Sharp leaves with the teeth of a lion Joe Kennedy
THE teeth of a roaring (or yawning) lion has been on news screens almost daily since one unlucky poacher was eaten by the animals in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
The MGM movie logo lion, Leo, with its mouthful of fangs, has been a cinema feature for almost a century but not many may know that the first movie lion was a Dubliner, from the Zoological Gardens with the incongruous name of ‘Slats’. This was in 1924.
This Leo, and others later, didn’t roar for the movie-makers but just moved their heads around. Eventually, a dubbed leonine growl was replaced by a tiger’s as being more ferocious.
‘Lion’s Teeth’, in spite of weather variations, have been baring sharply pointed leaves in gardens and other places of greenery, some sun-like heads on blooming plants showing when little else is on display.
The toothed leaves are Taraxcum officinale, resembling the teeth of a lion, and naming the plant “dent-delion” or dandelion.
When yellow heads turn to seed there is a universal scattering of ‘parachutes’, drifting in the breeze, spreading their futures wherever they may fall. Unneighbourly remarks have often been exchanged over these passing clouds which one householder may blame another for causing through ‘carelessness’! Once, children called these feather dusters “clocks” and caught them to blow away the floating seeds and so tell the time.
Liam Clancy recorded a song called Dandelion Wine about a libation which could “make you remember/ The first day of spring/ In the middle of November”. If memory serves me, country wines, with varied hedgerow ingredients, were full-bodied and everlasting; I vaguely recall a tasting reception!
This month and next dandelion sun-heads are blooming. The leaves are used in salads, usually in posh restaurants but now more often on pub lunch counters. The plant’s appeal to artistic sensitivities has been widespread, from Albert Durer painting flower heads in a square-foot of meadow to Shakespeare’s elegy in Cymbeline (“Golden lads and girls all must/ As chimney-sweepers come to dust”) and John Keats’s imagining “The soft rustle of a maiden’s gown/ Fanning away the dandelion’s down”.
But an important image of the plant is medicinal. It is a diuretic and is used in traditional Chinese medicine for liver and kidney ailments and treating high blood pressure. Its effects in Western lore are long established, especially by children, as “wet-the-beds”, or the more earthy French dish called “pissenlit au lard” — fried pork scraps and croutons on a dandelion base.
Dandelions were once specially grown for Big House kitchens, being recognised as being beneficial for goutplagued folk, and these days its benefits of high levels of potassium, iron, vitamin C and beta-carotene have been confirmed.
However, some people may be allergic to a plant related to daisies, marigolds and chrysanthemums and care must be taken in picking leaves where there is a possibility of herbicide contamination — so don’t pull it from the roadside. Be sure of your source as it absorbs toxins.
VERSATILE: Dandelions can be used to make wine, eaten in a salad or as medicine