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Dandelions - A nutritious edible weed

Updated on October 6, 2014
The dandelion plant in this photo was growing in the back of our house.
The dandelion plant in this photo was growing in the back of our house. | Source

Dandelions(part of "Edible Weeds in Los Angeles")

Information, recipes and fun, all related to the lovely dandelion.

Dandelions are one of the world's most famous weeds. To a lot of people, in fact, they are the poster girl for all weeds. While they are the targets of wrath from many, they are also useful edible plants, one of the favorites of wild food foragers.

Let's get to know dandelions a little better.

A beautiful field of dandelions that have gone to seed
A beautiful field of dandelions that have gone to seed | Source

Getting acquainted with dandelion

Dandelion - Taraxacum officinale

The binomial name for dandelion is Taraxacum officinale. There is dispute about the meaning of the Latin word Taraxacum. A common belief is that it is derived from the Greek words taraxos ("disorder") and akos ("remedy"), referring to the medicinal qualities of the plant.

The term officinale is frequently used in botanical Latin to denote plants that are used in medical practice.

The English name "dandelion" comes from the French phrase dent de lion ("lion's tooth"), probably a reference to the jagged, toothed shape of the leaves.

Dandelions were originally brought to the Americas by the Colonists who used it as a garden vegetable.

Source

Identifying dandelions

The most prominent feature of the dandelion, of course, is the yellow flower.

Even at the youngest ages, dandelion leaves stick to their circular formation.
Even at the youngest ages, dandelion leaves stick to their circular formation. | Source
Older dandelion leaves in the same rosette pattern.
Older dandelion leaves in the same rosette pattern. | Source

Dandelion leaves form a beautiful rosette at the base of the plant.

Source

When the flower goes to seed, it transforms into the puffball beloved by children everywhere.


Dandelion has a hollow stem. Both stem and leaves exude a sticky white sap when broken.

Learning to recognize dandelion leaves on their own is helpful in foraging because the leaves are the least bitter when they're picked before the plant flowers.

One flower per stem.  That's dandelion for you.
One flower per stem. That's dandelion for you. | Source

How is dandelion different from sow thistle?

Differentiating two lovely edible weeds

There are other wild plants that have flowers that look just like the dandelion flower. One that we have a lot of here in Los Angeles is the sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus). Sow thistle is a close relative and a wonderful edible weed in its own right, but it's not the same species as dandelion. Here's how to tell them apart:

  • Dandelion plants have only one flower per stalk. Sow thistles can have many flowers sprouting out on each stalk (see photos on the sow thistle page).

  • Dandelion leaves only grow at the base of the plant. On the sow thistle, leaves are seen going all the way up the stalk, as well as at the base.

    I also find that dandelions like to grow in areas where there is a little more moisture. They don't care for some of the drier soils that sow thistles spring up in. My neighbors who water their yards more often get more dandelions. I get more sow thistles.

    Sow thistle and dandelion remind me of the cousin characters from the Patty Duke Show. Dandelions are like Cathy, the graceful and glamorous one. Sow thistles are like the more rough-and-tumble Patty. But both are beautiful in their own way.

Dandelion videos

One is a foraging video from Dean Greene's "Eat the Weeds" series, the other is a cooking video about dandelion fritters.

Foraging tip

One of the great things about edible weeds is that they are organic -- we hope! Make sure that you gather your wild edibles from areas that are NOT sprayed with pesticides!

Nutritional info about dandelions

Way cool! Dandelion greens have their own page of nutrition facts at NutritionData.com!

Quoting directly from them: "This food is low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Folate, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Manganese."

This is one of the most artistic dandelion pictures I've ever seen.
This is one of the most artistic dandelion pictures I've ever seen. | Source

Eating dandelions

Suggestions and recipes

The flowers, leaves, and roots of the dandelion are all edible.

I like both the leaves and the flowers as a part of salads. I have also eaten dandelion/sow thistle flowers in pasta and put them in vinegar.

Dandelion leaves are best if you pick them before the plant flowers! The older the leaves get, the more bitterness they have. Older leaves are still good to eat, but they're better cooked to remove some of the bitter taste. Young leaves are best for salads.

The flowers are fun to eat straight out of hand, too, if you pick off the green base of the flower first.

100 Cup Bag of Original Dandy Blend Instant Herbal Beverage with Dandelion, 7.05 oz. (200g) Bag
100 Cup Bag of Original Dandy Blend Instant Herbal Beverage with Dandelion, 7.05 oz. (200g) Bag
I don't like coffee myself, but a lot of people say that roasted dandelion root makes a good coffee substitute.
 

There are tons of dandelion recipes on the internet! Here are a few examples:

And there's a bunch more. Explore!

Cookbooks that include dandelion recipes

Mary at the Farm: and Book of Recipes Compiled during Her Visit among the "Pennsylvania Germans"
Mary at the Farm: and Book of Recipes Compiled during Her Visit among the "Pennsylvania Germans"
Includes recipes for dandelion wine and German dressing to use on dandelion greens.
 
The Dandelion Celebration: A Guide to Unexpected Cuisine
The Dandelion Celebration: A Guide to Unexpected Cuisine
A reviewer at Amazon said, "more recipes than I could try in a year . . ." It appears to be out of print and only available through third parties.
 
A single dandelion seed, venturing out to start a family of its own.
A single dandelion seed, venturing out to start a family of its own. | Source

Dandelion folklore

Many superstitions and folklore revolve around dandelions. The blossoms were woven into wedding bouquets to bring good luck to the newlyweds, and dreams about dandelions were said to represent a happy marriage.

The most common focus of dandelion superstitions involved the flowers after they have gone to seed. Blowing on a seed head could tell you whether your lover was true to you, how many years you had left to live, or how many children you would have.

The best-known superstition is that if you can blow all of the seeds off the dandelion in one blow, you will be granted a wish.

The seeds, of course, float through the air and find new landing spots, where they germinate quickly. Knowing this, I have figured out how to always get my wish granted -- I just wish for more dandelions to grow. When I blow, I'm making my wish come true.

Medicinal uses of dandelion

Dandelions have a long history of medicinal use. The first written mention of this is in Arabian medical texts of the 10th and 11th centuries.

Dandelion is known for its diuretic properties. The French word for dandelion is pissenlit which means "pee in bed". Because of the plant's high potassium content, it doesn't have the potassium-depleting side effect that is common with many diuretic drugs.

Dandelion is highly esteemed as a remedy for liver problems. It is also recommended for treatment of urinary, kidney, and digestive disorders.

The white sap of the dandelion stem is believed to be healing to the skin.

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