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It’s easy to dismiss dandelions as ‘just weeds’ since they have a habit of growing where we don’t want them.
But the common dandelion has actually been used as a food source, a medicine and a companion plant in many gardens.
Transforming from bright yellow, multi-petalled blooms to spherical white clusters of parachute-bearing seeds, dandelions are equally at home in urban and rural environments.
Scientists are still divided on how best to categorise dandelions, as they can be broken down into microspecies based on their DNA.
The name ‘dandelion’ comes from the French dent de lion, which means lion’s tooth, referring to the jagged edges of its leaves.
The common dandelion grows between 5 to 50 cm tall, on long, hollow, green stems, which are either smooth or covered in short hairs. The leaves grow from the base of the stem, between 5 to 50cm long and 1 to 10 cm wide. They are an oblong shape with varying serrated edges.
The flowers, which grow at the very top of each stem, are comprised of many small florets, which are a bright yellow in colour. When pollinated, numerous seeds form at the top of the stem. These seeds are greyish brown, oblong, and have a silky pappi (structures shaped like a parachute to help with wind distribution). When together on the stem, pappi give the impression of a white orb.
Food and drink
Dandelion leaves are eaten as a green vegetable, similar to spinach, although notably more bitter.
Dandelion flowers are turned into a liquid and used to flavour drinks such as dandelion wine.
Dandelion roots can be roasted and ground as a coffee substitute.
Dandelion leaves are a rich source of vitamin A and K.
Dandelion functions as a diuretic, and has been used in traditional Chinese and Native American medicines for this effect.
Did you know?
Dandelions provide a food source for a number of insects, including bees and caterpillars, during early and late winter.
The genus name of dandelions, Taraxacum, comes from the Arabic word 'tarakhshagog', meaning ‘bitter herb’.
The species name officinale refers to the medicinal and culinary use of the plant, as an officina was a storeroom in a monastery where essentials were kept.
Where in the world?
Grasslands, woodlands and any rich soils, in a range of cool climates.
Find it in our gardens
A botanic garden in southwest London with the world’s most diverse living plant collection.
Lawns across Kew GardensView map of Kew Gardens
Best time to see
Kew’s wild botanic garden in Sussex that has over 500 acres of plants from around the world and is home to the Millennium Seed Bank.
Lawns and grasslands across WakehurstView map of Wakehurst