Dandelion, history and mythology
I love dandelions. In my food, my tea, springing up in my yard. For me dandelions are a necessity. I need them nearly like I need water. So how did our ancestors regard the much maligned dandelion?
The plant is mentioned in literature written by Arabian doctors of the tenth and eleventh centuries while the Welsh allude to dandelion in medical texts of the thirteenth century. Gerard mentions dandelion in his herbal saying, “[T]hey floure most times in the yeare, especially if the winter be not extreme cold”. For Gerard they probably did flower most times of the year. However, anyone living in hotter climes will be quick to point out that dandelions don’t do well in extreme heat.
In my ancestry
My own Grandmother loved dandy greens. Every year when spring arrived in the mountains of West Virginia she sent my father and his brothers out hunting dandelion’s first young and tender leaves along with poke, paw-paw, and a few others. By the time springs’ welcome warmth arrived all of them were thoroughly sick of beans, bacon, and biscuits. Their bodies were also craving the nutrition that dandelion would provide along with the support it provided to livers over-worked throughout the long winter.
Some Indian tribes have legends about the dandelion, though this herb is supposed to have migrated over with the Europeans. Dandelion is also the only flower to represent three different celestial bodies. The sun is shown in the lovely yellow flower that first appears, followed by the moon represented in the puff ball, and the stars by the seeds as the disperse in a friendly breeze. In present times many are more familiar with the imagery of the evil dandelion depicted in herbicide commercials as the destroyer of driveways and pristine grassy lawns. Until sometime in the 1800’s things were reversed; people often pulled grass out of the lawn to make room for dandelions, chamomiles, mallows, and the like.
The Chippewa Indians have an interesting legend about the dandelion, though the herb is more of a side note than a main character here it is still a good teaching story about the cycle of the dandelion’s flower.
The Meadow Dandelion
When the Earth was much younger, Mudjekeewis the Mighty kept the west wind for himself and gave the other three winds to his sons. To Wabun he gave the east wind; to the exuberant Kabibonokka he gave the northwest wind. Lazy Shawondasee was given the south wind and rule over the south land. Shawondasee was sorrowed to leave the cool north land but set out for the south.
“Farewell brother,” roared Kabibonokka. “Many is the time you will long for my cool breath in your hot land.”
Shawondasee gave no answer, just kept his slow way toward the south land.
He built his lodge in south land of branches. Sleepy and lazy he sat in his lodge; there in the flowery tangle of the forest. The bright birds and flowers he noticed not at all. The fragrant airs had no effect on him. All his time was spent looking longingly toward the north.
When he sighed in the springtime, birds followed his wind northward anticipating much feasting in the grain fields of the north. His sighs in the summer sent hot winds northward to ripen corn and cause flowers to bloom throughout the fields and woods. Come autumn as he sat sighing a golden glow drifted through the north draping the purple haze of Indian summer upon the hills.
Shawondasee was too lazy to follow the paths of birds or winds and just sighed his longings.
One spring as he gazed northward, he saw a slender maiden in a grassy meadow. Her clothing green and flowing; her hair yellow as gold. Every night Shawondasee told himself he would seek the maid on the next day. Every morning he told himself he would win her for his bride on the morrow. Shawondasee, so sleepy and lazy never left his lodge to seek her.
One morning he saw that the maid’s hair had become white like the snow. In his grief he gave many short sighs, the air filled with something silver and soft, and his slender maid was gone forever.
His brother of the northwest wind, Kabibonokka, came cavorting southward. Joyous and lively
he was as he laughed loudly.
“Ho, lazy one!” he said as he blew around Shawondasee’s lodge. “It was no maiden that you gazed upon, but a meadow dandelion!”