Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dear common flower, that grow'st beside the way,
Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold,
First pledge of blithesome May,
Which children pluck, and, full of pride, uphold,
High-hearted buccaneers, o'erjoyed that they
An Eldorado in the grass have found,
Which not the rich earth's ample round
May match in wealth, thou art more dear to me
Than all the prouder summer-blooms may be.
--- James Russell Lowell, "To the Dandelion"
Common Name: Common Dandelion
Scientific Name: Taraxacum officinale
The dandelion is a perennial, herbaceous plant with long, lance-shaped leaves. Dandelion comes from Old French: Dent-de-lion means lion's tooth. The leaves are 3 to 12" long, and 1/2 to 2-1/2" wide, always growing in a basal rosette.
A perennial from a basal rosette with yellow flowers and a 'puff-ball' seedhead. Dandelion is one of the most common and problematic weeds of turfgrass and lawns throughout the United States. Dandelion also occurs as a weed of container ornamentals, landscapes, nurseries, orchards, and occasionally agronomic crops.
Roots: Deep taproot up to 1/2 inch in diameter.
Seedlings: Cotyledons are light-green, smooth, and oval to spatulate in shape. Young leaves form a basal rosette and are also oval to spatulate in shape, 2 to 6 inches in length.
Flowers: Large, bright yellow in color, approximately 1 1/4 to 2 inches in diameter. Flowers are solitary on the end of unbranched, leafless, hollow stalks (scape) that are 2 to 6 inches tall.
Leaves: Margins are noticeably wavy, especially on older leaves. All leaves are basal, ranging from 2 to 16 inches in length depending on the environment. Usually, leaves are more in the range of 2 to 8 inches in length. Leaves are oblong in outline, sometimes sparsely hairy, deeply indented with lobes that point toward the center of the rosette.
Stems: Erect, hollow flowering stems (scapes) occur that are approximately 2 to 6 inches in height.
Fruit: An achene that is brown, 3-5 mm long, with a feathery pappus attached that aids in wind dispersal of seed. Collectively, the achenes form a white seedhead that resembles a puff-ball.
Identifying Characteristics: The rosette growth habit, lobed leaves, yellow flowers, and characteristic 'puff-ball' seedheads are all features that help in the identification of dandelion. When in the rosette stage, Chicory (Cichorium intybus) and dandelion resemble one another. However, the lobes of chicory may point either toward the center of the rosette or away from the center of the rosette. Additionally, chicory has blue flowers and a flowering stem with alternately arranged leaves. White Flowered Mazus (Mazus japonicus) also resembles dandelion in the rosette stage of growth, however the leaves of this weed are not as severely lobed as those of dandelion. 
Collect dandelion leaves in early spring, when they're the tastiest, before the flowers appear. Harvest again in late fall. After a frost, their protective bitterness disappears. The bitterness of summer leaves can be boiled out in two changes of water.
Dandelion greens are wonderful in salads, sautéed or steamed. They taste like chicory and endive, with an intense heartiness overlying a bitter tinge.
Sauté them for about 20 minutes with onions and garlic in olive oil, adding a little home-made wine before they're done. If you're not used to the slight bitterness, cook them with sweet vegetables, especially sliced carrots and parsnips.
The flowers add color, texture, and an unusual bittersweet flavor to salads. You can also sauté them, dip them in batter and fry them into fritters, or steam them with other vegetables. They have a meaty texture that contrasts with other lighter vegetables in a stir-fry dish or a casserole.
The taproot is edible all year, but is best from late fall to early spring. Use it as a cooked vegetable, especially in soups. Pre-boiling and changing the water, or long, slow simmering mellows this root. Sweet vegetables best complement dandelion roots. Sauteing the roots in olive oil also improves them, creating a robust flavor. A little Tamari soy sauce and onions complete this unusual vegetable side dish.
The leaves are more nutritious than anything you can buy. They're higher in beta-carotene than carrots. The iron and calcium content is phenomenal, greater than spinach. You also get vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12, C, E, P, and D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc by using a tasty, free vegetable that grows on virtually every lawn. The root contains the sugar inulin, plus many medicinal substances.
Dandelion root is one of the safest and most popular herbal remedies. The specific name, officinale, means that It's used medicinally. The decoction is a traditional tonic. It’s supposed to strengthen the entire body, especially the liver and gallbladder, where it promotes the flow of bile, reduces inflammation of the bile duct, and helps get rid of gall stones. This is due to its taraxacin. It’s good for chronic hepatitis, it reduces liver swelling and jaundice, and it helps indigestion caused by insufficient bile. Don't use it with irritable stomach or bowel, or if you have an acute inflammation.
The modern French name for this plant is pissenlit ("lit" means bed) because the root and leaf tea act on the kidneys as a gentle diuretic, improving the way they cleanse the blood and recycle nutrients. Unlike pharmaceuticals diuretics, this doesn't leach potassium, a vital mineral, from the body. Improved general health and clear skin result from improved kidney function. One man I spoke to even claims he avoided surgery for urinary stones by using dandelion root tea alone.
Dandelions are also good for the bladder, spleen, pancreas, stomach and intestines. It’s recommended for stressed-out, internally sluggish, and sedentary people. Anyone who's a victim of excessive fat, white flour, and concentrated sweeteners could benefit from a daily cup of dandelion tea.
Dandelion leaf infusion also good at dinner time. Its bitter elements encourage the production of proper levels of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes. All the digestive glands and organs respond to this herb’s stimulation. Even after the plant gets bitter, a strong infusion, is rich in vitamins and minerals, and helps people who are run-down. Even at its most bitter (Taraxacum come from Arabic and Persian, meaning "bitter herb"), it never becomes intolerably so, like golden seal and gentian.
The leaf’s white, milky sap removes warts, moles, pimples, calluses, and sores, and soothes bee stings and blisters.