Taraxacum officinalis

Blooms anytime, anywhere
Perennial.  Alien.

            Is it a dandelion or isn't it?  Other plants, like sow thistles, Sonchus spp., and wild lettuces, Lactuca spp.., are often mistaken for dandelions.  But dandelion can be easily distinguished from look-alikes by its naked flower stalk and by its leaves, which are always in a basal rosette.  The bright green leaves are spatulate to lanceolate, deeply and irregularly toothed, and commonly grow to a foot in length.  The actual stems are not visible above the ground.  It is the flower stalks that rise straight up out of the center of the radial leaves. The stalks are slender, bare, cylindrical, and hollow, reaching 6" to 18".  Each stalk holds one flower head.  Both stalks and leaves release latex, a milky sap, when wounded, and may cause dermatitis for latex-sensitive people.

            Flowers begin as roundish, green buds huddled in the center of the leaf rosette and open into 2 1/4" flower heads made up of bright yellow ray flowers.  Seeds are borne below tiny, individual parachute-like tufts that are carried away on the slightest breeze.  The thick taproot may reach several feet into the soil, secured by many short, fleshy rootlets.

             Here is where things become tricky.  For medicinal purposes, the whole plant is useable before it flowers, the leaves are gathered while the plant is in flower, and the root is harvested in fall and winter.  Both leaves and roots are used as a diuretic which, being high in potassium and calcium, will not deplete the body of these vital minerals as over-the-counter diuretics will. However, caution is always indicated when considering the use of diuretics since they can complicate any existing medical condition.  In cases where inflammation is present, consult a qualified health practitioner.  Infusions of the leaves or roots serve as a digestive aid.  The decocted, fresh roots are one of the oldest known remedies for constipation and kidney- and gallstones.  The sugars levulose and inulin make dandelion beneficial in the treatment of diabetes. And poultices of dandelion leaves have been used to treat fractures. The milky juice has been used to remove warts.

            When harvesting for food, the entire plant can be gathered at any time.  But the leaves are best when young, since they become bitter with age.  The tender young leaves make a tasty salad; the more mature leaves are steamed or boiled like spinach.  Older leaves should be cooked for about 5 minutes, the water poured off to remove the bitterness, then cooked again until done.  The buds and crown are eaten raw or cooked before flowering (very tasty). The flowers can be dipped in tempura batter and deep-fried.  And the root can be cooked as a vegetable.  A common use for the root is as a coffee substitute.  Wash and scrape the root, slice, and roast it until thoroughly brown (it should be dry, but not overly so), and grind it in a coffee grinder.