Taraxacum officinale – The name dandelion comes from the French, dents de lion, which means “teeth of the lion,” and refers to the jagged edges on the leaves of the dandelion plant.
- In Latin: Taraxacum officinale Weber
- In English: lion’s tooth, blowball, priest’s crown, dumble-dor
- In French: pissenlit, dent-de-lion
- In Cree: meoskamewuskos (“spring plant”)
- In Slave: eton hlekon (“smells sweet”)
ASTERACEAE (Daisy family)
- General: Before lawns became fashionable, this widespread and robust plant was carefully cultivated in Europe for its edibility, and was brought over by settlers into North America. Dandelion has a fleshy taproot and milky juice. 5-40 cm tall
- Leaves: The deeply toothed leaves grow in a rosette directly from the root crown. The end lobe of each leaf tends to be larger than the lower lobes. Leaves grow from the base of the plant, appearing before the flowers.
- Flowers: A single cheery-yellow flower head, 2 to 5 cm in diameter, grows on a hollow leafless stalk. The flower heads consist of many ray flowers, surrounded by 2 rows of floral bracts, which are bent backwards (a helpful distinguishing characteristic). Main flowering is in spring, but scattered blooms continue all summer.
- Fruit: After bloom, white, fluffy, round balls of seeds appear. Parachuted seeds are easily blown apart by the wind or your own breath. An individual flower head produces up to 200 seeds, and each plant up to 5000 seeds.
Widespread on disturbed ground especially in settled areas across North America, the species is found from Newfoundland to British Columbia.
This introduced species is common on lawns and in disturbed areas where vegetation has been removed or the soil is broken or cultivated. It is found at low to mid elevations.
How to Observe
- Find an area that will not be mowed until the majority of dandelion blooming is past and seeds have formed. Select a flat area away from buildings and mark a one by one metre patch of dandelions, using small sticks.
- Note that one dandelion plant produces several blooms over time. Dandelion flowers tend to open in sun, and close in cloud and rain. During an ongoing warm period of cloudy weather before blooming starts, flower buds will eventually open.
- Record the following dates:
- First bloom: Record the date when the first flowers have opened in the patch of plants being observed.
- Mid bloom: Record the date when the first seed-head opens in the patch of plants being observed, forming a white, fluffy ball of seeds.
Many Taraxacum species make healthy seeds without normal fertilization, and the resulting offspring are then identical to the parents. This process is called “apomixis”. In apomictic species, fertile pollen is lacking.
One of the earliest plants to bloom in the springtime.
The seedheads attract seed-eating birds such as finches and pine siskins and small mammals such as mice and chipmunks. Flower heads are “ice-cream food” for black and grizzly bears. The flower heads are sensitive to light, and open in the early morning.
Dandelion is an alternate host for plant diseases such as aster yellows, beet ring spot and tobacco streak.
Young dandelion leaves make a good vegetable green, either cooked or in salads. The roots can be dried and ground as a coffee substitute. Wine can be made from the flowers.
Dandelions are rich in vitamins and minerals. The species name “officinale” is a word of early English usage meaning medicinal, and various parts of the plant have been used for their healing properties. A leaf decoction can be drunk to “purify the blood”, for the treatment of anemia, jaundice, and also for nervousness. The milky latex can be used as a mosquito repellent. The leaf has proven diuretic (hence the French name “pissenlit” meaning “pee in bed”) and also bile production-stimulating activities. Also, a dye can be obtained from the roots of the plant. The plant is readily eaten by livestock.
Dandelion leaves are considered by Health Canada to be safe to eat, and dandelion root is already marketed as a registered diuretic drug in Canada. Much of the plant is imported from the United States, which seems unnecessary; dandelion is common and could easily be cultivated in Canada. There are commercial products containing dandelion root roasted and used as a coffee substitute and there is some demand for the young leaves and flowers for gourmet salad mixtures.
Tip from Elke Blodgett: If you want to make sure you have tender leaves for salads for a long time, cover the plants with a sheet of plywood or something and the leaves bleach beautifully and don’t become bitter. They maybe lose some nutritional value, but you can add some green leaves to the salad mix.
For Dandelion Flowers
2 cups of dandelion flowers
4 tsp sesame, or olive oil
¼ tsp of garlic powder
Place oil in frying pan and heat to moderate heat. Place flowers in pan and stir-fry for 5-7 minutes. Fry until thoroughly wilted. Sprinkle with garlic powder. Serve as a side garnish. Serves 4.
For Dandelion Roots
Several cups of white dandelion roots
1 cup of your favorite pancake batter, mixed
2 tbsp safflower oil
1 onion, chopped
Wash and peel the dandelion roots. Chop the roots and dip in pancake batter. French-fry in hot safflower oil until brown. A wok works perfectly. Add the chopped onion and serve. Serves 4.
Sautéed Dandelion Leaves and Onion
Variations of this recipe are staples in many Italian households. The sautéed greens are served as an accompaniment to meat or chicken, and leftovers are spread over focaccia. Sometimes the boiled greens are packed in plastic bags and frozen for sautéing in winter. This recipe is adapted from The Little Italy Cookbook, by Toronto food writers Maria Pace and Louise Scaini-Jojic (Warwick Publishing, $16.95).
2 large bunches dandelion greens
2 tbsp (25 mL) olive oil
1 small onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Trim the roots off the dandelions. Wash the leaves in several rinses of cold water to remove all dirt. Drain. Bring 2 quarts (2 L) of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the clean dandelion leaves and boil for about eight to ten minutes or until the leaves are completely wilted and tender. Keep pushing the greens down if they float above the boiling water. Drain and allow to cool.
Squeeze the excess moisture from the boiled greens. The dandelion will be greatly reduced in volume. If using long-leafed cultivated greens, chop them. Small greens collected in the wild will not need to be chopped.
In a skillet, heat the oil and cook the onion over low heat until it softens. Season with salt. Add the garlic and cook a little longer. Add greens and cook until flavours are absorbed and greens are heated through. Taste; add salt if needed. Serve hot.
Approximate nutritional content per serving: Calories 85. Protein 2 g. Carbohydrates 7 g. Dietary fibre 2 g. Sodium 153 mg.
1 lb (500 g) ground beef
2 tbsp (30 mL) bread crumbs
2 tbsp (30 mL) parsley, minced
¼ tsp (1 mL) salt
3 tbsp (45 mL) parmesan cheese, grated
2 tbsp (30 mL) sour cream
Dash of nutmeg and pepper
2 qts (2 L) chicken soup
2 qts (2 L) loosely-packed dandelion greens
Rice or fine egg noodles (if desired)
Mix the ground beef, egg, breadcrumbs, parsley, salt parmesan cheese, sour cream, nutmeg and pepper together. Form into small meatballs and set aside. Bring the chicken soup to a boil. Add the dandelion greens and cook gently. Rice or noodles can be added. When greens are tender, add meatballs and cook gently for about 10 minutes. Serve hot with french bread.
Dandelion Fritters by Elke Blodgett
“Find the biggest and juiciest plants you can, early in the spring, either before the buds show or including the buds, but preferably before emergence of stems or blossoms. Cut off the roots, trim off the leaves about and inch or two above the roots, so you’ll have just the crowns, including buds if at that stage, all remaining intact. Make sure the crown does not fall apart–trim carefully at the root end. Wash, etc….dry off. Dip into your favourite batter, rather thick (mine is a batter made of whole-wheat flour, an egg, yoghurt, seasoning such as salt, pepper, garlic) and fry in olive oil like a pancake, first one side, then the other, one at a time. To make a sinful meal out of the fritters, sprinkle with bacon bits and cheese, quickly melt in the oven, and serve, hot or cold. My entire family lines up and this is our favourite party meal all spring. The crowns also can be frozen and used later in the year in a dandelion pancake or pizza.”
Getting rid of lawn dandelions using pesticides may pose health risks to adults, children and pets. For more information follow these links:
Horticulture (Use in the Garden)
Seeds need to be in the top 2 cm of soil to germinate. Dandelion was carefully cultivated by fur traders at Fort Churchill in northern Manitoba, to help balance a diet lacking in healthy vegetables. Early settlers were also known to tend plots of dandelions, protecting them with chicken wire from hungry ground squirrels (gophers). Unfortunately the plant has been considered a pesky weed of lawn and garden, and its virtues mainly ignored.
This cheery and useful plant is perhaps not appreciated as it should be, a sentiment expressed by the following poem:
Dear common flower that grow’st beside the way
Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold
‘Tis the spring’s largess which she scatters now
To rich and poor alike with lavish hand
Though most hearts never understand
To take it at God’s value, but pass by
The offered wealth with unrewarded eye.
James Russell Lowell (in Brown 1970)
Brown, A. 1970. Old Man’s Garden. Gray’s Publishing Ltd., Sidney, British Columbia.
Clark, L.J. 1976. Wild flowers of the Pacific Northwest. Ed. by J. Trelawny. Gray’s Publishing Ltd., Sidney, British Columbia.
Hultén, E. 1968. Flora of Alaska and neighboring territories. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California.
Lyons, C.P. and B. Merilees. 1995. Trees, shrubs and flowers to know in British Columbia and Washington. Lone Pine Press, Edmonton.
Marles, Robin J. et al. 2000. Aboriginal plant use in Canada’s Northwest Boreal Forest. Natural Resources Canada. UBC Press. Vancouver.
Porsild, A.E. and W.J. Cody. 1980. Vascular plants of continental Northwest Territories, Canada. National Museum of Natural Sciences, National Museums of Canada. Ottawa.
Royer, F. and R. Dickinson. 1999. Weeds of Canada and the northern United States. Univ. of Alberta Press, and Lone Pine Publishing. Edmonton.
Tilford, G.L. 1997. Edible and medicinal plants of the west. Mountain Press Publ. Co. Missoula, Montana.
Ward-Harris, J. 1983. More than meets the eye – the life and lore of western wildflowers. Oxford University Press, Toronto.