Taraxacum officinale - Dandelion

Taraxacum officinale, most commonly referred to as the common dandelion (also lion's tooth, blowball), is a part of the sunflower family, or Asteraceae (Taraxacum officinale). This perennial plant (lives more than 2 years) can be found throughout Eurasia and North America (Taraxacum officinale). Found growing in lawns, gardens, and on the sides of roads, this flower is most commonly perceived as a weed to be poisoned and uprooted. However, the dandelion is very beneficial due its uses for food, medicine, and art.


Scientific classification
T. officinale
(Taraxacum officinale)

Family - Asteraceae
Dandelions are a flowering land plant, or angiospermae, from the genus Taraxacum and family Asteraceae (Asteraceae). The family
Asteraceae, also reffered to as the daisy or sunflower family, is one of the two largest flowering plant families in the world. Consisting of more than 22,750 accepted species, this family of vascular plants is found around the world and are most often herbaceous plants (Asteraceae). Meaning, many of the plants within the Asteraceae family are used for cooking, medicine, or perfume.

Genus - Taraxacum
Taraxacum is a genus of flowering land plant species in the family Asteraceae. Taxacums are known for the large number of small flowers that together make up the head of the flower. Plants within this species are tap-rooted, meaning they have one large root which grows vertically downward and smaller roots that grow off the main anchor root (Asteraceae). If the above flower is pulled and the taproot is left unearthed, it will sprout a new flower. The species within this genus are either biennial or perennial meaning that the plants live longer than one year (Asteraceae).

Important relatives of the common dandelion family Asteraceae include plants that are important as sources of food, medicine, and even beauty. The Lactuca sativa (lettuce), Aealianthus Annuus (sunflower), and Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke) are commercial crops that are important sources of food to humans (Asteraceae). A number of plants within the Asteraceae family are used in medicinal teas such as Echinacea purpurea while others are kept for their sensational beauty such as the Dahlia cultivar depicted to the right (Asteraceae).

There are a number of different species of dandelion that exist throughout the world. A few examples of these include the Taraxacum albidum (white-flowering Japanese dandelion), the Taraxacum californicum (endangered California dandelion), and Taraxacum kok-saghyz (Russian dandelion) just to name a few (Asteraceae).

People often mistake catsear, chicory, coltsfoot and perennial sowthistle for dandelion (Dandelions Taraxacum officinale: Plant Profile). To correctly identify a dandelion look for hollow flower stems, one flower per stem, and the leaves to grow close to the ground. In the image to the right, the middle two leaves are dandelion leaves (Dandelions Taraxacum officinale: Plant Profile). Take notice to the jagged teeth, or edges.

Important to note is that all dandelion look alikes are non-toxic and can be consumed as well.


Picture sources: (Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale): Plant Profile)


The dandelion was originally a native of Europe and Asia and was brought to America by settlers for its nutritious and medical benefits (Taraxacum officinale). The dandelion has "lance-like" leaves that can grow anywhere from 3 to 12" long and can reach up to 2 1/2" in width (Taraxacum officinale). The name "lion's tooth" was given to the dandelion because of its tooth-like leaves (Taraxacum officinale). The dandelion's long taproot is brown in color and grows straight down allowing smaller roots to grow laterally off the vertical root. The flowers can range anywhere from 1 to 2" in width and each flower stalk can reach up to 18 inches(Taraxacum officinale). Each flower consists of hundreds of "tiny ray flowers" that each turns into its own seed. The dandelion keeps its flower open to receive sunlight in the day and then closes its flower during the night.

The dandelion's flower can turn into the round seed head overnight. The seeds then use the wind to disperse themselves away from the mother plant so that they are not competing for the same resources. A video of this transformation is linked here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQ_QqtXoyQw

Dandelions have both male and female sexual organs and therefore reproduce asexually. Each new dandelion is effectively a clone of the mother plant (Taraxacum officinale). This is advantageous in environments that are not changing frequently. In fact, all it takes is one dandelion flower to then spread over an entire lawn, hence how effectively and quickly these plants can spread. Because dandelions have both male and female organs, they are defined as "perfect flowers".

Very unique to the dandelion is that the flower produces pollen, however, the pollen is sterile (Pollen Source). Botanists are not sure why the plant still uses the energy to produce pollen when it is not in fact used. Some question whether it was an evolutionary change.

Geographic Distribution

The dandelion is the 6th most distributed species in the United States. However it is considered exotic because it is not native to the US. In the map at the bottom left (courtesy of the North American Plant Atlas), all the blue and light blue represent regions where the dandelion is present. The map makes clear the dandelion's extreme presence in the United States. In the map on the bottom right, green represents the dandelion's species distribution. This map, courtesy of USDA, shows the extensive presence of the Taraxacum officinale throughout all of North America. Although a global map is unavailable, dandelions can also be found throughout Europe and Asia.

Photo Source:
(Contiguous United States National View of the 100 Most Thoroughly Distributed Species)
(USDA Plants Database)

Use and Efficacy

Dandelions have a wide range of uses and can produce a number of benefits. It can be consumed for its nutritious benefits, it can be used for medicinal purposes, or it can be used for its beauty.

Every part of the dandelion from the roots to the flower is edible and can make for a nutritious meal. It can be served either raw or cooked. Dandelion salads are quite common however sometimes the leaves are seen as quite bitter. In such instances it is a common practice to boil them for a short period of time removing the bitterness (Taraxacum officinale).

Dandelions are also used to make a variety of drinks. One of the more popular choices is dandelion wine. This is made from dandelion petals and sugar along with other wine-making chemicals and makes for a wine of moderate alcohol (Fruit Wine). Dandelion coffee is made from the roots of the dandelion and is caffeine free (Taraxacum officinale). It was also used at one time to make a British soft drink “dandelion and burdock” and is also one of the ingredients of root beer (Dandelion and Burdock).

Dandelions have a number of healthy vitamins and minerals as listed below.

Dandelion greens, raw||||~ Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
188 kJ (45 kcal)
9.2 g
- Sugars
0.71 g
- Dietary fiber
3.5 g
0.7 g
- saturated
0.17 g
2.7 g
85.6 g
Vitamin A equiv.
508 μg (64%)
- beta-carotene
5854 μg (54%)
- lutein and zeaxanthin
13610 μg
Thiamine (vit. B1)
0.19 mg (17%)
Riboflavin (vit. B2)
0.26 mg (22%)
Niacin (vit. B3)
0.806 mg (5%)
Pantothenic acid (B5)
0.084 mg (2%)
Vitamin B6
0.251 mg (19%)
Folate (vit. B9)
27 μg (7%)
35.3 mg (7%)
Vitamin C
35.0 mg (42%)
Vitamin D
0.0 μg (0%)
Vitamin E
3.44 mg (23%)
Vitamin K
778.4 μg (741%)
187 mg (19%)
3.1 mg (24%)
36 mg (10%)
0.342 mg (16%)
66 mg (9%)
397 mg (8%)
76 mg (5%)
0.41 mg (4%)
Percentages are relative to US recommendationsfor adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
-(Taraxacum officinale)

History: The dandelion has been used by many cultures for various medicinal purposes. Native Americans used the dandelion to treat kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn, and upset stomach (Dandelion). Chinese medicine has used the dandelion to treat stomach problems, appendicitis, and breast problems, such as inflammation or lack of milk flow. In Europe, the dandelion was used in remedies for fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, and diarrhea (Dandelion).

Today dandelions are used for the treatment of a number of ailments. These include gall bladder, kidney and urinary disorders, gallstones, jaundice, cirrhosis, hypoglycemia, dyspepsia with constipation, edema associated with high blood pressure and heart weakness, chronic joint and skin complaints, gout, eczema and acne (Dandelion, Herbal Remedy Uses).

The roots of the dandelion are used as an appetite stimulant and for liver and gallbladder problems. The leaves are used as a diuretic (increases the amount of urine the body produces) to help the body get rid of excess fluid. Some have also found the dandelion flower to have anti-oxidant properties (Dandelion: Herbal Remedies).

The active compounds behind dandelions include Inulin and Levulin, Taraxacin, Choline, Taraxacoside, Phenolic acids, Sesquiterpene lactones, Triterpenes, and Coumarins (Dandelion, Herbal Remedy Uses). Inulin and Levulin are starch-like substances that help balance blood sugar. In addition, Taraxacin, which causes the bitter taste, stimulates digestion. The roots contain Choline which acts as a liver stimulant (Dandelion: Herbal Remedies).

A detoxified liver can help suppress dry skin, acne, gas and bloating, headaches, and premenstrual syndrome (Dandelion: Herbal Remedies). By acting as a liver detoxifier, the dandelion effectively reduces all these symptoms.

Beauty and Art

The dandelion is seen as a weed to some, but to others, a form of beauty. Take for example, the "Dandelion Dress" made in 1999. Others have gone so far as to tattoo a picture of a dandelion permanently onto their skin.
Photo Source- http://www.maricazottino.com/blog/?p=811

Side Effects

There are very few negative side effects for the consumption of dandelions. When a negative side effect persists, it is often very mild. Roots of the dandelion can cause intestinal irritation and loose bowels (Herbs at a Glance: Dandelions). It is recommended people with an inflamed gallbladder or blocked bile ducts should avoid using dandelion (Herbs at a Glance: Dandelions).

However, if one is severely allergic to dandelions it can cause hives, itching, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, swelling of the face, mouth, and tongue, diarrhea, and abdominal pain (Dandelion: Herbal Remedies).

There has been very little scientific research performed to scientifically prove the efficacy of the dandelion for the disorders listed above. However, consumer satisfaction as well as years of use have led many to believe in its healing powers.


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