By Tim Porteus

SPRING is well upon us, my favourite time of year. Finally, after what always seems a long wait, the land is alive and the evenings are long.

The colours of this time are a big part of the joy. The blossom and explosion of wild flowers really lifts my mood and spirit.

A big part of this, for me, is the dandelion. It’s a wild flower which decorates almost everywhere at the moment, creating a carpet of yellow which then transforms into white puffballs of flying ‘wishes’.

So many people just see this flower as an annoying weed to be mowed away as soon as it rears its head, but I love the way it keeps cheekily popping up in defiance of our attempts to keep nature at bay. It’s one of our native wild flowers and causes no damage like some real invasive plants can, such as rhododendron.

And they benefit our wildlife so much. Bees and butterflies feed on them and some birds eat the seeds. But the benefits of the dandelion to humans has also long been recognised.

A tea-like drink can be made from the roots and leaves or florets. There are different recipes, as the whole plant is edible. You can even make dandelion wine.

The sap also contains healing properties which help with a range of ailments, especially skin complaints and issues related to digestion. In fact, herbalists will tell you of a range of health benefits attributed to the dandelion, which is packed with antitoxins and vitamins.

And, of course, there are many folklore traditions associated with the flower.

One I was reminded of this week when introducing the flower to a class of school children was the belief that you will wet the bed if you touch the petals! There is a small truth in this, as eating the leaves may have a diuretic effect.

Making a wish and then blowing the parachute-like wisps which carry the seeds is the stuff of my childhood.

Make the wish in secret and the wisps will carry it and help make it true. It is said they can also carry thoughts and love to someone you are missing or thinking about.

Other uses include finding out how much you are loved, how many children you may have, or how many years you have left!

The dandelion can even forecast the weather, as the puffball will close in on itself if it turns dreich. Another name for it is the ‘shepherd’s clock’, because its flower opens soon after sunrise and closes before the sun sets.

And so this week I brought some dandelions into classrooms in a school where I am storytelling.

Before I introduced the flowers, I gave them a riddle: “A lion that has no roar, with teeth that do not bite, children who fly away, once yellow has turned to white.” They eventually got the answer.

The name dandelion, it is believed, comes from the French term ‘dent de lion’ meaning lion’s tooth, a reference to the teeth-shaped leaves.

Then we blew the ‘wishes’ in the classroom. I was quite taken with the sense of wonder the children displayed (not very young children either). Many of them caught and kept the ‘wishes’ for later. It was so simple, yet so magic.

“Have you got more?” I was asked.

“There’s plenty outside you can pick at home time,” I told them.

But as I left the school, I noticed the road verge I had picked the flowers had just been mowed. All the dandelions were gone, along with the other wild flowers, and it looked ‘nice and neat’.

Maybe if we paused for a moment to wonder at how amazing this simple and common flower is, and the benefits it gives, we would have a different attitude towards it.

Eating hand-picked and hand-washed dandelion leaves is one way my children will eat greens. If I mix them into a stir fry, they will be eaten too. These flowers are not just an irritating weed, they are one of nature’s gifts.

As I left the school at the end of the day, a child came up to me.

“Look, I have a wish I caught,” he said, as he carefully unfurled his hand. “I’m going to use it to send my love to my granddad.”