Scientific Name: Taraxacum officinale
Common Name: common dandelion
Range: throughout the United States; found in lawns, fields and meadows, along roadsides, cracks of sidewalks, and disturbed habitats.
Origin: Native of Europe and Asia
Botanical description: The common dandelion is a perennial, herbaceous plant with long, lance-shaped leaves that are deeply toothed. The leaves are
3 to 12 inches long and grow from a basal rosette. It has yellow composite flowers that are 1-2 inches wide and grow individually on hollow, purplish
stalks 2 to 18 inches tall. Each flower head is made up of hundreds of tiny rays. Familiar to most viewers is the white, globular “seed head”.
The dandelion has a thick, highly branched taproot. All parts of the plant contain a sticky, milky white sap.
Dandelions are generally easily recognizable in all seasons. The growth of leaves from the basal rosette, the leaf shape with its characteristic
multi-toothed edges (although some dandelions exhibit less toothiness and a smoother, broader leaf – these are generally found in shady areas) is easy to
spot even in winter. If unsure, break a stem or leaf and the characteristic milky sap will emerge. When in bloom, dandelions are bright yellow and hard to miss.
What’s in a name: The genus name of the dandelion comes from the Greek word taraxos, which means disorder, and akos, which means remedy. The
species name, officinale, means that it is used medicinally. The common name may come from the Greek word leontodon, which means lion’s tooth. Other
sources claim the word dandelion comes from the old French word Dent-de-lion or from the Latin dens leonis, both also meaning lion’s tooth or teeth.
All in the family: The common dandelion is a member of the Composite family, with relatives including Ecinachea (purple coneflower), chicory and other daisy-like flowers.
Cultural uses: Various Native American groups used dandelions for food, a dermatological aid, a gastrointestinal aid, a cure for sore throats, an analgesic,
a blood purifier, a sedative, a laxative, an emetic, a love potion, and a general tonic for good health. The first use of the dandelion as a medicine was by
Arabian physicians in the 10th and 11th centuries. References to the use of dandelion as a medicine was also found writings of physicians in Wales in the 13th century.
Today, dandelions are still used as food; many enjoy the dandelion leaves boiled like spinach or mixed in salads. Baby dandelion leaves are often found
in haute cuisine. The root, when dried, has been used in coffee substitutes. But it is as a medicine that dandelion continues to shine.
Dandelion leaves are used as a diuretic, but an unconventional one. While most diuretic preparations leach potassium from the body, dandelion leaves
provide an abundant source of potassium. Leaves are also used to treat high blood pressure because of their ability to reduce the volume of fluid in the
body. Dandelion root has been shown to stimulate bile production by the liver and is used to cleanse the liver. The root is also a gentle laxative. It is
considered one of the most effective detoxifying herbs. It works on the liver, the kidneys and the gallbladder to accelerate the removal of toxins from the
body. It also is used to relieve constipation, skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis, to prevent and possibly dissolve gallstones, and to treat
osteoarthritis and gout. Parts of the dandelion may be consumed in a tea, a wine, an extract or tincture, or in combination with other medicinal herbs and flavorings in a reduced broth.
Active compounds: sesquiterpene lactones, triterpenes, vitamins A,B,C,D, coumarins, carotenoids, potassium and other minerals, taraxacoside, and phenolic acids
Research: Various clinical studies have demonstrated the legitimate use of dandelion as a diuretic, a bile production stimulant, a mild laxative, and an
excellent source of potassium. Other studies have been only mildly indicative of any medicinal properties of dandelion, and those have been done in mice and rodents.
In lore, legend and life: Dandelions were actually brought to the United States from Europe to provide food for honeybees; now they grow wild
worldwide and are more difficult to exterminate than almost any other weed.
Dandelions are used to make an herbal beer in England and Canada. Children use dandelion seed heads to make wishes by blowing the seeds away from the receptacle on which they are held.
Dandelion pollen causes severe allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to other pollens such as ragweed.
Young dandelion buds can be fried in butter and eaten; enthusiasts claim they taste like mushrooms.
Dandelions have been called “piss-a-beds” because of their strong diuretic properties.