Taraxacum officinale, the dandelion or common dandelion is a flowering herbaceous perennial plant of the dandelion genus in the family Asteraceae . The common dandelion is well known for its yellow flower heads that turn into round balls of many silver-tufted fruits that disperse in the wind. These balls are usually called “clocks” in both British and American English The name “blowball” is also used.
The common dandelion grows in temperate regions of the world in lawns, and on roadsides, disturbed banks, shores of waterways, and other areas with moist soils. The common dandelion is most often considered a weed, especially in lawns and along roadsides, but the leaves, flowers, and roots are sometimes used in herbal medicine or as food.
While the dandelion is considered a weed by most gardeners (and especially lawn owners), the plant has several culinary uses. The specific name officinalis refers to its value as a medicinal herb, and is derived from the word opificina, later officina, meaning a workshop or pharmacy. The flowers are used to make dandelion wine, the greens are used in salads, the roots have been used to make a coffee substitute (when baked and ground into powder) and the plant was used by Native Americans as a food and medicine.
Dandelions are harvested from the wild or grown on a small scale as a leaf vegetable. The leaves (called dandelion greens) can be eaten cooked or raw in various forms, such as in soup or salad. They are probably closest in character to mustard greens. Usually the young leaves and unopened buds are eaten raw in salads, while older leaves are cooked. Raw leaves have a slightly bitter taste. Dandelion salad is often accompanied with hard-boiled eggs. The leaves are high in beta-carotene, vitamin C and iron.
Dandelion flowers can be used to make dandelion wine, for which there are many recipes. Most of these are more accurately described as “dandelion-flavored wine,” as some other sort of fermented juice or extract serves as the main ingredient. It has also been used in a saison ale called Pissenlit (the French word for dandelion, literally meaning “wet the bed”) made by Brasserie Fantôme in Belgium. Dandelion and burdock is a soft drink that has long been popular in the United Kingdom.
Another recipe using the plant is dandelion flower jam. In Silesia and other parts of Poland and the world, dandelion flowers are used to make a honey substitute syrup with added lemon (so-called May-honey). Ground roasted dandelion root can be used as a non-caffeinated coffee substitute.
T. officinale’s diuretic properties have been well described, with the leaves of this plant having been used for this purpose in traditional Chinese medicine for approximately 2,000 years, with other regions of the world using the plant in the same way; in French, a common name for T. officinale is pissenlit, ‘a colorful description of its diuretic activity.’ A study conducted in 2009 noted ‘promising’ results regarding these diuretic properties, but that further studies would need to be conducted into the plant’s efficacy.
Yellow dye colors can be obtained from the flowers but little color can be obtained from the roots of the plant.