Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Piss-a-beds

The belief that picking or handling dandelion [Taraxacum officinale agg.] flowers will lead to bed-wetting is widespread throughout Britain and Ireland, and apparently throughout the rest of Europe.

Typically, according to a Crowley, Oxford, woman in 2014:

‘As a child [1950s, Langley Green, Black Country/West Midlands] we were told not to pick dandelions or you will “wet the bed”.’

A selection of other examples can be found on the Material Collected page of this website.

A male correspondent in 2016  recalled a ‘game’ derived from this belief:

‘I was brought up in central Kent (near Maidstone) so the slightly mean dandelion game was still being played by children there in the early 1970s … and may still be.  It was widely believed – or at least said – that anyone coming in contact with a dandelion flower would wet the bed that night, so the game comprised if an attempt – whether by force, speed or stealth – to make contact between the flower and one of the other children, while taking care to avoid contact with the flower oneself.  I recall that it was not so much of a agreed upon game, rather at some stage when we were playing on a lawn or field, someone would commence a dandelion attack, to which others would attempt to respond in kind. Both boys and girls played.                           Even back then, as kids, I think that it seemed that some people were bed-wetters and others were not, but this did not spoil the fun of the game.’

Similarly, in west Wales in the early 1980s: ‘we used to pick dandelion flowers as kids and chase each other and dab the sap on our friends to make them wet the bed’.

Further afield, in New Hampshire, U.S.A. in the 1970s: ‘as children we would rub dandelion heads (and buttercups [Ranunculus spp.]) on the inside of children’s wrists – saying it would make them pee their pants’.

Names for dandelion which refer to this belief include piddle the beds in south London in the 1950s, pish-the-bed in Scotland and Ulster, pissimire in Yorkshire, shit-a-bed in Cornwall, Hampshire and Wiltshire, and wee-the-beds in Cheshire.

There appears to be evidence that the belief that picking dandelion flowers might lead to bed-wetting is based on medical fact, according to Julian Barker’s The Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe (2001): ‘the root and leaves [of dandelion] are diuretic and of great benefit to the liver’.  But he makes no mention of the flowers possessing diuretic qualities.

However, despite a fear of dandelion flowers causing bed-wetting, there are numerous records of dandelion leaves being collected for feeding to pet rabbits, and, once the seedheads – ‘clocks’ – are formed these are used by children ‘to tell the time’, and for making wishes; according to a correspondent writing in 2020: ‘my daughter just loves to make wishes while blowing the seeds all over the place’.

Records of this belief from outside Britain and Ireland would be appreciated.

Images:  main, Maldon, Essex, May 2022; inset, Manningtree, Essex, April 2022.