Skip to main content

Weed - Taxacum officianale: Dandelion, Lion's tooth, Priest's crown, Swine's snout, Blow-ball, Cankerwort, Wild endive. 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.

Description: The dandelion has a thick fleshy taproot with many-branched crowns and milky juice. The taproot can go as deep as 15 feet in the soil. The stem is very short and completely underground. Leaves emerge at ground level and contain a milky juice. Leaf shape ranges from a few shallow lobes to deeply cut lobes all along the edges. Flower heads are ½ to 2 inches in diameter, with 100 to 300 yellow ray flowers, borne on a long, hollow stalk.

Where: Found in openings in deep woods to cultivated fields, from rocky hillsides to fertile gardens and lawns, pastures, roadsides, and vineyards. Dandelions grow in all 50 states and in most temperate climates across the globe including New Zealand, Turkey. I actually saw it flowering in the former USSR!

Propagation: Vegetatively and by seed. It can reproduce from roots, or root pieces. There is one seed in an achene. The fuzzy head is composed of many parachute-like structures each called a pappus which consists of hairs.

Flower: It can flower early spring to late fall. However, flowers are usually most abundant in spring, and again in fall when daylight is less than 12 hours long. Seeds germinate all summer into fall. Flowers open in daylight, and close at night and on overcast days. Seeds remain viable in the soil for many years, so clearing the lawn or garden one year does not mean new plants will not appear the next.

Poisoning: It is not known to be poisonous. All parts of the plant are edible.

Historical: Dandelions are native to Eurasia. They were reported in in Roman times and also by the Anglo Saxon tribes of Britain and the Normans of France. In the tenth and eleventh centuries Arabian physicians are said to have used dandelions for medicinal purposes. The common name comes from the French "dent de leone," or lion's teeth. The Pilgrims brought the plant to America from Europe in the 1600s. Pioneers carried seeds from their beloved plant and planted wherever they settled in the west.

What: Probably the most recognized weed, the dandelion has symbolic meaning. The yellow flower represents the sun, the puff ball represents the moon and the dispersing seeds represent the stars. It is a plant that is both cultivated and destroyed when it appears.

Pros: Dandelions provide entertainment for children who love to pick flowers for Mom, and also blow the seedheads into the wind. Leaves and sometimes flowers are used in salads. It is considered a valuable herb that can be used as a food and medicine. Dandelion is a rich source of vitamins A, B complex, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc.

Dandelions provide fair to good forage for livestock and wildlife. In the west, antelope as well as sage grouse use it heavily. The flowers are popular with bees and butterflies; it is a good honey plant. Tea and wine can be made from the flowers. Also, flowers can be fried in batter and eaten. In Europe and Canada an herbal beer is made from the plant. Dandelion wine is a common beverage made from the plant.

Dandelions have supporters. Jack Walters of Indiana University Southeast has written "Evidence in Support of Saving the Dandelion". In the abstract for his paper he writes, "Dandelions should be saved for three reasons: to destroy them is emotionally draining, to poison them threatens the food chain, and to co-exist with them brings beauty and nutrition into our lives."

Herbal: According to the University of Maryland Medical Center "Dandelion leaves act as a diuretic, increasing the amount of urine the body produces. The leaves are used to stimulate the appetite and help digestion. Dandelion flower has antioxidant properties. Dandelion may help improve the immune system."

Herbalists use dandelion root to detoxify the liver and gallbladder, and dandelion leaves to support kidney function.

Native Americans are said to have used dandelion tea to treat kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn, and an upset stomach. In China the dandelion has been used to treat stomach problems, appendicitis, and breast inflammation and help with milk flow. European remedies include treating fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, and diarrhea. Dartmouth University warns against using the dandelion if you have diabetes, gall bladder problems, if you take a blood thinner, or take diuretics because the unregulated dosage of dandelion may affect your medication.

Cons: It is a broadleaf weed in many yards. The dandelion is difficult to control because of its spread by seeds, and can re-sprout if root is not dug at least 4 to 6 inches deep. Allergy sufferers may react to the pollen.

Mary Anna Anderson
Mary Anna Anderson
Nebraska Extension Horticulturist

Mary Anna Anderson served from 1997-2013 as a horticulturist with Nebraska Extension in the Douglas/Sarpy County offices.