Group Writing: The Harbinger

 

Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close emerging,
As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,
Forth from its sunny nook of shelter’d grass–innocent, golden, calm as the dawn,
The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful face.
Walt Whitman

So many beautiful group-writing posts this month, on the topic of spring flowers. It’s my privilege to round out the total on the last day, and I’m doing so by writing about the humblest of spring flowers, one which is regarded by many as a noxious weed and garden-spoiler, but one which means the world to me.

The dandelion (taraxacum officinale) takes its common English name from the French phrase dent de lion, or “lion’s tooth.” That’s always struck me as odd because the petals don’t look like teeth to me at all. But I suppose a phrase which seems more appropriate to me, crinière de lion, or “lion’s mane,” isn’t as appealing–“crineerdelion” neither looks, nor sounds like something one would want in one’s garden.

Of course, most people don’t want dandelions in the garden, whatever they’re called. But the fact of the matter is that the humble dandelion, which botanists consider an herb, is a very practical plant, with its flowers, its leaves, and its roots all having important uses through history and even today.

The greens are edible, either raw or cooked, and are good sources of several vitamins, including A, C, and K. They also contain important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium. They’re at their tenderest and best in spring, and become tougher and bitter with age (sort of like some people I know). It’s true that I don’t eat many of them myself, but the bunnies love a nice dandelion salad, and can chobble their way through mounds of the stuff bigger than themselves in no time at all.

Dandelion root can be dried, powdered, and served as a tea, or it can be sliced and eaten as is.

Dandelion flowers are edible, can be used to make dandelion wine, and as an extract, are often put into skincare products. Dad liked to make dandelion wine–I remember it tasting a bit like cheap sherry, but it was a wonderful project and a lot of fun. I’ve made hand and face cream with dandelion flowers as a key ingredient. That’s fun too.

Medicinally, dandelions have had many uses through the ages. They were known to the Greeks and Romans, and were believed to remove toxins from the body, probably because they function as a diuretic. By the rather forthright Middle Ages, the dandelion had acquired a second name, and was also affectionately known as “piss-a-bed,” probably for that reason, and as a result of accidents when a cup of “dandelion tea” was taken too close to bedtime. Over hundreds of years, it’s been used by one culture or another to treat just about every condition known to man, from constipation to diarrhea, from blindness to cancer. I make no judgment on its efficacy for any of them.

Current research on the lowly dandelion shows promise in the form of using its milky sap as a source for rubber (the Germans looked into, and used it, during WWII), and also for dandelion roots as a viable source for ethanol production. I guess time will tell on both of those matters.

For me, the dandelion has one supremely important function, and it’s this:

When it’s still the dead of winter, maybe very late in January, or early in February. Before the first robin. Before the lambs. Before the daffodils; before even the snowdrops. When the bees are slumbering buzzily in their hives, rousing only to stuff themselves with the food I provide. When the tree limbs are bare. And the ground is alternately rock-hard, or knee-deep in mud. When nothing appears to be growing, and it seems that nothing might ever grow again. When everything is dull, and nothing is other than brown.

One day, I step outside, and there it is.

In the middle of my South-facing garden. Very low to the ground, I suppose because it’s too cold to grow a stalk, and anyway, why bother to waste the energy on such a pedestrian thing? What I see is a lovely, bright, yellow medallion, shining like the sun, and reflecting its glory to the world.

The “first dandelion shows its trustful face.”

And no matter how crummy I’m feeling, no matter how bleak the season or how muddled my life, I know that the wheel is still turning, that the winter will pass, that spring is coming, and that light and life will return to the world. Because there are dandelions.

**A note to anyone who’s got the munchies from reading this post: Please don’t eat dandelions growing by the side of the road. Nor those that have been suffused with pesticides and chemicals. Moderation and common sense in all things. I am not suggesting that eau-de-dandelions will cure Covid-19. And I don’t want to be the woman who makes Anderson Cooper’s head explode (again) because one of you ate a bushel of dandelion roots and became ill, or worse, just because of something I wrote.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    If you hold a dandelion underneath your chin, the brightness of the yellow glow indicates how rich you will be.

    If you rub yourself all over with dandelions, you will be welcome everywhere you go, and people will want to please you.

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    If you blow all the seeds off of the dandelion, your love is true. If there are any left, she’s a tramp.

    • #2
  3. She Member
    She
    @She

    Percival (View Comment):

    If you hold a dandelion underneath your chin, the brightness of the yellow glow indicates how rich you will be.

    If you rub yourself all over with dandelions, you will be welcome everywhere you go, and people will want to please you.

    And if you puff away at the seedhead when the dandelion has turned from “sun” into “moon,”* it will tell you what o’clock it is.

    *The only time in my life I’m likely to quote from Lolita: “Most of the dandelions had changed from suns into moons.” 

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    She: It’s true that I don’t eat many of them myself, but the bunnies love a nice dandelion salad, and can chobble their way through mounds of the stuff bigger than themselves in no time at all.

    If chobble isn’t a word, it should be! It’s meaning is so clear. A beautifully written post, She, and great fun to learn so much about the maligned dandelion! Thanks.

    • #4
  5. She Member
    She
    @She

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    She: It’s true that I don’t eat many of them myself, but the bunnies love a nice dandelion salad, and can chobble their way through mounds of the stuff bigger than themselves in no time at all.

    If chobble isn’t a word, it should be! It’s meaning is so clear. A beautifully written post, She, and great fun to learn so much about the maligned dandelion! Thanks.

    Thanks.  I associate it with England–chobble.  Apparently it’s a bit of Midlands dialect.  As is so often the case, I’m not sure I want to explore further, once I start looking into what people have done with a perfectly good word over the years . . . 

    • #5
  6. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    She: One day, I step outside, and there it is.

    I know that feeling. I have my own private holiday I call Daisy Day. Years ago one day in early May, I realized that the crowns on all of my daisies had lifted up simultaneously. I love daisies so I have quite a few different kinds. They all lift up at the same moment. It’s really fun to see. Some years I miss the event because I’m working inside, but the years I catch it, it always makes me happy. :-) 

    A wonderful post, as always, She. :-)

    • #6
  7. She Member
    She
    @She

    MarciN (View Comment):

    She: One day, I step outside, and there it is.

    I know that feeling. I have my own private holiday I call Daisy Day. Years ago one day in early May, I realized that the crowns on all of my daisies had lifted up simultaneously. I love daisies so I have quite a few different kinds. They all lift up at the same moment. It’s really fun to see. Some years I miss the event because I’m working inside, but the years I catch it, it always makes me happy. :-)

    A wonderful post, as always, She. :-)

    Yes!  It’s Dandelion Day for me!  (I love daisies too.  There’s some sort of wild daisy that’s turned up this year, and I’m just letting it go.)

    • #7
  8. She Member
    She
    @She

    Percival (View Comment):
    If you hold a dandelion underneath your chin, the brightness of the yellow glow indicates how rich you will be.

    We used to do this with buttercups.  I just tried it with a dandelion, and it seems to work the same way!

    • #8
  9. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Beautiful post.  “Darkness, the truest darkness, is not the absence of light. It is the conviction that the light will never return. But the light always returns…”  a quote, believe it or not, from the Justice League movie.  

    • #9
  10. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    She: Dad liked to make dandelion wine–I remember it tasting a bit like cheap sherry, but it was a wonderful project, and a lot of fun. I’ve made hand and face cream with dandelion flowers as a key ingredient. That’s fun too.

    My wife’s grandfather made the wine too – and it was considered dangerous stuff.  It would apparently creep up on you and bludgeon you into a drunken stupor.

    I seem to recall that Augustus Caesar erected a statue in honor of the dandelion?  I don’t have a source currently to hand, and so may be conflating stories, but my recollection was that when on a forced march during his wars with Antony, when rations were low, he and his army stumbled across a field of either dandelions or their lettuce cousins and so knew they had food to continue.

    • #10
  11. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Mrs. She, I don’t care how poetical, medicinal, folkloral, or gastric-nominal you get about dandelions, they’re still a nuisance that I obliterate with a satisfactional squirt of Roundup. 

    • #11
  12. She Member
    She
    @She

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Mrs. She, I don’t care how poetical, medicinal, folkloral, or gastric-nominal you get about dandelions, they’re still a nuisance that I obliterate with a satisfactional squirt of Roundup.

    You, Sir, are incorrigible.  I’m dealing only with Bob and Marie from now on.

    • #12
  13. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    I saw dandelion greens in the Safeway produce section this week, for the first time. I remember going around our large yard as a child, with a forked tool designed to dig just under the surface and uproot them before they could go to seed. I also remember blowing the seeds, more fun at that moment than blowing soap bubbles. Never mind that I was helping broadcast what was viewed as a weed.

     

    • #13
  14. She Member
    She
    @She

    Percival (View Comment):
    If you rub yourself all over with dandelions, you will be welcome everywhere you go, and people will want to please you.

    OK.  I am going to research this.  I’ll get back to you.  lol.  

    • #14
  15. She Member
    She
    @She

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    I saw dandelion greens in the Safeway produce section this week, for the first time. I remember going around our large yard as a child, with a forked tool designed to dig just under the surface and uproot them before they could go to seed. I also remember blowing the seeds, more fun at that moment than blowing soap bubbles. Never mind that I was helping broadcast what was viewed as a weed.

    They’ve been a fairly common item in Pittsburgh supermarkets, at certain times of the year, for quite some time.  And, who knows, if things keep going as they currently are, they may become more valuable and desirible as time goes on. Yes, I remember that forked little implement too.  The best tool I’ve ever found for removing dandelions  from my flower garden (for the bunnies!) is this Hori-Hori knife, which I got from Amazon.  (I’d previously bought one of lesser quality from Home Depot.  It didn’t last long.)

    • #15
  16. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Dear She,

    Everythings coming up dandelions, roses, and daffodils …

    They think that we’re through. Who cares what they think. Just sing it very loud.

    Regards,

    Jim

     

     

    • #16
  17. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    I have long had a suspicion that if I began to harvest the dandelions in my yard for food that they would disappear. This year could be a good time to put that to the test.

    • #17
  18. Southern Pessimist Member
    Southern Pessimist
    @SouthernPessimist

    When I lived inNebraska in the late 70s, I used to joke that the dandelion was the state flower of Nebraska and the house fly was the state bird.

    • #18
  19. Katie Koppelman Coolidge
    Katie Koppelman
    @KatieKoppelman

    Another fun thing you can do with dandelions is to open the stem and tear off strips (like string cheese) and put them in cold water and watch them curl into spirals.

    • #19
  20. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher
    Goldwaterwoman
    @goldwaterwoman

    She (View Comment):
    You, Sir, are incorrigible. I’m dealing only with Bob and Marie from now on.

    And rightly so. 😂

    • #20
  21. OldDanRhody, comfortably seque… Member
    OldDanRhody, comfortably seque…
    @OldDanRhody

    It was a rule in my mother’s house that you couldn’t go barefoot in Spring until you could count one hundred dandelions.
    I’ve continued that tradition in my house as well, as I expect have my siblings.

    • #21
  22. She Member
    She
    @She

    OldDanRhody, comfortably seque… (View Comment):

    It was a rule in my mother’s house that you couldn’t go barefoot in Spring until you could count one hundred dandelions.
    I’ve continued that tradition in my house as well, as I expect have my siblings.

    I’ve never heard that before, but what a wonderful tradition!

    • #22
  23. Al French of Damascus Moderator
    Al French of Damascus
    @AlFrench

    • #23
  24. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    • #24
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