cuisine since. Nowadays it is frequently found in salads, however the flowers possess anti-inflammatory properties and are anecdotally beneficial in treating UTIs, and its roots contain a compound that make a powerful diuretic.

Either way this common garden weed is steeped in culture and its transformation, like the changing of seasons, produces some of the most fabulous scenery nature can create.

Image: Jo Poole