The dandelion (Taraxacum officinale, Family Asteraceae) is a taprooted annual or biennial plant, found in most temperate zone gardens during the summer months. Dandelions were originally widely distributed throughout Eurasia, but were introduced to North America and Australia because of their many uses. They have thrived in these new locations. The name dandelion is a corruption of the Old French, dent-de-lion, literally "lion's tooth" on account of the sharply lobed leaves of the plant.
The leaves are simple and basal, entire or lobed, forming a rosette
above a central taproot
. A bright yellow flower head
is borne singly on a hollow "stem" (scape
) rising above the leaves and exudes a milky substance when broken. A rosette may produce more than one scape at a time. The flower head consists entirely of ray florets
and matures into a globe of fine filaments that are usually distributed by wind, carrying away the seed-containing achenes. This globe is called the "dandelion clock", and blowing it apart is a popular pastime for children.
Some dandelions are apomictic (self-pollinating) and polyploidy is common. Some varieties drop the "parachute" (called a pappus) from the achenes. Ergo, there are "species" (apomictic and polyploid races) that grow only in a single meadow. This is one reason for there being a large number of described dandelion "species", especially in Europe where botanists tend to be "splitters". As an example, some botanists list a few hundred species of dandelion from Finland alone. Others are inclined to lump these all into Taraxacum officinale.
Dandelion clock, partially blown
showing brown achenes and attached pappuses
While the dandelion is considered a weed
by many gardeners, the plant does have several culinary
uses. Dandelions are grown commercially as produce on a small scale. The plant can be eaten cooked or raw in various forms, such as in soup
. Usually the young leaves are eaten raw in salads while older leaves are cooked. Dandelion blossoms are used to make dandelion wine. Dandelions are high in vitamin A
and also are a source of vitamin C
. Ground roasted dandelion root is sometimes used as a coffee
substitute. Drunk before meals, this is believed to stimulate digestive functions; this product is sold in some health food stores, often as a mixture of Dandelion and Burdock
. It should be noted that uncooked, the dandelion has a diuretic
effect and is known in France
(literally, "wet the bed") for precisely this reason. Dandelion root is a registered drug in Canada, sold as a diuretic.
See: How to cook dandelions
- Taraxacum officinale, dandelion. Found in many forms, but differs at least from the following species:
- Taraxacum albidum, a white-flowering Japanese dandelion.
- Taraxacum japonicum, Japanese dandelion. No ring of smallish, downward-turned leaves under the flowerhead.
- Taraxacum laevigatum (syn. T. erythrospermum) — achenes reddish brown and leaves deeply cut throughout length.
- and others.