Dandelion, Botanical name Taraxacum officiale

Taraxacum probably comes from ancient Greek “taraxos” meaning “disorder”, and “akos” remedy.      Officiale means, in this context, “from the pharmacy”.


“Dandelion” comes from French “dent-de-lion”. Translates as “tooth of the lion” because of the toothed leaves.

The history of the “Dandelion” goes back 30 million years as fossil seeds have been found in Russia.

As a child, we must of all blown a “Dandelion clock” and watch the seeds float away. On average, there are 180 seeds on a seed head. An article in “Nature” magazine, published in 2018 looked at the mechanics of the “flight” of the seed. The article, demonstrated a special type of “vortex ring”, due to the construction of the seeds. They can travel a number of kilometers. You can google the physics of this in “Nature” 17/10/2018.  

Used as food and medicine for much of recorded history.

Flowers, stem, leaves and root all edible. The leaves form part of traditional cuisine in many countries. Flowers make Dandelion wine, roasted ground root makes caffeine free coffee, parts of plant used in Dandelion and Burdock (popular drink in Northern England) and root beer.

In medicine roots used as diuretic (called “pissenlit” in France….translated as “piss a bed”). Parts of the plant have uses as an anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, reduction of blood cholesterol levels, improved insulin secretion, and reduction of growth of cancer cells.

The “Dandelion” is one of the most vital early sources of Spring nectar for pollinators, although it can produce seeds without pollination. This process is called “apomixis”. The resulting progeny, also capable of apomixis, are basically clones of the parent plant.

The literature is unclear how many species of “Dandelion” exist. At least 250 would be a reasonable estimate, with about 2000 microspecies! It has had 30 million years to evolve!

The Dandelion in central Asia is pink. In Japan it is snow white.

Apparently, if you thoroughly study your local area, you are likely to find 80 – 100 microspecies. The flowers are all yellow in the UK, but whilst researching this short piece, I have noticed a large number of variations in Sidmouth. I have enjoyed the “mindful experience”.

The Russian Dandelion contains a greater amount of latex in it’s tap root. The latex is present to discourage the Cockchafer beetle larva from eating the root. The Cockchafer (known to some as the “May Bug”) is one of many beetle larvae that live underground munching grass, and other roots. The latex has a bitter taste, which beetles do not enjoy!

During World War 2, the Japanese seized the rubber plantations of SE Asia. The Russians had been farming “Dandelions” for a number of years for the “latex rubber”, which they used for tyre production on military vehicles. Germany and the US also used “Dandelions” as a rubber alternative, but the Russian Dandelion was more productive. Due to the great decrease in rubber plantations in the world today, there is a large investment programme in the use of “Dandelion” root latex, again, as a rubber alternative.

I have wondered why the English has named a flower after the French, “dent-de lion”. I do not know the answer, but I do know how keen the French are to use alternative medicines. In 2019, 91% of French people thought that Alternative Medicine was useful in treating minor ailments. Historically, I bet that the French had been using “pissenlit” for a lot longer than us as a medicine, and that they appreciated the plant’s usefulness much more keenly than the UK. I think that we used the name “Dandelion”, from the French, because this ancient plant was used, valued, and appreciated, by our near neighbour, long before we did.

Simon Papworth   

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