Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a perennial herb, often found in meadows, pastures, waste ground and road verges. Unfavourably considered and treated as a common weed, it is in fact a type of daisy (Asteraceae family), and a vital source of food to many pollinating insects. The flower head of a dandelion is made up of lots of individual flowers, known as ray flowers or florets. Throughout spring and summer each of them provide pollen and nectar, and consequently a near continuous supply of food to visiting insects and pollinators, including bumblebees, butterflies, hover flies, day flying moths and solitary bees.
The common name, dandelion, derives from the French dent de lion (lion's tooth) based on the medieval Latin name dens leonis, which refers to the jagged edge of the leaves. Across Scotland dandelion is known as horse-gowan, milk-gowan, wild-william, or witch-gowan. In Shetland it is commonly referred to as 'bitter aks'. In Gaelic, the name am bearnan Brìde means 'the notched plant of Brigid' (dandelion was believed to be sacred to the goddess Brigid).
It is one of the most useful of native British medicinal herbs, as all parts of the plant are effective and safe to use. It is regarded as one of the best herbal remedies for kidney and liver problems. Barbara Fairweather mentions in Highland Plant Lore that dandelion leaves between bread and butter were an old cure for ulcers in Glencoe village, and also that coffee was traditionally made in the district from the dried and ground roots. In fact, the roots, dried, roasted and ground, make a caffeine-free coffee substitute. Norman Macdonald notes in the Journal of Scandinavian Folklore that the juice from the boiled roots was taken for internal pains in general. The fresh plant juice was commonly used, more latterly in children's lore, to remove warts. The white, milky juice was applied onto the wart allowing the substance to dry. The action would be repeated as often as possible, until the wart blackened and eventually dropped off.
The fresh young leaves can be eaten raw as a spring salad. The flowers can be boiled with sugar and used to treat coughs.
Dandelion flowers are also used to make home-made wine. Its taste has been likened to mead, with a hint of honey taste to it; apparently fermenting dandelion wine can take about two years.
In 2012, a new species of dandelion has been discovered on Hirta island (the largest in the St Kilda archipelago). The flower may have originated in Iceland and was carried to Hirta by birds, or the Vikings. It has been named Taraxacum pankhurstianum in honour of Richard Pankhurst, a retired Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh employee. This discovery could be one of the Scotland's rarest plants.
'The Illustrated Book Of Herbs, Their Medicinal And Culinary Uses' - from a text by Jiri Stodola & Jan Volak, 1985
'Healing Threads, Traditional Medicines of the Highlands and Islands' - M. Beith, 2018, first published in 1995
'Vickery's Folk Flora' - R. Vickery, 2019
'Flora Celtica, Plants and People in Scotland' - W.Milliken & S.Bridgewater, 2013
'Flora Orcadensis' - Magnus Spence , first published 1914, 2015 re-print