Miles Kington: A walk on the wild side with bedwetting dandelions

Without thinking, he asked: And what is the vulgar French name of the dandelion? Pissenlit, said Robert. It causes bedwetting if you eat it
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Come on, children! Spring is here, and it's time for a walk in the country to see what delicious surprises nature has got for us! So let's join knowledgeable Uncle Geoffrey and his nephew and niece, Robert and Susan, for an enlightening nature ramble in the lanes and fields...

"I sometimes think this is the best time of year for flowers," remarked Uncle Geoffrey, as they looked at a bank of primroses. "Hardly are the daffodils and the primroses beginning to fade than the bluebells are upon us, with the great, white, starry flowerheads of the wild garlic hard upon their heels. And all the time we have had the wood anemones, and the celandines, and the loveliness of the violets."

"The loveliness of the violets, Uncle Geoffrey?" said Susan. "That's a bit judgemental, isn't it? Scientifically speaking, a violet is either white or purple, but not lovely."

"She's right, Uncle Geoffrey," said Robert. "Calling flowers lovely lays you open to two charges. One, that you are describing nature subjectively, not botanically. Two, that you are suggesting that if violets are lovely, there may be other flowers which are not lovely. Or do you think that all flowers are lovely?"

Why did conversation with the children always contrive to take the wind out of his sails, wondered Uncle Geoffrey?

"No," he admitted, "I suppose there are some flowers I do not find particularly attractive. The dock, perhaps. The celandine I always think is a little vulgar compared to the buttercup. The dandelion is pretty ordinary ..."

"How can you say that!" shrieked Susan. "Look at that meadow there!"

And it so chanced they were passing a meadow wherein a carpet of brilliant dandelions covered fully half the field, turning it a yellow as deep as any yolk.

"What a great display," said Robert. "Oh, Uncle, how can you justify your heartless attack on the dandelion?"

"When it is not only decorative but useful," said Susan," for as you know it is prized among the health food people for its diuretic qualities, hence its vulgar French name, its curative powers for the liver, and its use as a coffee substitute when you roast and grind the root. Coffee substitute? Perhaps even an improvement on coffee, as it has none of the damaging effects on the nervous system!"

"In Derbyshire, the application of the milky sap or latex derived from the dandelion is said to cure warts," said Robert.

"Though whether this is also believed in neighbouring Lancashire and Cheshire is doubtful," added Susan.

"Maybe folk are just naturally wartier in Derbyshire," mused Robert. "Bumpier in Buxton ... molier in Matlock ..."

Poor Uncle Geoffrey! Little did he realise that, as was their wont, they had looked up one flower on the internet before coming out, and determined to steer the conversation round to it and blind him with science, or at least stun him with swotting, for the expression to "blind with science" gives quite the wrong impression of what science does, does it not, children?

"To a farmer, a dandelion is a weed," said Robert. "But the people who grow dandelions for heath food purposes must think of it as a crop."

"And if wheat is found growing in it, then the wheat will be a weed!" said Susan.

There was a pause. Uncle Geoffrey wondered why things seemed so complicated to them, and so simple to him. Then, without thinking, he asked:

"And what is the vulgar French name of the dandelion?"

"Pissenlit," said Robert promptly. "They think it causes bedwetting, if you eat it. As they do in France. As a salad leaf."

"I wonder if there is a lot of bedwetting in Derbyshire," said Susan. "You know, caused by application of dandelion juice as a wart cure. What do you think, Uncle Geoffrey?"

What Uncle Geoffrey thought was that he would willingly strangle his nephew and niece, but what he said was: "Ah! I think I hear a skylark! Can anyone with sharp eyes see it?"

Uncle Geoffrey, and Robert and Susan, will be back again soon!