Folk Herbalism & Plant Healing

Brigid’s Beloved Dandelion

“A hoop from three to four inches diameter was made of milkwort, butterwort, dandelion and marigold. This was bound with a triple cord of lint in the name of the Father, and of Son, and of Spirit, and placed under the milk-vessels, to prevent witches spiriting away the substance of the milk.” – Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, 1900

Dandelion, or Taraxacum officinale is also called lion’s tooth, blowball, puffball, swine snout, cankerwort, heart-fever grass, clock, monk’s head, pee-the-bed, pish-the-bed, and pissenlit. In both Gaeilge and Scots Gaelic it’s known as beàrnan-brìde, the ‘indented one of Brigid’ in honor of the goddess Brigid. The scientific name taraxacum is derived from the Greek words taraxos, meaning disorder and akos, meaning remedy which seems incredibly accurate for dandelion. The common name dandelion comes from the Latin phrase dens leonis or ‘lion tooth’ which refers to the serrated leaves. Dandelion is one of my favorite classic ‘weeds’ in that it’s the chagrin to so many who desire a flawless, lifeless and pointless lawn. It’s always a good reminder that nature is persistent, creative and tenacious. Additionally, being a harbinger of spring, the dandelion is always a sign of hope and sustenance. 

Dandelion has some of the highest number of historical records for its medicinal usage. There are an astounding 2,415 current transcripts in the Irish Folk Duchas that mention dandelion. In Ireland, it was used to treat coughs, colds1 or respiratory illness as well as warts2, jaundice3, as a blood depurative, skin tonic, liver tonic4, digestion tonic, kidney and bladder tonic5, heart tonic6, and to treat generalized internal pains and rheumatism7. Ireland, in particular, used the dandelion for an incredibly diverse and numerous amount of ailments and it was a famous ‘heal all’.8 Dandelion was specifically mentioned as a treatment for liver complaints recommended by Irish ‘witches’ in the early 1900’s.9 There are in actuality many more folk recommendations than could be logistically written here. In Scotland, Wales and England, dandelion was used for similar reasoning but not as heavily and recommended to treat things such as ‘grave’ diseases, headaches, joint pain, fevers and as a diuretic.10,11

It was possibly a heal all not only for its genuine nutritive and medicinal properties but also due to its association as being the flower of the goddess Brigid. It’s thought this association to her was due to dandelion being one of the very first plants to appear in the spring. Additionally, the milky sap of the plant may have played a role in the association due to its similarity to milk and timing with livestock being born. It was said that Brigid nourished the lambs with the milk of the flower. In one particular legend, it was said that the dandelion flower and a bee helped guide Brigid on her journey to Nazareth when she plucked a dandelion and said “Tell me, O little sun-flower, which way shall I be going?” and a small bee flew up from the heart of it and up the hill to her left to which she followed.12 Irish folklorist Kevin Danaher discusses dandelion and Brigid connections and said ‘The dandelion is sometimes spoken as ‘Brigid’s flower’. That may be due to the fact that it is almost the first wild-flower to come into bloom following her festival. Apart from its cheerful aspect it is of some medicinal value, and forms the basis of a very potent but most palatable wine. It is known that the saint entertained in a regal way and was famous for the home-brewed ales that she bestowed upon her visitors without distinction as to rank or condition.13 

Indeed, dandelion was very frequently made into a flavorful wine for both medicinal reasoning and as a libation. While it’s speculative, the very color and shape of the dandelion lends it to being a symbol of the sun, which was also associated with Brigid. The early spring blooms of the dandelion are incredibly vital to bees and other pollinators as they’re one of their first foods. Bees were considered so important in early Irish society that there were special bee laws to protect them known as the ‘Bech Bretha‘. There were also various folk traditions of ‘telling the bees’ and talking to them. From this lens, dandelion was particularly special and surely the ancient beekeeper’s most loyal friend. Lady Wilde said that dandelion was ‘… the herb for things that have to do with fairies.’ One particular mention in regards to a recommendation being made by a genuine healer was by another Irish folklorist, Lady Gregory that told of an old woman’s story regarding the famous local witch Biddy Early who said ‘I went up to Biddy Early’s one time with another woman. A fine stout woman she was, sitting straight in her chair…she bid me to take what I was taking before, and that’s dandelions. Five leaves she bid me pick and lay them out on the table with three pinches of salt on the three middle ones.’14

In Irish folk legend, the most famous physician, Diancecht, chief physician of the Tuatha Dé Danann recommended a porridge of hazel-buds, dandelion, chickweed and wood sorrel all boiled together with oatmeal to treat colds, sore throats and ‘the presence of evil things’ in the body’.15 Of course it was said that dandelion was an ‘oracle’ of time and of love and when given to another as a gift, signified being faithful to them.16 Children played many games with dandelion puffs related to them being oracles. One particular game that has continued into the present day all around the world is attempting to blow all the dandelion seeds off at one time while you make a wish. If you are successful, it’s said that the wish will come true. Another game was to blow the puff and see how many seeds were left over which signified how many children you would have. I have little doubt that dandelion played a role in our ancient ancestor’s lives heavily via its medicinal value, but also for the way bees depended on the flower and honey was then used to sweeten mead or other alcohol. While of course speculation, I believe the association to Brigid is a distant remnant from pre-Christian times that was supplanted over as was common practice to do.

Dandelion is in the Asteraceae family and native to Europe but has become very prolific and naturalized throughout the world, especially North America and Australia. Dandelion has oblong and irregularly toothed leaves with yellow flowers that typically bloom from early spring through the summer. It’s a perennial hardy from zones 3 through 9, grows up to 43 cm or 17 in tall and does well in full sunlight and well drained soil but isn’t very picky. Dandelion’s energy is cool and dry. Every part of the plant is edible from the flowers to the leaves and roots. The roots and flower petals taste neutral to honey flavored while the leaves taste bitter. An entire dandelion salad wouldn’t necessarily be palatable and it’s better when it’s mixed with other greens. It’s most commonly used as an infusion, tincture, extract, decoction or eaten as a whole food. If you’re using it in an infusion, you want to use only the roots and flower petals. The best time to harvest the flowers is in the afternoon after the flowers have fully opened on a sunny day. The roots and leaves can be harvested anytime but the leaves do become increasingly bitter after spring and the roots are most potent when harvested in autumn.

Another cure is also used: A horrow-pin, a piece of money, and cuttings of the hair and nails of the patient are buried deep down in the earth, on the spot where lie fell in the fit, and he is given a drink of holy water, in which nine hairs from the tail of a black cat have been steeped. (for asthma) Let the patient drink of a potion made of dandelion or of ground ivy, made and used in the same way, with a prayer said over it before drinking.” – Lady Wilde, Ancient Cures, Charms and Usages of Ireland, 1890

Benefits

antibacterial, anticancer and antitumor, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, blood tonic, cholesterol tonic, depurative, digestive tonic, diuretic, immune tonic, liver tonic, nutritive, urinary tract tonic, vulnerary

Recipe

Dandelion Fritters

Ingredients: 24 oz. or 4 cups of dandelion flower heads (fresh flowers with as much stem as gone as possible), 4 oz. or 1/2 cup of vegetable or sunflower oil, 8 oz. or 1 cup of milk or milk substitute, 8 oz. or 1 cup of biscuit mix (or 4 oz. of flour mixed with 4 oz. of corn meal, 1 tbsp. baking powder and 1 egg), 1 tbsp. honey, 1 tsp. cinnamon

Instructions: Mix the biscuit or flour mixture with cinnamon and stir well. Add the honey and milk or milk substitute and continue stirring. Once you have a good batter, dip the flower blossoms into the batter so that both sides are covered. Fry in the oil of your pan placing heads down first until golden brown, then flip and brown on the other side. Place the fritters on a plate to dry lined with a paper towel to soak up the excess oil. Let them cool and enjoy.

Meditation

Art by Amy Sophia Marashinsky

In the spirit of nurturing ourselves both nutritionally and from a longevity perspective, I’d like to invite you on a short meditation back into earthen womb space. If available take 1 tbsp of dandelion root that is ready to be used as an infusion. Bring 8 oz. or 1 cup of almond or oat milk to a warm simmer. Turn off your heat and add in your dried herbs. Allow it to simmer covered for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain your milk, making sure to squeeze the herbs well. Reheat your drink just slightly to a point of warmth that is pleasurable for yourself if necessary. Additionally, I would like you to pick 9 dandelion stems if you have them available, ideally at least 15 to 20 cm or 6 to 8 in length. Thank the plants and cut the stems. Juice them into your warm almond or oat milk infusion by squeezing the stem from top to bottom into your cup. If it’s warm outside I would suggest doing this outside in a quiet place in nature where you can rest in solitude. If this is not possible, then I would do the meditation inside in a warm space, even under a blanket or in front of a fireplace. Once you’re completely comfortable and warm, begin to take intentional sips of your nutritive dandelion infusion.

Feel each sip hit your tongue and roll down your throat into your body. Feel the warmth spread through your body and genuinely envision its healing work on your inner landscape. With each sip, envision a part of you that is being healed. When you’re approximately half way through your drink, imagine you are back in a womb type space or the earth’s womb, warm, safe, loved unconditionally. Imagine your mother and the mother before her and on back to the first mothers surrounding you. This is especially important if you’ve had a challenging relationship with your mother. Imagine before her if you need, to an archetypal mother that supports you and wraps you in love. Imagine Brigid wrapping you in her mantle. Breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth in increments of three deep breaths at a time. Simultaneously, feel into the inner healing warmth going into your body as well as the outer warmth holding you in this sphere of healing. Continue to take sips and hold this space for yourself, imagining all of your ailments, physically, mentally, and emotionally melting away. This meditation may take 15 minutes or it may take an hour. Please take as much time as you need to finish your nutritive milk as well as process your meditation. If you see it as appropriate you may wish to call on Brigid directly during this time or say an incantation to her. You may wish to use amended verses from texts such as the Carmina Gadelica’s… “No fire, no sun, no moon shall burn me, No lake, no water, nor sea shall drown me, No arrow of fairy nor dart of fay shall wound me, And I under the protection of spirit and my ancestors, And my gentle foster-mother our beloved Brigid.

Reflect on the following questions. Which part of your body did your infusion connect with to heal and why do you think that is? What is one or a few things that came up for you that were healed in this session? What is one or a few things that came up for you that still need more work?

Footnotes

  1. Irish Folk Duchas, The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0573, Page 276
  2. Irish Folk Duchas, The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0864, Page 187
  3. Irish Folk Duchas, The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0773, Page 039
  4. Irish Folk Duchas, The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0700, Page 126
  5. K’Eogh, John, Botanologia Universalis Hibernica, or An Irish Herbal, Cork, 1735, edited by Michael Scott, 1986, pg. 56.
  6. Irish Folk Duchas, The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0161, Page 168
  7. Irish Folk Duchas, The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0389, Page 270
  8. Allen, David and Hatfield, Gabrielle, Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition: An Ethnobotany of Britain & Ireland, Timber Press, 2004, pg. 288.
  9. Wood-Martin, W.G., Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland, Longmans Green and Co., 1902, pg. 177. 
  10. Myddvai, Meddygon, Pughe, John and Williams, John, The Physicians of Myddvai, Wales, 1861.
  11. Culpeper, Nicholas, The Complete Herbal, London, 1653, pg. 112.
  12. MacLeod, Fiona, The Washer of the Ford, Edinburgh, 1896, Pg. 88. 
  13. Danaher, Kevin, The Year in Ireland, Cork, 1994.
  14. Gregory, Lady, Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, New York, 1920, pg. 54.
  15. Wilde, Lady, Ancient Cures, Charms and Usages of Ireland, London, 1890, pg. 34 and pg. 60.
  16. Lehner, Ernst, Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees, Colchis Books, 1960, pg. 114. 

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