Dandelions, ‘fakes’, history – part 6 of 7

Where is our common dandelion common and where does it come from?

Taraxacum with leaves

Dandelions are thought to have evolved about 30 million years ago in Eurasia. Fossil seeds of Taraxacum tanaiticum have been recorded from the Pliocene of southern Russia. Historically the dandelion Taraxacum officinale has spread from place to place since before written history but the thinking is that the plant is native to Eurasia. The earliest recordings can be found in Roman times and the Anglo Saxon tribes of Britain and the Normans of France used dandelions for medicinal purposes at least. Currently it grows on every continent except Antarctica.

Does it matter that identification is accurate? If you want to eat a weed surely you need to know which parts are safely edible. In summary (and probably there is more I don’t know about) you can eat:

Dandelion – leaves, roots and flowers

Cat’s ear –  leaves, flower stems and buds, roots

Hawksbeard – leaves

Prickly lettuce – leaves

Sowthistle/milkthistle – leaves

All these weeds have nutritional value and they have been used by different cultures for medicinal reasons.


In the years gone by I should never have worried about whether I could eat the weeds that I thought might be dandelions. And neither should you. By now it should be clear there are many plants/weeds with yellow flower clusters similar to those of the Taraxacum officinale/common dandelion but, not only is the flower different (by a little), the rest of the plants have many distinguishing features. Judge not by the flower but by the leaves, at least initially.

From now on, visitors to my table for lunches or dinner will have weeds in their salads or stews or soups; certainly dandelion, cat’s ear and sowthistle/milkthistle will be included when they are available. Tomorrow’s blog post will introduce my first weed-based meal.

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