Stories Behind Words: Dandelion

bright orange dandelions by Karen Richardson

While not having one specific influence on the way I think or work, the word (and plant) dandelion is one that has accompanied me all my life.

When I was small, my grandmother taught me and my sister how to tell the time by blowing the seeds of a dandelion clock. Although the method was not very scientific, it was enough fun for us to make it want to work. So, instead of counting the amount of puffs it took to blow all the seeds away (which was how we were supposed to do it), we varied the strengths of our puffs so that if we knew for example that it was three o’clock, we blew all the seeds off in three strong puffs. We were encouraged to do this in the field and the park, but not in our grandmother’s garden.

In my early 20s, while studying herbal medicine, I was chuffed to find out that the name dandelion comes from a mispronunciation of the French Dente de Lion, literally ‘lion’s tooth’. Look at the shape of the leaves, and it will be obvious how it got this name. Even more relevant to a budding phytotherapist, was finding out that the French give this diuretic plant another more vernacular name: pisse en lit. Where I live now, the plant’s name in the local German Swabian dialect is: Bettsoicherle. Both of these folk-names mean the same thing in English, and that is ‘wet the bed’. Be aware of this next time you drink a pot of dandelion tea before bedtime!

These days, as a garden-owner, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with dandelions. On the one hand, when they appear in bright abundance, they herald the beginning of summer; on the other hand, if we don’t keep them under control, their incredible root system and seeds will enable them to take over the garden in a very short time. So we dig some dandelions out, we leave some in to flower, but no one is allowed, at least within the boundaries of the garden, to blow their pretty fluffy seeds off the top of the stalk and tell the time with a dandelion clock.

Karen Richardson

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