Goat's BeardBotanical Name: Tragopogon pratensis (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Compositae
Synonyms: Noon Flower. Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.
Habitat: Goat's Beard (Tragopogon pratensis), a rather close relation of the Hawkweeds, is a handsome plant fairly common throughout Britain in meadows and on the broad green strips that often border country roads, being very common in the north of England.
Description: It has an erect, slightly branching stem, rising to a height of 1 to 2 feet, from a perennial tap-root. The leaves are long, narrow and grass-like in character, without any indentations, broadening at the base and sheathing the stem, bluish-green in colour, the lower ones 8 or 9 inches long, the upper ones much shorter.
The plant is in bloom during June and July. Each flower-stem has at its summit a single, large flower-head, the stem being slightly thickened just below it. The involucre or cup at the base of the flower-head is composed of a ring of about eight narrow lance-shaped, leaf-like bracts, which, when the flower is expanded, spread out in rays beyond the florets, which are golden-yellow in colour, and all of the 'ligulate' or strapshaped type. After flowering, the green rays of the involucre elongate and the lower portion becomes thicker, till finally a big, round head of winged, long seeds - like the familiar clock of the Dandelion - develops, which becomes broken up by the wind. The pappus, or feathery down crowning each seed, is very beautiful, being raised on a long stalk and interlaced, so as to form a kind of shallow cup. By means of the pappus, the seeds are wafted by the wind and freely scattered. The Goat's Beard opens its blossoms at daybreak and closes them before noon, except in cloudy weather, hence its old country name of 'Noon-flower' and 'Jack-go-to-bedat-noon,' a peculiarity noticed more than once by the poets and referred to in Cowley's lines: 'The goat's beard, which each morn abroad doth peep But shuts its flowers at noon and goes to sleep.' The name of the genus, Tragopogon, is formed from two Greek words, having the same signification as the popular English name, Goat's Beard, which is thought to have been suggested by the fluffy character of the seed-ball. Gerard says: 'it shutteth itselfe at twelve of the clocke, and sheweth not his face open untill the next dayes Sun doth make it flower anew. Whereupon it was called go-to-bed-at-noone; when these flowers be come to their full maturitie and ripenesse they grow into a downy Blowball like those of Dandelion, which is carriedaway by the winde.'
Medicinal Action and Uses: In mediaeval times, the Goat's Beard had some reputation as a medicinal plant, though it has fallen out of use.
The tapering roots were formerly eaten as we now eat parsnips, and the young stalks, taken before the flowers appear, were cut up into lengths and boiled like asparagus, of which they have somewhat the flavour, and are said to be nearly as nutritious. The roots were dug up in the autumn and kept in dry sand for winter use.
The fresh juice of the young plant has been recommended as 'the best dissolvent of the bile, relieving the stomach without danger and without introducing into the blood an acrid, corrosive stimulant, as is frequently done by salts when employed for this purpose.' Culpepper tells us: 'A large double handful of the entire plant, roots, flowers and all bruised and boiled an then strained with a little sweet oil, is an excellent clyster in most desperate cases of strangury or suppression of urine. A decoction of the roots is very good for the heartburn, loss of appetite, disorders of the breast and liver, expels sand and gravel, and even small stone. The roots dressed like parsnips with butter are good for cold, watery stomachs, boiled or cold, or eaten as a raw salad; they are grateful to the stomach strengthen the lean and consumptive, or the weak after long sickness. The distilled water gives relief to pleurisy, stitches or pains in the side.' Another close relation of the above is the Bristly Ox-Tongue (Helmintha Echioides), a stout, much-branched plant, 2 to 3 feet high, well distinguished by its numerous prickles, each of which springs from a raised white spot, and by the large heart-shaped bracts at the base of the yellow flowers. The fruit, which is beaked and singularly corrugated, bears some resemblance to 'a little worm,' which is the meaning of the systematic name. The English name 'Ox-Tongue' has reference to the shape and roughness of the leaves. Not uncommon.