Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Slender Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis stricta)

The gold-cup sorrel from his gauzy screen Shone like a fairy crown, enchased and beaded, Left on some morn, when light flashed in their eyes unheeded. --- Joseph Rodman Drake, "Bronx" Common Name: Slender Yellow Wood Sorrel Scientific Name: Oxalis stricta


Yellow woodsorrel emerges from a taproot and forms small, erect, bushy plants up to 20 inches tall. The stems are slender, gray-green, pubescent, slightly ascending, and branched at the base. They will occasionally root at nodes. [1] Leaves: alternate with three heart-shaped leaflets, three-parted palmate-compound, less than one inch across, pale green, with long petioles; radially-symmetrical; slender stalk usually up to 8 inches tall. [1] Flowers: yellow with five petals. They are up to 1/2 inch across and borne at end of stems in clusters of one to four. The are borne during May to September. [1] The leaves, stem, and flowers of the wood sorrel taste lemony. "Sorrel" comes from a French word for sour, and "Oxalis" comes from oxys, which means sharp or acidic in Greek. [2] The delicate leaves fold shut to protect themselves from direct sunlight. They also shut when it gets dark, possibly to protect themselves from the cold of night, or from damage from too much dew. Folklore describes the wood sorrel as praying by folding its leaves at night. [2] The edible fruit is a straight capsule about as long and wide as a child’s toenail clipping. Inside are tiny, round reddish-brown seeds. If you touch a very ripe fruit, its sides split apart and the seeds pop out. [2]


Use wood sorrel leaves, flowers, and fruit capsules raw in salads. Cook them in soups, stews, or other dishes. Make a tea with them: pour boiling water over a handful of leaves, stems, and flowers. Let them sit, covered, away from the heat, 20 minutes. Strain out the plants, sweeten if you want, and drink the lemony-tasting tea. Or chill it first, to make ice tea. Sorrels are loaded with vitamin C. [2] Use the leaves fresh in salads or beans, or chop and sprinkle on fish over the fire for a unique lemony taste that will draw raves (get rid of the tough stems first, though). The plant does contain Oxalic Acid, but if you just use it as a compliment to the main meal or an addition to a side dish, this plant is perfectly safe for ingestion, and when cooked, the Oxalic Acid is much reduced anyway. At home, use Oxalis in place of lemon for a subtly different taste. Add to sauces, soups, salads, greens, beans, or peas for a refreshing spark. [3] [1] href= [2] [3]

Friday, September 25, 2009

Plantain (Plantago)

Plantain (Plantago)

And, you, Waybread [Plantain], mother of herbs,
open to the east, mighty within;
carts rolled over you, women rode over you,
over you brides cried out, bulls snorted over you.
All you withstood then, and were crushed;
So you withstand poison and contagion
and the loathsome one who travels through the land. [1]
--- from Lacnunga LXXIX-LXXXII [More information here]

ROMEO: Your plantain leaf is excellent for that.
BENVOLIO: For what, I pray thee?
ROMEO: For your broken shin. [2]
--- William Shakespeare, "Romeo and Juliet", Act I. Scene II.

Common names

Black jack, black plantain, bodaich dhubha ("the black men", archaic children's name), broad leaved plantain, buckhorn plantain, carl doddies, cocks, common plantain, costa canina, cuckoo's bread, curl doddy, dog's ribs, dooryard plantain, English plantain, Englishman's foot, fechters (fighters), greater plantain, headman, hen plant, hock cockle, jackstraw, johnsmas-flooer, kemp (to fight), kempseed, lamb’s tongue, lance-leaved plantain, lanceleaf indianwheat, lanceleaf plantain, long plantain, lus an t'slanuchaidh, narrow leaved plantain, narrowleaf plantain, quinquenervia, rat-tail plantain, ribble grass, ribgrass, ribwort plantain, ripple grass, round-leaved plantain, rub grass, slàn-lus (healing plant), snaithlus, snake plantain, snake weed, sodgers, soldier's herb, soldiers, warba blades, waybread, waybroad, wendles, white man's foot.

Scientific Names

  • Plantago lanceolata (English plantain)
  • Plantago major (broadleaf plantain)

This adventive perennial plant consists of a rosette of basal leaves and one or more flowering stalks. The basal leaves are up to 12" long and 1" across, but more commonly about half this size. They are broadly linear and smooth along the margins, being broadest toward the middle and tapering toward their tips and the base of the plant. There are 3-5 parallel veins along the length of each leaf. The leaves are glabrous to sparsely hairy; there are usually a few hairs along the central vein on the underside of each leaf. The narrow flowering stalks are devoid of leaves and about 6-18" tall. They are often slightly furrowed or angular, and there are scattered hairs on the stalks toward the base of the plant.

Each stalk terminates in an oblongoid spike of flowers about ½–2" long. The small flowers are densely crowded together in whorls all along this spike. During the bud stage, this spike is green and bluntly conical at its apex, but it becomes light brown and cylindrical as the flowers bloom from the bottom to the top. Each flower has 4 sepals, a short corolla with 4 spreading lobes, and some papery bracts underneath. The strongly exerted stamens are the most conspicuous feature of the flowers, which have large white anthers on slender filaments. The blooming period occurs intermittently from late spring to early fall and can last several months for a population of plants in a given locale. The flowers are wind-pollinated and they have no floral scent.

Each flower is replaced by a small seed capsule that is ovoid or oblongoid; it splits cleanly and evenly in the lower half to release 2 small seeds. Each seed is oblongoid, dark brown or black, and strongly indented on one side. The root system consists of a shallow crown of coarse fibrous roots. This plant spreads primarily by reseeding itself. [3]

Some old books call the species Costa canina in allusion to the prominent veinings in the leaves. The veinings also earned it the name Ribwort, and it is this feature that caused it to earn the mediaeval name of Quinquenervia.

Another old popular name was ‘Kemps’. This word, with its origin in the Danish koempe, meaning warrior, refers to a game that children used to play with the plant: using the flower stalks as swords, they tried to knock the heads off their competitors' weapons. The Anglo-Saxon word for a soldier was cempa, and thus see related to kemps.

The namesfire-weed or fire leaf refer to the fact that farmers used to judge whether a haystack would be likely to catch fire by feeling a leaf of ribwort plantain to see how much moisture was left in the hay. [4] [5]

Medical Uses

Waybread (plantago major), greater plantain or dock, was called 'way-broad' in Old English for its wide leaves and its tendency to grow near roadsides. This plant's durability may be the source of the idea that it confers resilience. Waybread was believed to be effective against headache and sore throat. [6]

Chewing plantain leaves and applying them to the skin is a great remedy for stings, bites, cuts, itchy rashes. Some people call these “fairy bandaids.” [7]

All of the plantains contain a high level of tannin and the seeds have a high mucilage content. The astringent property of the leaves due to the tannin makes the leaves useful for all types of sores on the skin, cuts, bites and various inflammations. A tea brewed with the seeds is a treatment for diarrhea and dysentery and for bleeding in the mouth or other mucous membranes. [8]

Ribwort plantain is a safe and effective treatment for quickly staunches blood flow and encourages the repair of damaged tissue. The leaves have antibacterial properties. They have a bitter flavour and are astringent, demulcent, mildly expectorant, haemostatic and ophthalmic. Internally, they are used in the treatment of a wide range of complaints including diarrhoea, gastritis, peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, haemorrhage, haemorrhoids, cystitis, bronchitis, catarrh, sinusitis, asthma and hay fever. They are used externally in treating skin inflammations, malignant ulcers, cuts and stings. The heated leaves are used as a wet dressing for wounds and swellings. The root is a remedy for the bite of rattlesnakes, used in equal portions with common horehound (Marrubium vulgare). The seeds are used in the treatment of parasitic worms. Plantain seeds contain up to 30% mucilage which swells up in the gut, acting as a bulk laxative and soothing irritated membranes. A distilled water made from the plant makes an excellent eye lotion. A good fibre is obtained from the leaves, suitable for textiles. A mucilage from the seed coats is used as a fabric stiffener, obtained by macerating the seed in hot water. Gold and brown dyes are obtained from the whole plant. [9]

A volunteer working with an AIDS patient group became acquainted with a man who had been diagnosed some time earlier as having disabling AIDS-Related Complex (ARC). The patient experienced night sweats, diarrhea, weight loss, recurrent bouts of high fever, frequent infections, and, at times, difficulty in concentrating. The volunteer and the patient came down with a flu that persisted for more than two weeks. The volunteer began searching for botanicals that had been used in folk medicine to treat viral diseases, plants that would be both locally available and relatively non-toxic.

Plantago lanceolata, an ubiquitous, introduced weed, common in grassy areas and disturbed soils throughout the US, seemed to be a possibility. The volunteer made a tea of one medium-sized leaf simmered in water to make about a cup of liquid and took a large swallow on arising, at bedtime, and sometimes at lunch. Recovery from the flu was rapid, taking two to three days. Considering the possibility that the "active substance(s)" in P. lanceolata might be lectins, and hence, possibly of use in HIV infection, both continued to take the tea at the same dosage. (The volunteer took it to gain an understanding of any possible side effects.)

During the following six months, using the P. lanceolata infusion (plus ensuring adequate calcium) and avoiding sweets, the patient found that severely swollen lymph nodes in the neck gradually but steadily reduced in size; a previously recurring cyst in the neck did not recur; he gained some weight; he did not complain of night sweats; he reported instances of diarrhea were very infrequent; his energy improved; and his memory and concentration appeared normal. He maintained a fairly full schedule including public speaking and travel. During this period of time, the man was not taking AZT, and he was not involved in any clinical trials or experimental AIDS treatments. The P. lanceolata appears to be the only factor which might explain the improvements observed. [10]

Plantain can be used as a tea, tincture or Homoeopathic remedy therapeutically, and is wonderful for detoxifying the body, and helps when a person is giving up smoking. A poultice on all-skin ailments and burns works quickly and bleeding stops immediately when you place a leaf on a cut.

Psyllium husks are the dried seeds that come from Plantain, and they can be used for roughage with your food. They have the remarkable property of being able to absorb about twenty times their weight of water.

Chopped plantain can be added to salads, stir fry, or used as cooked greens, soup or herbal tea. Add the juice occasionally to orange or pineapple juice for a green chlorophyll supplement. [11]

Medically, the effects of plantain can be described as follows:

  • Anti-hemorrhagic (an agent to stop hemorrhages)
  • Astringent (a binding agent that contracts organic tissue, reducing secretions or discharges of mucous and fluid from the body)
  • Demulcent (a substance that soothes inflamed mucous membranes and protects them from irritation)
  • Diuretic (an agent that increases the volume and flow of urine which cleanses the urinary system)
  • Expectorant (an agent that promotes the discharge of mucous and secretions from the respiratory passages)
  • Hemostatic (an agent that controls bleeding)

The leaves placed in shoes will keep the feet free from blisters. [12]

It has been traditionally use for the treatment of respiratory complaints, including coughs and inflammation.

The leaves, applied to an open wound were used to stop bleeding. The fresh leaves are applied whole or bruised in the form of a poultice.

The leaves can be rubbed into insects and nettle stings, or applied to burns and scalds to afford relief. [13]

Plantago contains mucilage, tannins and silicic acid. It is probably the mucilage which contributes most to the action of the plant. Plantago has the ability to reduce the amount of inflammation present in the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract.

It has been noted that plantain juice will not go mouldy during storage despite large amounts of sugar being present. This has been found to be due to the presence of naturally occurring antibiotics. [14]

Plantain infusion (tea) can also be used as a soothing wash for sunburn, windburn, rashes, or wounds. To make a plantain infusion, simply add a small handful of fresh plantain leaves to a cup or two of water, and bring to a gentle boil. Turn off heat, and let steep, then strain out the leaves. The infusion is best when fresh, although it can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days.

A good way to use plantain is in a herbally infused oil. Gently fill a container with fresh plantain leaves that have been lightly bruised or crushed. (Dried plantain can be used - if you are using dried plant material, you only need to fill the jar one-half full). Cover the leaves with oil...any vegetable oil will do. Cover the container with a lid, and let it sit in the sun for a couple of weeks. The oil will turn a beautiful dark green color. Strain out the leaves and you have a lovely herbal oil to use. It's wonderful to soften, soothe and heal any manner of skin conditions. An herbal salve can be made from this oil...simply add 1-2 ounces of melted beeswax to the warmed, infused oil. Stir over low heat until the beeswax and oil are uniformly combined, and then pour into clean jars or tubs. [15]

Relieve bites, boils, bruises, burns, cuts, eczema, mastitis, ringworm, scalds, scratches and wounds by applying the freshly crushed leaves directly on the affected area. An infusion of leaves taken internally or washed over the area can be add additional relief.

Relieve constipation by drinking a mild laxative made of plantain seeds: Soak seeds in a glass of cold water until mixture becomes thick. Stir frequently and drink. It may be flavored with a squeeze of lemon or eaten with yogurt and fruit.

  • Dosage for adults: 2-4 tablespoons
  • Dosage for children: 1 tablespoon

Relieve hemorrhoids by preparing an ointment or salve. Relieve inflamed eyes by bathing the eyes with an infusion.

Plantains as Food

As food, plantain can be steamed, the leaves dipped in batter and fried, or the young leaves eaten raw. [16]

Young leaves, raw or cooked, are rather bitter and very tedious to prepare. The fibrous strands are best removed prior to eating. The very young leaves are somewhat better and are less fibrous. Seeds may be cooked and used like sago. The seed can be ground into a powder and added to flours when making bread or cakes. [17]

Young plantain leaves make a good addition to salad and the more mature leaves can be steamed and eaten with the fibers easily removed after cooking. Taste is similar to chard. Plantain is high in vitamins A, K and C. The seeds gathered when dry are a good source of protein. [18]

  • [1], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [2], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [3], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [4], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [5], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [6], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [7], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [8], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [9], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [10];col1, retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [11], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [12], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [13], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [14], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [15], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [16], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [17], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [18], retrieved July 10, 2009
  • [19], retrieved July 10, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

All around the hillside is all spring: wild mustard, clusters of henbit, rabbits, my footprints, and the sounds I make are the sounds I hear, the ringing of pulse in the ear, the swish of grass, my footsteps. --- Nathaniel Perry, "Vision" Common Names: Henbit, Deadnettle, Giraffe Head Scientific Name: Lamium amplexicaule


A member of the mint family. Stems droop, turning upward, growing to as tall as 16 inches. Stems are square, green to purplish and can be smooth or hairy. Leaves are up to 1-inch long, opposite, dark green and hairy above, lighter below. Lower leaves have petioles and the upper leaves attach directly to the stem. Leaves are triangular to circular with palmate venation. Leaf edges have rounded teeth, crinkled at the edges. Flowers are tubular, pink to red to purple, up to 3/4 inch long. [1] Amplexicaule means clasping; Lamium is probably from the Greek Lamia, meaning female man-eater, a grotesque creature in Greek mythology. This image is echoed in one of the common names for henbit: giraffe head. The common name, Henbit, like chickweed, comes from watching chickens eating it. [2] Henbit is closely related to purple dead nettle, which is also edible. Henbit leaves are heart-shaped, with scalloped edges, growing along the entire length of the stem. Purple dead nettle has triangular-shaped leaves growing in clumps. "Dead" in this case means non-stinging. Both are nutritious, high in iron, vitamins, fiber and anti-oxidants. [2]


The young shoots, leaves and flowers of this plant are edible and, once washed, can be simply cooked by adding to frying pan with a knob of butter some spring onions and plenty of seasoning. When sautéed for ten minutes they are ready to consume. Ideally, finish with a twist of fresh nutmeg and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice before serving. The tops of young plants can also be used in salads or can be stir-fried as a spring vegetable. The flavour is best when the plant is in flower as it can be very insipid when young. [3] To harvest henbit for food, pick and wash the ascending tips. Jan Phillips, author of "Wild Edibles of Missouri," recommends cooking the henbit tips "slowly in no more water than is necessary, then add a dab of butter and season. Spring onions will give a neat touch." Henbit harvested in early spring will also add a nice mint flavor and pretty color to jazz up your salads. [4]

Seven Herbs of Spring

  • hotokenoza (henbit)
  • seri (dropwort, similar to watercress)
  • baby daikon
  • hakobe (chickweed)
  • nazuna (Shepard's purse)
  • suzuna (turnip)
  • gogyo (cudweed)
On January 7th it is customary to eat nanakusa-gayu (seven herb rice porridge). This is o-kayu (rice porridge, Japan's version of congee) cooked with haru no nanakusa (the seven herbs of spring). These herbs were traditionally foraged for in the fields, and being wild and fresh were very nutritious. Being so healthy, it was thought that eating nanakusa-gayu will prevent illness in the coming year. [5] From left to right: suzuna (turnip); hakobera (chickweed); gogyou (cudweed); hotokenoza (henbit); nazuna (shepard's purse); seri (watercress); suzushiro (daikon radish) [5] [1] [2] [3] href=" [4] [5]

Monday, September 21, 2009

Common Mallow

Common Mallow (Malva neglecta)

The sitting down, when school was o'er Upon the threshold of the door Picking from Mallows, sport to please The crumpled seed we call'd a cheese.
--- John Clare, "A Contemplation Upon Flowers", by Bobby J. Ward [1]

Common Names: Button weed, common mallow, cheeseweed, dwarf mallow, running mallow, malice, round dock, roundleaf mallow and umbrella mallow.

Scientific Name: Malva neglecta

A winter or summer annual or biennial, freely branching at the base, with a prostrate growth habit. Found throughout the United States, more common in turfgrass, landscapes, and nursery crops.

Seedling: Cotyledons are heart-shaped, 5-7 mm long, 3-4 mm wide, with 3 main veins, hairy. Alternate young leaves, crinkled, circular with toothed margins, and hairy on both surfaces.

Roots: Short, straight-taproot.

Leaves: Alternate, on long petioles, circular to kidney-shaped, toothed and shallowly 5-9 lobed, 2-6 cm wide. Short hairs present on upper and lower leaf surfaces, margins and petioles.

Flowers: Single or in clusters of 2-4 in leaf axils. Petals white or tinged with pink or purple.

Stems: Freely branching at the base, lying close to the soil surface, nearly erect or spreading with tips turned up (decumbent).

Fruit: Flattened, round, disc-like, composed of 12-15 small hairy, 1-seeded segments, 5 to 8 mm in diameter, resembling a button in appearance.

Identifying Characteristics: Fruit disc-like, resembling a button. Leaves circular, toothed, and long petioled. This weed is often confused with Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea). However, ground ivy leaves are opposite, and have much more prominent rounded teeth. Ground ivy also has square stems and may emit a minty odor. [2]

Common mallow is an annual or biennial member of the Mallow family (Malvaceae) that reproduces by seed. Emerging from a short, straight taproot, roundleaved mallow develops stems up to 12 inches long. The hairy stems are horizontal or upright and may be branching at base. The stems do not root as they touch the ground. The simple, alternate leaves of roundleaved mallow are round to heart-shaped usually with 5 to 9 shallow lobes or rounded teeth. They are up to 2 1/2 inch across and hairy on both surfaces. The petioles are also hairy and up to 4 inches long. Flowers of roundleaved mallow are solitary or borne in clusters of two to four in leaf axils. The flowers have five white petals and are often tinged pale lilac and grow up to 1/2 inch long. The fruit is a flattened disk with 10 to 20 small, hairy segments with one seed per segment. Flowering occurs May through September.

The generic name, Althaea, is derived from the Greek, altho (to cure), from its healing properties. The name of the order, Malvaceae, is derived from the Greek, malake (soft), from the special qualities of the Mallows in softening and healing.

Leaves and young shoots of common mallow are edible raw or cooked. They have a mild pleasant flavor, and are said to be highly nutritious. They can be added in quantity to salads, and make an excellent lettuce substitute. They can also be cooked as greens. The leaves are mucus-forming, so when cooked in soups etc. they tend to thicken it in much the same way as okra. A decoction of the roots has been used as an egg-white substitute for making meringue. The roots are brought to the boil in water and then simmered until the water becomes quite thick. This liquid can then be whisked in much the same way as egg whites. A tea can be made from the dried leaves. Immature seeds are edible raw or cooked. Having a pleasant nutty flavor, they are nice as a nibble but too small in most cases to collect in quantity.

Caution: When grown on nitrogen rich soils (and particularly when these are inorganic), the plant tends to concentrate high levels of nitrates in its leaves. The leaves are perfectly wholesome at all other times.

Medicinal Uses: All parts of common mallow are astringent, laxative, urine-inducing, and have agents that counteract inflammation, that soften and soothe the skin when applied locally, and that induce the removal (coughing up) of mucous secretions from the lungs. The Cherokee Indians put the flowers in oil and mixed them with tallow for use on sores. The Iroquois Indians made a compound infusion of plants applied as poultice to swellings of all kinds, and for broken bones. They also applied it to babies' swollen stomach or sore back. The Mahuna Indians used the plant for painful congestions of the stomach. The Navajo, Ramah Indians made a cold infusion of plants taken and used as a lotion for injuries or swellings. The plant is also an excellent laxative for young children. Other Uses: Cream, yellow and green dyes can be obtained from the plant and the seed heads. The root has been used as a toothbrush. [3]

Antiinflammatory; Antiphlogistic; Astringent; Demulcent; Diuretic; Emollient; Expectorant; Laxative; Poultice; Purgative; Salve. All parts of the plant are antiphlogistic, astringent, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, expectorant, laxative, salve. The leaves and flowers can be eaten as part of the diet, or a tea can be made from the leaves, flowers or roots. The leaves and flowers are the main part used, their demulcent properties making them valuable as a poultice for bruise, inflammations, insect bites etc, or taken internally in the treatment of respiratory system diseases or inflammation of the digestive or urinary systems. They have similar properties, but are considered to be inferior to the marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis), though they are stronger acting than the common mallow (M. sylvestris). They are seldom used internally. [4]

Mallow leaf and flower preparations are most commonly consumed as teas.8 Boil 2 to 4 teaspoons of the dried leaves or flowers in 150 ml of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. One cup of the tea can be drunk three times per day. For topical use, a cloth can be dipped in the hot tea, allowed to cool, and then applied to inflamed skin. Alternatively, a cold infusion can be made, by soaking 6 teaspoons of the dry herb in a quart of cold water overnight, and then applied topically. According to some herbalists, the cold infusion likely extracts the plant’s mucilage (a soothing, gelatinous substance) most effectively and may work best for both internal and topical use. [5]

[1], "A Contemplation Upon Flowers"
[5] &category=Herb&org=VSI Home

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

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. [1]

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.[2]



A wonderful ode to weeds, provided by The Weed Lady,

Wilde Craeft (Wildcraft)

Wilde Craeft (Wildcraft)

Wilde (Anglo Saxon): in a state of nature, not domesticated; growing, produced, or prepared without the aid and care of man

Craeft (Anglo Saxon): strength, skill, cunning [1]

Wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting plants from their natural, or "wild" habitat, for food, medicinal, or other purposes. It applies to uncultivated plants wherever they may be found, and is not necessarily limited to wilderness areas. (

I've allowed my backyard to grow untended: unmowed and unweeded, but not unappreciated: springtime dandelions brightening my mood...the delicate sweetish-tart taste of the wood sorrel...sprigs of minty-tasting henbit...wonderful summer fun and interest!

I've enjoyed photographing and identifying plants in my "wild garden", as well as eating a few! I believe my untended backyard will contribute to our honeybee population, decrease my use of herbicides and extend the life of my lawnmower!

[1] Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1949