When I was a child, a very long time ago, my family visited my paternal grandmother at her beach house in the southern Cape every summer. It was a wonderful care-free holiday with friends who, like us, came to the beach for the summer holidays. It was an idyllic place for swimming, lying on the warm sand, exploring rock pools, or fishing from the old iron train bridge.
We loved it all. But there was just one thing – or rather person – we tried to avoid. It was the eccentric Aunty Bea. Aunty Bea lived alone in a little house that was probably older than she was. Simple beach houses tended to be passed down the family in those days. Although we children thought she was possibly a witch, she was merely a very smart herbalist with vast knowledge of natural remedies. Aunty Bea was on a mission to ensure the health of the younger generation. As soon as she spotted us walking past her house (we had to pass her house to see the train to Cape Town with its enormous Garratt engine as it stopped at the tiny local station) she would call us into her parlour and feed us dandelion cordial. It was rather weird-
tasting and certainly not like any cordials we were used to. But my mother had told us to drink it up like medicine as it was good for us and not to offend Aunty Bea by running away.
Aunty Bea was both knowledgeable and right. Dandelions really are good for you.
The Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) gets its name from the French “dent de lion” meaning lion’s tooth in reference to the shape of the leaves. It is called” perdeblom” (horse flower) or “platdissel” (flat adze) in Afrikaans. It originated in Europe and is now naturalised in South Africa, as well as many other parts of the world.
Dandelions have a long history of being used in traditional medicine due to their health properties. They are rich in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as minerals like iron and calcium. The leaves can be eaten as a nutritious addition to salads or cooked like spinach, providing a healthy boost of antioxidants. Dandelion tea, made from the plant’s roots or flowers, is believed to have diuretic properties and can aid in digestion and liver health. And, of course, it can be made into a cordial.
Dandelions are tenacious plants, known for their ability to thrive in diverse environments. With their long taproots, dandelions can penetrate deep into the soil, allowing them to survive in harsh conditions such as compacted soils and drought. Their ability to withstand adversity showcases their adaptability, serving as a valuable reminder of nature’s strength and resilience. To most people, however, they are just a weed. But what is a weed? It’s merely a plant growing where it does not conform to our idea of what should be grown in a garden.
While often considered a nuisance in manicured lawns, dandelions play a crucial role in the ecosystem. The flowers provide an essential source of nectar for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, supporting biodiversity. The long taproots also help break up compacted soil, allowing air and water to reach deeper layers.
These plants, with their bright yellow blossoms and delicate, feathery seed heads, have a unique beauty. When they blanket a field, they create a “wow” moment and serve as a source of inspiration for us. The sight of a child blowing dandelion seeds into the wind is a timeless symbol of innocence and wonder.
Instead of joking about Aunty Bea and her eccentricity, we children should have tapped into her knowledge and learned something about the remarkable dandelion. Often dismissed as bothersome weeds, dandelions possess an array of hidden benefits and remarkable qualities. From their adaptability and aesthetic appeal to their medicinal and environmental advantages, dandelions deserve a second look. And a chance to be welcomed into our gardens!
Photo: Go Botany