11 April 2012

Dandelions a.k.a. pissenlits

Yesterday I posted a couple of photos of flowers you might think of as exotic and unusual — orchids. Today, here's a plant that is anything but. It's the dandelion.

A dandelion flower out in the vineyard

The word dandelion comes from the old French name dents-de-lion, which means "lion's teeth." The name has to do with the shape of the leaves, which are jagged and pointy. Names like dandelion appear in other languages too.

Dandelion seeds and their "parachutes"

In French today, however, the plant has another name — it's called le pissenlit. That means more or less "pee in the bed." It refers to the pronounced diuretic effect the dried, pulverized taproot of the plant has on the human organism when ingested.

More flowers than leaves here

You can also eat the leaves of the pissenlit, but they are bitter. Cooking them a little before eating them in a salad dressed with a vinegary sauce that includes a little bit of bacon or ham can make the leaves more palatable. Walt and I actually picked some dandelion leaves in the yard a couple of weeks ago and tried them, but they were too bitter even for us. They say you should pick the leaves of young dandelions before the plants have flowered.

This one just needs a puff of air to start sending seeds far and wide.

One last thing about dandelions: they appear in an expression in French where we favor a different flower, daisies, in English. We all know what it means when we say that somebody is "pushing up daisies" — it means the person is dead and buried. In French, the equivalent expression says that the dead person « mange les pissenlits par la racine », or "is eating dandelions by their roots."

We are off to Sazilly, near Chinon, today, after a 24-hour delay. It did rain some yesterday, but not as hard or long as the weather reports said it might. Today is just supposed to be showery.


  1. The other 'use' of the dandelion seed head (certainly in the UK) is to blow it and tell the hour by the number of breathfuls it takes to clear all the fluffies.
    Well it was when I was a kid, now its probably gone digital.

  2. "pissenlit" is my new favorite word... thanks and enjoy your trip!

  3. You might blanch some by putting a bucket over a nice plant for a couple of days - might be a bit less bitter! Someone we knew bought a packet of pissenlit seeds from France and sowed them in his allotment. Nothing came up!

  4. Thanks for the idea, Pollygarter. I've eaten dandelion greens before and enjoyed them. I was surprised that the ones we picked here were as bitter as they were. I'll try the blanching.

  5. Fascinating history on these little yellow plants. Hi to you Ken. I think about you often and your good life in Saint Aignan.

  6. As I recall, the leaves we had in salad were from pale yellow to pale green, more or less like “chicons.”
    “Blanching” is a good idea, but it will have to be longer than two days and it will have to be done with young plants. Walt should try that from seed in one of his cold frames.

  7. mange les pissenlits par la racine », or "is eating dandelions by their roots."

    Thanks for a good laugh today, Ken!

  8. Here in the states I can't imagine using precious cold frame space to start the dreaded dandelion seeds. I my yard I pour vinegar on them to terminate them. My neighbor uses boiling water......I see her out there with her steaming tea kettle sometimes.

    Victoria, Bellingham,, WA

  9. Hi Victoria, in our back yard in San Francisco, dandelions were really invasive. They quickly took over unless you did something about them. Here in Saint-Aignan, they are kind of scattered around and don't seem to represent the same kind of problem. As for growing them on purpose, that I'm not sure of.

  10. Evelyn, it's interesting, isn't it, that the American metaphor has to do with being fertilizer, where the French metaphor has to do with... eating!

  11. Hi Miss Jill, it's nice to hear from you. Hope you are doing well.


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