All About Thyme
  A Weekly Calendar of Times & Seasonings

  Celebrating the Mysteries, Magic, and Myths of Herbs
Susan Wittig Albert  
Special Feature, April 2, 2018  

Dandelions: Dandy Medicine

It gives one a sudden start in going down a barren, stony street, to see upon a narrow strip of grass, just within the iron fence, the radiant dandelion, shining in the grass, like a spark dropped from the sun.

—Henry Ward Beecher

Ever wonder how the dandelion got its name?

The word dandelion is an Englishman's pronunciation of the French phrase dent de lion, or tooth of the lion. The plant's toothed leaves, perhaps? Or maybe the blossom's color—the same yellow used to picture heraldic lions.

The dandelion's other names are also descriptive. "The devil's milk pail" refers to the sticky white sap that oozes from the broken root, used to remove warts and treat other skin ailments. "Swine's snout" describes the closed blossom. "Puffball" is exactly the right name for the fly-away seeds. And "monk's head" is a good way of describing the smooth, bald head that pokes up out of the grass after the seeds have blown away.

The Medicinal Dandelion
What sort of medicine is it? We can find one clue in the inelegant name "piss-a-bed." The plant produces taraxacin, stimulating the kidneys to produce urine. Because the dandelion is high in potassium, a vital nutrient lost when the kidneys do their job, herbalists prefer it to chemical diuretics. The plant also stimulates the liver to produce bile. For centuries, the dandelion has been used to treat heartburn, liver complaints, gall stones, jaundice, and dropsy (what we now call congestive heart failure).

Roses are red,
Violets are blue;
But they don't get around
Like the dandelions do.
—Slim Acres

For more about medicinal wild plants, check out these useful guides:

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Who's Susan Albert?

Susan Wittig Albert is the author of two recent memoirs: An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days and Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place. Her fiction, which has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, includes A Wilder Rose (a novel about Rose Wilder Lane's collaboration with Laura Ingalls Wilder in the writing of the Little House books); the China Bayles mysteries; the Darling Dahlias mysteries; the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter; and a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries written with her husband, Bill Albert, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige. She is founder and past president of the Story Circle Network, a member of the Texas Institute of Letters, and Honorary President (2012-2014) of the Herb Society of America. More

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Who's China Bayles?

She's the beloved fictional herbalist in Susan Wittig Albert's popular mystery series, set in Pecan Springs TX. For more about her books, visit

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