When I first started foraging, dandelion was one I’d thought I’d already known. It turns out there are many look-alikes that are very easy to confuse with dandelion.
Dandelion was brought to the United States from Europe for its food and herb value. A digestive tea was made from the root. The leaves were used in salads to improve the Early Settler’s health and energy level.
This amazing plant was actually well known and used by ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans and have been used in Chinese traditional medicine for over a thousand years. Dandelions have been included in many stories and poems in Europe throughout history.
Dandelion was once used for all sorts of health problem, such as warts and the plague. The one that has stuck around for it’s proven efficacy is as a diuretic, a nutritional powerhouse, and helping cleanse the liver and improving digestion.
Flowers: The common dandelion flowerhead over 100 yellow ray florets and no disk florets; the ray florets spread outward from the center. Inner and outer green bracts are below the flowerhead. Flowers appear during warm spells in the winter in the southeast United States as well as throughout the warm season.
Leaves: Jagged deeply-notched, basal, hairless leaves.
Stem: Round. Bleeds white liquid when cut.
Habitat: Fields, lawns, gardens, trail edges, forest edges, roadsides.
Edible Look Alikes
Luckily, with dandelion, most of the look a-likes are actually edible.
Potentially Harmful Look A-likes
Coltsfoot – This plant has very similar flowers to dandelion, but very different leaves. The leaves are large and broad and roundish. Although coltsfoot is used medicinally, there is some evidence that it can cause negative health effects, such as liver damage and cancer. More research is needed, but for now, I suggest avoiding this herb (it’s hard to find anyway so avoiding it should be easy).
The entire plant can be eaten raw or cooked all year round. Unfortunately, it’s extremely bitter. It’s best to harvest the tender, young leaves in the Spring. The root can be harvested year-round, but has more nutrition in the winter when the energy of the plant flows back to the roots.
Here are a few recipes you can make with this cool plant:
Identifying Dandelion and its look a-likes: