Wildlfe Column: Peasant's clock or swine's snout...
Jan Turner was impressed by this year's display of bright yellow dandelions '“ a wonderful example of nature putting on a great free show! Yet often these everyday displays of wild nature get overlooked.
For a few weeks along hedgerows and roadsides there we experience the most dramatic bright yellow lighting our way. Of course, this will be followed by clouds of dandelion seeds perhaps less welcome in gardens. Gardeners need to prepare for weeding. As a survival strategy the dandelion is onto a winner as millions of seeds fly across the landscape to seek new homes.
The humble dandelion is one of the genus Taraxacum and an Aster. These interesting and often overlooked flowers are mostly a species ‘aggregate’ called Taraxacum officinale i.e. the common dandelion. In practice, the plant includes many ‘micro-species’ because they reproduce by an asexual process called apomixis.
Seeds are produced without pollination and therefore all the offspring are identical clones of the parent plant and any genetic mutations are passed down to the seedlings – hence the huge number of micro-species.
The plant is entirely edible and is also important in herbal medicines. Long noted as a diuretic it is particularly helpful for anyone with trouble in ‘passing water’; hence folk-names like wet-the-bed, pissy beds, tiddle-beds, and other nicer names like old man’s clock, peasant’s clock, and swine’s snout. The seed-heads are variously known as fairies, parachutes, and sugar-eaters or sugar-fairies.
So the French ‘dent de lion’ (i.e. lion’s teeth, so-called after the indentations of the leaves) is now perhaps our most widely-known wildflower.
With an upsurge in interest in wild foods you can use the leaves for salads, for dandelion pasta, as pickled dandelion, in dandelion and mozzarella pie, and in dandelion stir-fry. Of course a local favourite when I was a child was dandelion and burdock to drink.
A contemporary recipe is apparently ‘inspired by traditional flavours from yesteryear, with a fruity character with an interesting blend of liquorice and aniseed.
Infused with dandelion and burdock roots and other herbal extracts, the result is an authentic, traditional soft drink packed full of flavour’. Delicious!
Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues