Tuesday, August 19, 2008

100 Species Challenge: Part 2

My running list of local species:

1. Daisy
2. Creeping buttercup
3. White clover
4. Selfheal
5. Dandelion
6. Red clover
7. Autumn hawkbit

Still working through the wild flowers in our front lawn here:


Scientific name: Taraxacum officinale
Family: Asteraceae
Flowers: May to October

The dandelion, like its little cousin the daisy, is a member of the sunflower family. I knew vaguely that it was an edible plant but didn't realise just how edible. The leaves can be boiled or used in salads. They have a higher vitamin A content than carrots, and are rich in iron and potassium among other minerals and vitamins. The flowers can be used to make dandelion wine, and the root used as a vegetable or roasted and ground to make a caffeine-free ersatz coffee. As a teenager I remember drinking this by choice - it looked like a very finely ground light coloured coffee powder, and tasted quite pleasant. It came in tins, and I am now left racking my brain to remember the brand name. An internet search only gave me more up-market versions. The dandelion is even touted as a healthy food by TV diet guru (and holder of dubious qualifications) Gillian McKeith. I'm tempted to try dandelion coffee again, and I'm sure I shouldn't let her endorsement put me off! The BBC h2g2 website gives recipes for making your own dandelion coffee, dandelion wine ... and a dandelion and nettle face pack. Hmm!

The officinale part of the scientific name indicates that the dandelion has medicinal properties. It is a diuretic - a mild dandelion tea given in the morning is supposed to help children who wet the bed by encouraging them to "go" during the day - a mild laxative, and good for liver problems. The milky sap inside the stem is supposed to useful in treating warts.

I have always known the fluffy seed heads as "dandelion clocks". If you count the puffs it takes to blow every seed from the head, it gives you the time - five puffs, five o'clock. OK, maybe the dandelion isn't the most accurate timepiece, but it is more fun than most. Even my Little Cherub likes to find dandelion clocks to blow.

The name dandelion is a corruption of the French "dents-a-lion", meaning "lion's teeth", due to the jagged edged leaves. The dandelion's rather impressive collection of local names includes Blowball, Cankerwort, Clock Flower, Irish Daisy, Lion's Tooth, Milk Witch, Monk's Head, Piss-a-bed (a diuretic, remember!), and Priest's Crown.

Sources of Information: Down Garden Services; BBC h2g2

Red Clover

Species name: Trifolium pratense
Family: Fabaceae (peas)

Like white clover, red clover is a nitrogen fixer and a valuable fodder crop. It has traditionally been used as a remedy for skin complaints such as eczema and psoriasis. More recently it has been discovered to be a source of oestrogen-like isoflavones, and is now widely sold as a natural alternative to HRT to help with menopausal symptoms. It is also supposed to be an appetite suppressant, a muscle relaxant, and even to have anti-carcinogenic effects. Rather counter-intuitively, the flowers can be used to make a yellow dye.

Some interesting superstitions go along with clover:

  • Place a leaf in your shoe and you will marry the first man to come towards you.
  • Gather a flower stalk during a full moon and offer it to your partner when seeking a promise of fidelity.
  • To see fairies, place seven grains of wheat on a four-leaf clover.
Colloquial names are Kitty Clover, Bee Bread, Sugar Plums and Sleeping Maggie.

Don't miss these close-up photos of red clover. Absolutely stunning!

Source of Information: The English Cottage Garden Nursery

Autumn Hawkbit

Scientific name: Leontodon autumnalis
Family: Asteraceae
Flowers: June to October

I am 99% sure of my identification, but this one was quite tough. The hawkbit looks very similar to a dandelion - it is even known as "false dandelion" - but is smaller, with a narrower stem and the ends of the petals are serrated. Hawkbit is easily confused with a very similar plant, cat's ear. My flowers did not have any hairs on the stems or leaves, so I'm fairly certain they are hawkbit.

Nothing much of interest showed up on a Google search, though I did find somebody on ebay selling (or trying to sell?) wild hawkbit seeds to grow as tortoise food.


Jennifer said...

What a lovely lawn you have!

I was so taken with the British grassy spots esp. Harrogate's green areas but I WAS there at the prime time for the early bulbs which they're famous for, so it was very pretty.

Dorothy said...

Well done, Kathryn.

I've been drinking dandelion coffee since I was a teenager too. (And nettle tea!) Dandelion coffee is meant to help with hot flushes and other unpleasant effects of the Mentalpause. The one I drink is Symingtons.

Missus Wookie said...

That's a cool piece of multiculturalism you've got there! Our lawn isn't as integrated but then you don't have as many children running rampage across it :lol:

The Bookworm said...

Dorothy, I realised why I couldn't remember the brand name - it wasn't dandelion coffee, it was barley coffee! Called Barleycup. No wonder dandelion-ish names weren't jogging my memory.