Lion’s Tooth

24th January 2013

The snow is starting to melt a bit in places, just enough to let a few useful plants peek through. The Daisy family, formerly called Compositae because of their compisite flowers but now called Asteraceae, is the world’s largest family of flowering plants and evolutionary one of the most advanced. There are many species in the UK and of those there are quite a number that are edible in some way, shape or form and fortunately not many poisonous species noteably just the Ragworts and Groundsels which would only cause problems if eaten in quantity or on a frequent basis.

One of the commonest and easily recognisable members of the family is the Dandelion Taraxacum officinale which rather than being a distinct species is officially classed as an aggregate, being made up of several hundred closely related microspecies. This is what accounts for the high degree of variation that can be observed in this plant.

The key feature which separates it from several superficially similar, closely related plant species are the large, sharp, backward curved leaf lobes which give rise to the plant’s name. It is a corruption of the french dente-de-lion or lion’s tooth…..quite an apt description.

You will find this perennial, in lawns, roadside verges, playing fields, parks, woodland rides and wasteground. The fluffy seeds from the Dandelion Clock get blown all over the place so they can turn up anywhere.

At this time of year it is unlikely to be found flowering yet but certainly in another 4-6 weeks the flowers will start to appear. Like many plants, particularly in this family, if grows as a basal rosette with a circle of leaves all eminating from a central point.

Dandelion Taraxacum officinale looking a bit bedraggled after being covered in snow for a week.
The whole plant can be utilised in different way at different times of the year, but at this time of year it will generally be the young leaves that are available. On the continent Dandelion leaves are widely used in salads and the French way with a good salad dressing and crispy pieces of bacon is definitely worth trying. The more mature leaves tend to be rather more bitter and are better cooked and are widely used in Italy and Greece.

To reduce the bitterness the plant can be “blanched” by keeping it in the dark for a couple of weeks, simply by covering it with a bucket or similar. Although I’ve never found this necessary.

In addition there are health benefits so eating Dandelion leaves. They contain vitamins A,B,C and D and high levels of potassium. They act as a liver tonic, a slight laxative and prevent fluid retention and urinary problems. These last two are a result of the fact that the plant is a diuretic, in France it is sometimes referred to as pis en lit which roughly translates as “wet the bed”.

Kev Palmer

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