Dandelion





Owing to long years of particular evolutionary sagacity in

developing winged seeds to be wafted from the silky pappus of its

ripe flowerheads over wide areas of land, [148] the Dandelion

exhibits its handsome golden flowers in every field and on every

ground plot throughout the whole of our country. They are to be

distinguished from the numerous hawkweeds, by having the

outermost leaves of their exterior cup bent downwards whilst the

stalk is coloured and shining. The plant-leaves have jagged edges

which resemble the angular jaw of a lion fully supplied with teeth;

or, some writers say, the herb has been named from the heraldic

lion which is vividly yellow, with teeth of gold-in fact, a dandy

lion! Again, the flower closely resembles the sun, which a lion

represents. It is called by some Blowball, Time Table, and Milk

Gowan (or golden).



How like a prodigal does Nature seem,

When thou with all thy gold so common art.



In some of our provinces the herb is known as Wiggers, and

Swinesnout; whilst again in Devon and Cornwall it is called the

Dashelflower. Botanically it belongs to the composite order, and is

named Taraxacum Leontodon, or eatable, and lion-toothed. This

latter when Latinised is dens leonis, and in French dent de

lion. The title Taraxacum is an Arabian corruption of the Greek

trogimon, edible; or it may have been derived from the Greek

taraxos, disorder, and akos, remedy. It once happened

that a plague of insects destroyed the harvest in the island of

Minorca, so that the inhabitants had to eat the wild produce of the

country; and many of them then subsisted for some while entirely

on this plant. The Dandelion, which is a wild sort of Succory, was

known to Arabian physicians, since Avicenna of the eleventh

century mentions it as taraxacon. It is found throughout Europe,

Asia, and North America; possessing a root which abounds with

milky juice, and [149] this varying in character according to the

time of year in which the plant is gathered.



During the winter the sap is thick, sweet, and albuminous; but in

summer time it is bitter and acrid. Frost causes the bitterness to

diminish, and sweetness to take its place; but after the frost this

bitterness returns, and is intensified. The root is at its best for

yielding juice about November. Chemically the active ingredients

of the herb are taraxacin, and taraxacerine, with inulin (a sort of

sugar), gluten, gum, albumen, potash, and an odorous resin, which

is commonly supposed to stimulate the liver, and the biliary

organs. Probably this reputed virtue was assigned at first to the

plant largely on the doctrine of signatures, because of its bright

yellow flowers of a bilious hue. But skilled medical provers who

have experimentally tested the toxical effects of the Dandelion

plant have found it to produce, when taken in excess, troublesome

indigestion, characterized by a tongue coated with a white skin

which peels off in patches, leaving a raw surface, whilst the

kidneys become unusually active, with profuse night sweats and

an itching nettle rash. For these several symptoms when occurring

of themselves, a combination of the decoction, and the medicinal

tincture will be invariably curative.



To make a decoction of the root, one part of this dried, and sliced,

should be gently boiled for fifteen minutes in twenty parts of

water, and strained off when cool. It may be sweetened with

brown sugar, or honey, if unpalatable when taken alone, several

teacupfuls being given during the day. Dandelion roots as

collected for the market are often adulterated with those of the

common Hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus); but these are more

tough and do not give out any milky juice.



[150] The tops of the roots dug out of the ground, with the tufts of

the leaves remaining thereon, and blanched by being covered in

the earth as they grow, if gathered in the spring, are justly

esteemed as an excellent vernal salad. It was with this homely fare

the good wise Hecate entertained Theseus, as we read in Evelyn's

Acetaria. Bergius says he has seen intractable cases of liver

congestion cured, after many other remedies had failed, by the

patients taking daily for some months, a broth made from

Dandelion roots stewed in boiling water, with leaves of Sorrel, and

the yelk of an egg; though (he adds) they swallowed at the same

time cream of tartar to keep their bodies open.



Incidentally with respect to the yelk of an egg, as prescribed here,

it is an established fact that patients have been cured of obstinate

jaundice by taking a raw egg on one or more mornings while

fasting. Dr. Paris tells us a special oil is to be extracted from the

yelks (only) of hard boiled eggs, roasted in pieces in a frying pan

until the oil begins to exude, and then pressed hard. Fifty eggs well

fried will yield about five ounces of this oil, which is acrid, and so

enduringly liquid that watch-makers use it for lubricating the axles

and pivots of their most delicate wheels. Old eggs furnish the oil

most abundantly, and it certainly acts as a very useful medicine for

an obstructed liver. Furthermore the shell, when finely triturated,

has served by its potentialised lime to cure some forms of cancer.

Sweet are the uses of adversity! even such as befell the egg

symbolised by Humpty-Dumpty:--



Humptius in muro requievit Dumptius alto,

Humptius e muro Dumptius--heu! cecidit!

Sed non Regis equi, Reginae exercitus omnis

Humpti, te, Dumpti, restituere loco.



[151] The medicinal tincture of Dandelion is made from the entire

plant, gathered in summer, employing proof spirit which dissolves

also the resinous parts not soluble in water. From ten to fifteen

drops of this tincture may be taken with a spoonful of water three

times in the day.



Of the freshly prepared juice, which should not be kept long as it

quickly ferments, from two to three teaspoonfuls are a proper

dose. The leaves when tender and white in the spring are taken on

the Continent in salads or they are blanched, and eaten with bread

and butter. Parkinson says: Whoso is drawing towards a

consumption, or ready to fall into a cachexy, shall find a

wonderful help from the use thereof, for some time together.

Officially, according to the London College, are prepared from the

fresh dried roots collected in the autumn, a decoction (one ounce

to a pint of boiling water), a juice, a fresh extract, and an

inspissated liquid extract.



Because of its tendency to provoke involuntary urination at night,

the Dandelion has acquired a vulgar suggestive appellation which

expresses this fact in most homey terms: quasi herba lectiminga,

et urinaria dicitur: and this not only in our vernacular, but in most

of the European tongues: quia plus lotii in vesicam derivat quam

puerulis retineatur proesertim inter dormiendum, eoque tunc

imprudentes et inviti stragula permingunt.



At Gottingen, the roots are roasted and used instead of coffee by

the poorer folk; and in Derbyshire the juice of the stalk is applied

to remove warts. The flower of the Dandelion when fully blown is

named Priest's Crown (Caput monachi), from the resemblance

of its naked receptacle after the winged seeds have been all blown

away, to the smooth shorn head of a Roman [152] cleric. So

Hurdis sings in his poem The Village Curate:--



The Dandelion this:

A college youth that flashes for a day

All gold: anon he doffs his gaudy suit,

Touched by the magic hand of Bishop grave,

And all at once by commutation strange

Becomes a reverend priest: and then how sleek!

How full of grace! with silvery wig at first

So nicely trimmed, which presently grows bald.

But let me tell you, in the pompous globe

Which rounds the Dandelion's head is fitly couched

Divinity most rare.



Boys gather the flower when ripe, and blow away the hall of its

silky seed vessels at the crown, to learn the time of day, thus

sportively making:--



Dandelion with globe of down

The school-boy's clock in every town.





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