It’s the commonest and most despised of flowers, Taraxacum officinale, the dandelion.
The common name comes from the French phrase “dents de leon” or lion’s teeth and refers to the pointy jagged borders of the leaves.
Dandelions are also regionally called blowball, faceclock and piss-a-beds.
Dandelions were brought to the United States from Europe to provide food for honeybees, also an imported species. Now they have escaped and become established worldwide and are very difficult to control.
In turfgrass and ornamental plantings, this plant forms dense circular mats of leaves 6 to 14 inches in diameter that crowd out desirable species. Because of the extensive root system of established dandelions, hand-pulling or hoeing to remove them is usually futile unless done repeatedly over a long period of time.
Once a few plants become established in turfgrass or ornamental areas, their seed can be spread several miles by wind or equipment. Solitary new dandelion plants should be removed root and all, before they produce seed. Monitor the area for several months to make sure removal was complete. Any portion of root left in the ground will produce a new plant over time. Areas with infestations should be isolated and seed heads removed until control can be accomplished. Spot applications of herbicides can be helpful.
Dandelions do have their good points. Traditionally, they had a number of culinary and medicinal uses, and are used to make an herbal beer or wine in England and Canada. Young dandelion buds can be fried in butter and eaten; enthusiasts claim they taste like mushrooms.
In salads, the taste of young leaves has been compared to chicory or endive. The yellow part of the flower can also be used to add color but the green sepals are very bitter.
The Japanese make dandelion flower pickles. The root is also edible as a cooked vegetable like a parsnip and is said to be best in the spring.
Dandelions are higher in beta-carotene than carrots. They contain concentrated iron and calcium as well as vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12, C, E and D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc.
In traditional medicine, dandelions were used to treat ailments of the bladder, spleen, pancreas, stomach and intestines and to modulate the body’s sugar consumption. The leaf’s white, milky sap was said to remove warts, moles, pimples, calluses, and sores, and soothe bee stings and blisters
The common name piss-a-bed, in French piss-a-lit, refers to the strong diuretic properties of all parts of the plant.
There are more esoteric uses for the dandelion too. Children blow the fluffy seed from the mature flower head to make a wish and it's said that if you can blow all the seeds off with one blow, then you are loved with a passionate love.
The dandelion was also used to tell time in several ways. One tradition has it that the number of breaths it takes to blow all the seeds away is the hour of the day.
In another time-counting scheme, the dandelion flower, was known as “the rustic oracle” because its flowers always open about 5 a.m. and close about at 8 p.m.