Dandelions do not deserve the bad image many people (especially those maintaining lawns) have of them.  In addition to being very attractive, they have many uses, including companion planting, being a food source and also they can be used to make wine.   The common dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is native to Eurasia but is now well-established world-wide.  There are quite a few other species in this genus and they belong in the family Asteraceae.  Members of this family have composite flowers, meaning that each “flower” is actually made up of many tiny ray flowers clustered together.  Dandelions grow well on a wide range of soil types, are not pH sensitive, and can tolerate light shade. 

Dandelions are herbaceous perennial plants with a deep taproot and a low-growing rosette growth form.  The hairless leaves have deeply toothed edges.  These “teeth” give the dandelion its common name, which is derived from the French “dent de lion” which means lion’s teeth.  Other common names for the dandelion are related to its diuretic effect and include ‘pissenlit’ in modern French or ‘pissabeds’ in English.  In German it is called ‘pusteblume’ which means ‘blowing flower’ because of children’s habit of blowing on the seed heads when they mature.

  Photos from Wikipedia.org

Over the centuries, many medicinal benefits have been attributed to the dandelion.  In addition to diuretic properties, it has historically been used for liver and gall bladder ailments, gout, and chronic joint and skin ailments.  The latex or milky sap has been used for removal of corns and warts.  These are historical reports and are not endorsed in this article. 

 All parts of the dandelion plant are edible, although the flavor can be bitter.  It is a nice green for salads.  The leaves are best when young or after the first frost in the fall.   They can also be sautéed with other vegetables.  Dandelion greens are highly nutritious with even more vitamins and minerals than greens like spinach.  They are high in potassium which helps compensate for potassium loss resulting from the diuretic effect of the plant. The taproot is also edible and can be used cooked with other vegetables in soups or stir fries.  Mix with sweeter vegetables like carrots or peas to compliment its bitter flavor.  Even the flowers are edible.  They can be eaten raw or cooked, fried in fritters, pickled or used to make tea or wine.  A wine recipe is included below from this website: http://oldfashionedliving.com/dandelion.html

 Dr. Lehman’s Dandelion Wine

4 quarts dandelion flowers
4 quarts boiling water
4 pounds sugar
1 lemon
2 oranges

Pour boiling water over the flowers. Let stand 24 hours. Than boil 20 minutes. Put in the rind of the lemon and orange in when boiling. Strain through colander. Add the pulp of the lemon and orange sliced in when it is lukewarm. Add a tablespoon of yeast and let stand a week. Than strain it through cheesecloth and put it up. Keep a month before using. If you put it in a jar, do not tighten all at once(the lid)(Don’t seal too soon or you will over-pressure the bottles)

~This is from Doc Lehman of Mountville,Pennsylvania

More dandelion recipes are available at:  Dandelion Recipes by Wildman Steve  Brill.

 Photos: Wikipedia.org

Dandelions also provide an important early spring food source for honeybees.  According to one source, they were imported into the Midwestern states from Europe to provide a good food source for imported European honeybees.   They are also a favored food source for the larvae of some moths and butterflies.  One of these is the handsome black and white Giant Leopard Moth, shown in the photo.  The larva of this moth is a relative of the woolly bear caterpillar, with black fuzzy setae with a reddish bands underneath (see photo above). 

 A couple of bits of dandelion trivia to finish up (from Wikipedia.org):

 “Dandelion yellow” is one of the University of Rochester’s school colors and “The Dandelion Yellow” is one of the school songs.

 Four dandelion flowers make up the emblem of the city of White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia and they have a dandelion festival each spring. 

JA