Article in the Summer 1994 issue of SageWoman
DANDELION MUSIC by Elizabeth Barrette
Early morning sunlight warms the air as you walk slowly along,
relishing the feel of wind on your skin after the long winter, the
twitter of birdsong, and the sweet scent of apple
blossoms. You smile, murmuring a litany or your favorite Maiden
Goddesses. New grass cushions your step, pleasantly springy underfoot.
You turn slightly to catch a rising breeze and...
Oh, no. What's that? A dandelion. A great big ugly dandelion, its
brazen yellow blossom mocking you from the middle of your gorgeous
green lawn. You groan, dreading the start of your annual attack. The
first dandelion leers up at you as you prepare to open season.
Grumbling under your breath, you reach for your trusty dandelion
Stop. Reconsider. Have you ever paused to think about precisely why
you attempt, always unsuccessfully, to eradicate your dandelion
population? Are dandelions violently poisonous? No: parts of them are
edible, in fact. Are they prickly like thistles or dangerous like
poison ivy? Of course not. Are they even unsightly? Not really, unless
you just happen to hate flowers.
All too often, people simply take for granted that dandelions are a
nuisance, without ever bothering to think about it. We assume that
since everyone knows how noisome dandelions are, it must be true. Yet
dandelions are one of the most amazing plants in the world, and they
have a lot to teach us.
First, let's take a close look at that dandelion you were about to
rip out by the roots. Ah, yes, the roots; we all know about those! Each
taproot sinks a foot or more into the soil, allowing the plant to
survive if the leafy crown is pulled away. The narrow, deeply serrated
leaves give the plant its most common name. "Dandelion" comes from the
French "dent de lion," meaning "tooth of the lion." These dark green
leaves spread out in a flat rosette, and the flower stalks rise up from
the center. Tiny round buds open into beautiful buttery-yellow
blossoms. Dozens of miniature petals form the powder-puff head,
surmounted by the pollen-wearing stamens that adorn your skin with gold
dust as you inhale the sweet fragrance. The flower opens in the morning
and closes at night or if it rains. After a few days, insects have
pollinated the flower, and it stays closed for about a week while a
wonderful metamorphosis takes place. When the flower opens again, the
familiar yellow petals are gone, replaced by a silvery orb of
parachutes. Under each parachute is a developing seed. In a short time,
the seeds turn dark, then float away on the wind to sprout wherever
So, how did the dandelion get here? Contrary to popular belief,
dandelions are not native to North America. Instead, colonists brought
seeds over from Europe. Much to their delight (and their descendants'
disgust), the hardy plants thrived. Dandelion greens formed an
important part of the colonists' diet, providing much-needed vitamins
and minerals. Later, dandelions fell out of fashion, and now they are
considered worthless weeds.
The earliest written reference to the dandelion appears in the
tenth- century records of Arabian physicians. By the 16th century, it
was known as a valuable drug, highly praised by British apothecaries.
In the 19th century, dandelion was a popular potherb in Europe and
America. Today it is the best-known weed in North America.
In all this time, the dandelion has accumulated a number of names.
The scientific name, Taraxacum officinale, originated either from the
Persian 'tark hashgun' (wild endive) or from the Greek 'taraxos'
(disorder) and 'akos' (remedy). Most botanists favor the Greek
derivation. Common names include Irish daisy, puffball, priest's crown,
and peasant's cloak.
Dandelions have a wide variety of applications; every part of the
plant can be used for something. They appear in culinary, ritual, and
cultural contexts. People are always thinking of something new to do
In the spring, pick young tender leaves for a green salad. Older
greens make an excellent substitute for spinach, rich in vitamins A and
C. Blanch the leaves to reduce their bitterness, or wait until autumn
when the bitterness dissipates naturally. Very young leaves are milder
and may be used fresh.
Various beverages come from dandelions as well. For instance, the
flowers can be made into a light wine. The long taproots are gathered
in the late fall, roasted, and ground. This yields a wonderful coffee
substitute or additive, often combined with chicory. Some people add it
to hot chocolate, mulled cider, or wassail recipes.
In addition to making wonderful wine, dandelion blossoms find other
ways into the kitchen. Use the bright yellow petals as a natural food
coloring: mince and add to butters, spreads, dips, etc. Entire
flowerheads make lovely garnishes, and lend color to herb vinegars and
oils. If you enjoy all-flower or wild-green salads, brighten them up
with blossoms or petals.
Dandelions are also rich in symbolism. For example, their ability
to thrive under the most adverse conditions can teach us persistence
and survival. Danelions even burst through the cracks of city
sidewalks, a bit of defiant green amidst the concrete jungle. The deep
taproots remind us to ground ourselves thoroughly, making it difficult
to dig us out. The ability to regenerate from our roots is a gift
we have all experienced. The opening and closing of the flower, and its
metamorphosis, lead us through our own changes as we first show
ourselves off, then retreat, then return in a different form. The
dozens of seeds released by each flowerhead represent fertility and
abundance. The seeds' journey illustrates a time of letting go, of
starting something new. There is a bit of dandelion magic in all of us.
Today dandelions are creeping into awareness again. Several years
ago I first noticed some folk and "filk" singers wearing colorful
green-on- gold dandelion stickers. Then one craftsperson began making
pewter pendants and pins with the same image, which have caught on very
well. Just a word on folk vs. "filk" music.
Folk music covers everything from unofficial opinions on current events
to ancient ballads from traditional cultures. "Filk" music is folk
music with science fiction of fantasy themes. Our own wonderful pagan
repertoire, including ritual as well as recreational selections, falls
somewhere in between. All of these styles of songs have a special,
personal quality, a sense of wonder. Various people have at times tried
to stamp them out. None of these efforts have been successful; this is
the kind of music that seems to spring directly from our hearts,
scattered too widely and rooted too deeply to eradicate. That's why I
started thinking of it as "Dandelion Music."
Traditionally, dandelions have often appeared in pagan rituals. The
buttery blossoms and bright green leaves accent altars for spring and
summer celebrations, especially the Vernal Equinox, Beltane, and Litha.
They can be woven into garlands, wreaths, and ropes to be worn or
draped across altars. Dandelion wine is a common base for the sweet
woodruff May Wine, and one of the recipes I use is specifically for
Litha. Towards autumn, pluck the silvery orbs to adorn your altar for
Lammas, Mabon, or Samhain.
Alternatively, you could design your own rituals to celebrate
dandelions, or to take advantage of their many properties. I have found
a wide assortment of quick spells involving dandelions. Scott
Cunningham offered the following suggestions:
* Grow dandelions at the northwest corner of your house to bring favorable winds.
* Drink tea made from the roasted roots to promote psychich flowers, or leave a steaming cup beside your bed to summon spirits.
In addition, lots of folk magic have variations on the theme of
blowing on a seedball and couting the remaining plumes to determine,
for example, what time it is, how long you will live, when you will
marry, how many children you will have, and so on.
One of my favorite dandelion spells is a message spell. When you
are separated from a friend or loved one, pick a puffball with all the
seeds still attached. To each plume attach a fond thought, then turn in
the direction of your friend and blow the seeds off the stem. If any
remain, your friend is also thinking of you.
If you live in the city, you may rarely have the pleasure of
working with fresh herbs or flowers. Dandelions can be a delightful
exception. Even in the heart of a busy urban center, a few dandelions
usually poke through the pavement. Parks are also a good place to look,
and no one will miss a few "useless weeds." You might have a small
garden, a front yard, or other patch of green to call your own. If not,
simply grow your dandelions in a flowerpot or windowbox. Even the
brownest thumb has a hard time killing dandelions!
Wherever you live, dandelions can become a part of your life. Look
for the first sprout as a sign of spring, and the white puffballs as a
herald of autumn. Learn to appreciate what they have to offer, instead
of dismissing them as a nuisance just because everyone else does. Soon
the sign of a jaunty yellow blossom poking through a crack in the
pavement will bring a smile to your face, a welcome touch of magic
peeking into the mundane.
HOW TO MAKE DANDELION WINE
16 c dandelion blossoms 1/2 t wine yeast 1/2 gallon water 2-1/2 lbs sugar Juice from 2 lemons 1 used tea bag
Instructions: For best results, pick blossoms on a sunny day,
around mid-morning when the petals are fully open and the dew has
dried. Select only new, healthy heads with fresh petals and no signs of
insect damage. Carefully remove all green parts from the blossoms.
Allow mixture to steep until completely cool. Then strain the petals
off-- folded cheesecloth, the kind used in canning, works
well--squeezing out as much liquid as possible. Discard the flowers.
To the remaining liquid, add the lemon juice, tea bag, yeast, and
half the sugar. Let the liquid ferment at room temperature; cover with
more cheesecloth and add one cup of sugar every three days until the
sugar runs out. Wait two weeks. Then strain the wine into a gallon jug
(ceramic works best, but glass will do) and cork with cheesecloth.
After 30 days, strain again into freshly scrubbed bottles. Cork and
label. The wine will be ready to serve in a week, and will keep for
about a year.
Variations: Some recipes call for boiling water, others only
stipulate heated water. To improve flavor, experiment with ginger,
sliced lemon, orange rind, or other spices.
RITUAL FOR DIGGING IN
Consider using this kind of ritual when things get a little rough.
Maybe someone has been trying to push you out of your job or home.
Perhaps resources have been getting scarce of late. Your efforts get
trampled down or chewed up repeatedly. Try turning on some of that
stubborn dandelion magic.
This spell works best in spring or summer, when there are plenty of
dandelions in bloom, but you might be surprised at how late in the year
you can find green dandelions. Go outside, preferably somewhere you can
remain alone and undisturbed for a while. Find a dandelion, then sit
down and make yourself comfortable. (If the ground is damp, you might
want to bring a blanket.) Take a few minutes to relax and let go of
distractions. When you are ready, mentally cast a circle around
yourself; make sure it is large enough to include at least one
dandelion along with you. Place both hands flat on the ground, palm
down, one on either side of the dandelion. Think about your problem
now. Visualize all the annoyance, complications and general hassle.
Talk about them out loud if that helps; feel free to grumble and
complain all you want. When you are satisfied, set all that aside for
awhile. Now think about the dandelion. Consider its persistence, its
strength, its adaptability. When stepped on, it flattens out low to the
ground. When mowed, it grows back. When faced with a drought, it sends
a taproot deep into the earth to gather moisture. Next, envision
yourself as a dandelion. Feel the sun on your leaves, giving you
strength. Dig your roots in and draw sustenance from the earth around
you. Rest for a while, secure in the knowledge that nothing can disturb
you. Finally, return to your own awareness. Consider your problem,
again, and think of ways you could reduce its impact or stand fast
against it. Lace your fingers together in your lap for a moment and
take time to thank the dandelion for helping you. Then dismiss the
circle and go home.
RITUAL FOR LETTING GO
Most of us tend to go through our lives without ever leaving behind
any of the baggage we collect along the way. In fact, many of us never
even sort through it. We often have a hard time letting go of anything,
even things which hold us back. "There are claw marks on everything I
ever let go og," as the saying goes. Ritual can help us say good-bye to
habits, beliefs, and other baggage we don't need anymore. Ritual is
also good for fond farewells--to a home, a job, or group you are moving
This ritual works best in autumn or winter, the traditional seasons
associated with release and rest. However, you could also incorporate
it as a sort of "spring cleaning." Dress warmly and comfortably, taking
special care not to wear anything binding or restricting. Leave your
hair loose if possible. (If you like, bring something water-resistant
to sit on, since the ground will probably be wet.) Go outside and find
a place that feels right to you, preferably somewhere you can remain
alone and undisturbed for a few minutes. Locate a mature, fully intact
dandelion seedhead, and sit down. Take some time to relax, clearing
your mind of all external distractions. When you are ready, think of
whatever it is that you want to let go of. What are your positive
memories? What are your negative memories? What will you miss? What can
you bid a cheerful "good riddance?" Take as much time as you need.
Next, fold both hands together and breathe into your cupped palms.
(Your hands should be bare for this, so if you wear gloves, take them
off briefly.) Fill your hands with all the images you have collected.
Then reach forward to cup the puffball. Settle the image of what you're
releasing onto the seedhead, and envision each memory attaching itself
to a separate seed with its own tiny parachute. Pick the puffball,
being careful not to dislodge any of the seeds. Stand up, and salute
each of the directions. Say good-bye, and blow all of the seeds off the
puffball, scattering them on the wind. Watch them float away. Then turn
around and walk home; don't look back.
(Note: this spell can be adapted to a quickie "street spell" for getting rid of all sorts of annoyances.)
BIBLIOGRAPHY The Complete Book of Herbs, by Lesley Bremness. A
Dorling Kindersley Book. Penguin Books, NY, NY, 1988. Cunningham's
Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, by Scott Cunningham. Llewllyn
Publications, St. Paul, MN, 1991. Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, by
Steven Foster and James A. Duke. The Peterson Field Guide Series,
Houghton Mifflin Company,
Boston, 1990. Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, edited by
Claire Kowalchick and William H. Hylton. Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA,
1987. A Dictionary of Superstitions, edited by Iona Opie and Moira
Tatem. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1989. A Victorian Grimoire,
Patricia Telesco. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN, 1992.
Elizabeth Barrett lives in Illinois, where she is a graduate student, writer and frequent contributor to SageWoman.