Dandelion Lore

If you’ve ever tried to eliminate dandelions from your garden or lawn, you will know it is almost impossible.  Leave behind the tiniest bit of root and it will regrow, while the fluffy seeds float freely on the wind and spread the plant everywhere.  But wait. Every part of the dandelion is useful, a gift of free food, wine and beer, dye, cosmetics, magic and a whole pharmacy within itself, available most of the year, and sacred to the Goddess.  Truly a gift from the Gods!

The tenacious dandelion is a hardy perennial plant, probably native to China and Asia, but now spread throughout the world, commonly found in gardens, pastures, lawns, meadows, waste ground and on roadsides.  It has a fleshy root and a hollow stem which contain a milky white juice.  The leaves are lance shaped and form a rosette at the stem base.  The bright yellow flowers bloom from late spring to early autumn and are followed by the fluffy seed heads.  It is an important food source for wildlife, the flowers contain a good supply of nectar, attracting many insects, especially bees.   Small birds eat the seeds, while rabbits and pigs love the leaves.  

The common name comes from the French Dent de Lion or ‘lion’s tooth’, which seems a little strange, and is generally said to refer to the shape of the leaves.  However, the lion is an ancient symbol of the sun, and the rayed golden flowers resemble little suns, so the name is possibly a corruption of ‘rays of the sun’.  [1]

The dandelion is one of the three emblems of the goddess Brighid/Bride, who was Christianised as St Brigit (the others being the lamb and the oyster-catcher bird).  [2] In Uist, it is called bearnan Bride (‘the little notched flower of Bride’), while other Gaelic names translate as ‘little flower of God’ and ‘St Bride’s forerunner’.  Like the dandelion, Brighid is associated with the coming of spring at Imbolc (1 February), her festival, and the increase of the sun; she wears it at her breast, and the sun is said to follow.  [3]  People would go to wells dedicated to her to watch the sun dance at the vernal equinox, and later, Easter.  A further association comes from the ‘milk’ that can be expressed with the stems.  Like other ‘milk’ yielding plants, they are associated with Brighid as patroness of flocks and herbs.  A common belief was that the dandelion ‘milk’ nourished young lambs in spring. 

It has been used in medicine and folk remedies since ancient times for a variety of ailments.   The name of the genus, Taraxacum, is derived from the Greek taraxos (disorder), and akos (remedy), an allusion to the use of the plant as a remedy.  Dandelion root was said to cure any disease, but you had to dig out the whole root and not leave any behind – the devil will try to nip a bit off, which makes the cure useless.  [4] In Warwickshire folk medicine it was said to be good for the blood, was recommended in the Highlands of Scotland as a tonic, and in America and as blood purifier.   Dandelion was used by Arab physicians in the eleventh and twelfth centuries as a general curative. 

It is known as a diuretic (urine promotor), hence many of its folk names – stink davie, wet-a-bed, mess-a-bed, pissimire, pittle bed and wet-weed.  Indeed, its English folk name of piss-a-bed is echoed in the French pissenlit and the German pissblume.  In counter-magic, children in the Fens (eastern England) would be given the flowers to smell on May Day, which was said to stop them wetting the bed for twelve months. 

It is a plant with a great deal of folklore attached to it, and many of its folk names call it a clock – clocks and watches, blowball, peasant’s clock, doon-head-clock, fortune teller, one o’clocks, clocks, fairy clocks, farmer’s clocks, schoolboy’s clocks, shepherd’s clock, tell-time, time flower, time-teller or twelve o’clock.  The spherical seed heads can be blown for temporal divinations of all kinds.   You can find out how long you have left to live by blowing once on a dandelion seed head; the number of seeds left correspond to the number of years you have left.  Or blow on the seed head to tell you how many years will pass before you get married, or how many children you will have. 

In Somerset it was called ‘the weather clock’ since when the seed head is fluffy, it means fine weather, but when it is limp, it indicates rain.  [5] The flowers themselves close before rain and before dew fall.  The blooms are very sensitive to weather conditions: in fine weather, all the parts are outstretched, but directly rain threatens the whole head closes up at once.

In France, girls put a dandelion leaf beneath their pillow to dream of their future husband.  [6] to dream of dandelions is unlucky, however.  To dream of a dandelion is bad luck or indicates tough times ahead.

[1] Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal, Hedgerow Medicine, Merlin Unwin Books, Ludlow, 2008

[2] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[3] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[4] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[5] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[6] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007


Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

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