Sunday, 14 April 2013

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion is a hardy perennial plant. Also known as lion's tooth, priest's crown, swine's snout, fairy clock and pissenlit (pee-the-bed). There are around three hundred different species and they grow in the temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and North America but are also found in most areas of the world including Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

An image of a dandelion (T. officianale) flower
Dandelion (T. officianale) flower

Growing methods

Dandelions are very common in the British Isles and really don't need to be cultivated. If you really feel the need to grow your own then the cheapest way is to gather seeds from other plants. Check for the yellow flower (from May to October) and then wait for the 'clock' (see photograph) which holds the seed. It takes around 12 days for the seed to ripen. Gather when they are ripe and ready to blow away in the wind. These fresh seeds may be planted immediately and should germinate immediately. There is a high germination rate. If you can't find any 'clocks' then seeds can be purchased online.

An image of a dandelion (T. officinale) 'clock' or seed head
Dandelion 'clock' or seed head

Dandelions can also be propagated by planting small pieces of the root, the thicker the better. If trying to eradicate these plants, do not leave even a tiny part of the root in the ground as it will grow another plant. Deep taproots are difficult to remove manually although ploughing may bury roots so deep that they are prevented from emerging. A large taproot can reach a depth of 2 metres.

Plants can grow to a height of nearly 12 inches and live for as long as 10+ years. Dandelions are apomictic and seeds are produced asexually without fertilisation. Seeds produced are genetically similar to the parent plant. Plants overwinter as seeds or basal rosette. The leaves are grooved and funnel water to the roots. The flowers open with the sun in the morning and close in the evening or during dull weather. After the flowers have been picked the petals will still close when brought indoors out of the sun.

An image of a dandelion (T. officinale) plant
Dandelion (T. officinale) plant

Raw edible parts

The whole plant, of all species, is edible raw but can be very bitter. The very young leaves and the flower petals, which are produced early in the year, may be slightly less bitter but not much. Mask the bitterness of the leaves and flowers in a sweet green smoothie. Alternatively use in a salad and mask the bitterness with an oil and vinegar or lemon based salad dressing. The bitterness can also be reduced by blanching for a few days (cover with a bucket or cardboard). The whole plant can be used to make a tea. The unopened flower buds can be pickled and used like capers. Dandelions are very hardy and the leaves, and sometimes the flowers, are available during the winter months.

Other uses

Dandelion is a pioneer species and a dynamic accumulator. The tap root can break up deeply compacted soil. The flowers are an important source of nectar and pollen for insects early on in the season. Dandelion is widely used in herbal medicine, the Latin name Taraxacum is from the Greek meaning disease remedy.


Dandelion is generally considered a very safe plant to use but some people may be allergic to it. Since these plants are often treated with weed killers, take care to pick from a safe place if wild foraging.

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