History of Dandelions
Although they have a reputation as dastardly weeds, dandelions have a long and fascinating history of medicinal and magickal uses. From Chinese Traditional Medicine, to the Arabic physician Ibn Sina in the 10th century, to the Puritans of New England, dandelions were used extensively to aid in digestion and liver issues, as a source of vitamins and nutrients, and in various forms of divination. Without further ado, let’s explore the vibrant and sunny history of the dandelion.
A Plant of Many Names
The dandelion is such a widespread and ‘common’ plant that it should come as no surprise that it goes by many names. In fact, there have been approximately 500 names associated with the taraxacum officionale, some of them poetic, some…errrr, not. The name dandelion comes from the French “dent de lion” (tooth of the lion), referring to either the color and shape of the yellow flowering portion of the plant or the jagged edges of the leaves. This French phrase probably comes from the Latin “dens leonis” or Greek “leontodon”, both of which bring up images of strength, power, and majesty. Less dignified however, is another French name that dandelions go by, which is “pissenlit” (bed wetter), whose British equivalent is somehow even less appealing – pissabed. The plant got these names because it was a commonly used diuretic.
In the middle ages, dandelions were sometimes called “Priests Crown”, because after they had seeded and many seeds had blown away, the remaining portion of the flower resembled the bald heads of monastic priests.
One of the most magickal names that the dandelion has been called is the “Shepherd’s Clock”, or better yet, “Fairy Clock” . This name was given because the dandelion naturally opens its flower in the early morning, just after sunrise, and closes it again at dusk. Dandelions also close in preparation for inclement weather and open again once it has passed. If watched closely, it is said that dandelions also track the sun, turning themselves to face the golden orb throughout the day.
Medicinal & Culinary Uses
The dandelion has been used for medicinal and culinary uses since before recorded history. Fossil records of the plant show that it has been Europe to “glacial and interglacial” periods, and was used in Chinese Traditional Medicine and the Ayurvedic system for thousands of years. They used it to treat several disorders, including cancers, snakebites, and fevers. Most overwhelmingly though, the dandelion was used to treat problems in the liver and digestive issues. In the 10th century, Arabic scholar and physician Ibn Sina dedicated an entire chapter in one of his works to the “bitter herb” and its various medicinal uses, and the Romans and Greeks, included it in their herbal remedies as well. In the European Middle Ages and onward, it was used to treat fevers, boils, diarrhea, fluid retention, heartburn, and skin issues.
The dandelion has also long been used as a source of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Wines, jellies, salads, teas, and even ‘coffee’ are derived from the plant. All parts are edible, and since it is so common and easily grown, it provided an easy form of sustenance for people who needed it. Although there is some disagreement, it is thought that the Puritans purposefully brought the dandelion over when they came on the Mayflower, but it could have easily been brought by the Vikings in 1000AD or even earlier on the Bering land bridge. What we do know is that both the English settlers and the Native Americans in New England used the plant for food and medicine. Dandelions also provided food to animals in North America and Europe, and are a great source of nectar for bees.
Magick and Folklore
The dandelion has been associated with many different types of magick and divination. I’m sure most of us picked up a dandelion as a child and made a wish as we blew the seeds. It was believed that if we were able to remove all of them in one breath, our wish would come true. Releasing our intentions into the air (wish paper or dandelion seeds), is most definitely a simple spell, and has been tied to the dandelion for centuries.
These little seeds were also know to be used to determine the number of years a person would live. Ask the question, blow them off, and the remaining seeds equal the number of years. Dandelion flowers were used to tell if a person would be rich, or whether or not they were happy. They would simply hold the yellow flower up to their cheek or chin, and if their skin turned yellow, they would indeed become rich or were happy (maybe they were happy because they were to be rich!?)
We may not put too much stock in these childhood games, but they do tells us what kind of magickal energies dandelion brings to spell and ritual work. Dandelions are tenacious and strong, they are adaptive and can grow all over the world. They are also among the first plants to flower in the spring, promising the light and warmth of the months ahead. They reach out to the sun and protect themselves from the rain. These properties manifest in the magick we do with dandelions.
In ritual or spellwork, use dandelions for:
- sun magick
- new beginnings or new hope
- for moving on and letting go (the mature, ‘grey’ phase of the dandelion)
- for bravery or courage
- for adaptation or strength to change/withstand change
Additionally, dandelions are used for psychic abilities (roots), divination, prophetic dreaming, and calling spirits. You can drink dandelion tea, place dandelions around your altar or home to bring in sunshine and happiness, or to meditate on the way it calls us to hold on, be brave and strong, and let go when the time is right so that we may float somewhere and start anew.
Below are links to some wonderful recipes that you can make to get more connected with the energies of the dandelion.