February 5, 2016
February 5, 2016

The common Dandelion, or Taraxacum officinale, has been known for millennia. In North America, the plant was brought by settlers from Europe to help remind them of home and also to provide a familiar medicine source. Dandelions are very common throughout North America and can be found almost everywhere. They prefer sunnier locations to shadier ones but will sprout wherever their seed lands. Many consider them a weed when found in the front lawn, but other people regularly use them in different ways, both culinary and medicinal.

Dandelions have a round, or rosette-shaped, base of jagged-looking leaves that are rather long and pointed. They have a smooth, hollow stem that is colored a very light green to a deeper green. Sometimes the stem will have tiny hair-like fibers coming from it, as well as streaks of brown along the length. The stems are topped with a single flower at the end. Some are rather tall while others are very short. The flower is a very bright yellow, with a fuzzy appearance. The petals are extremely small but profuse, and at different stages of bloom are either more compressed in the center than they are on the outer area of the flower-head. There can be mixed heights in a very small area. Some stems are thicker than others, with the occasional double-headed flower being present.

When the flower begins to die, the yellow petals turn brown and shrink as a group. This soon falls off and reveals the soon-to-expand seeds underneath. As the petals die, the seeds ready themselves with tiny parachute-type appendages to sail away from the parent plant. The seeds soon spread out into a rounder shape, creating a puffball appearance with the ends of their parachutes. Their name comes from the shape of the base leaves, not from the flowers themselves. The leaves are serrated and jagged, and resemble the ‘teeth of a lion’ or ‘dente de leon.’

This plant is not toxic, and the flowers, leaves, and roots can be eaten, used in wine-making, for jams and jellies, as a salad ingredient, and if the root is dried and then ground, as a coffee substitute. The leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamins A, D, and K, and also potassium and manganese. They are often blanched quickly to clean them and also to remove any bitterness before they are added to a salad.

Medicinal uses include regulation of bile, as a diuretic, and to fight infections.

The experts are divided on if the stem is edible or not, so this part of the plant should only be eaten with the utmost caution, as it could be toxic. The stems contain a milky substance that will stain clothing and skin if it touches them. The stain is permanent on clothing.

The root is sometimes six feet long and is very difficult to kill. People with weed problems should always consider using a lawn service that specializes in weed control for year-round protection. If the root is not killed when the plant is removed, it will return every spring. Special herbicides must be used to completely kill undesirable weeds that have extremely long taproots, including dandelions, so that they do not return when their root system reaches the ground surface again.