Sharp leaves with the teeth of a lion Joe Kennedy

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Analysis -

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

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