Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale
Origin: Northern Temperate Zone
No, this isn't an April Fool's joke, I'm serious! Although now days many folks consider this a #@%& weed, it has been valued as a tasty harbinger of Spring and medicinal herb for many centuries. Even now, in many parts of the world, it is highly regarded for its many uses.
For years I tried to rid my lawn of these prolific plants until I realized the motto, "if you can't beat 'em, join them," applied to this situation. So here (and in the Dandelion Festivus section) are a few thoughts to help you and your pets appreciate the under-rated Dandelion.
The first mention of its use medicinally was in the works of Arabian physicians of the tenth and eleventh centuries. The parts that normally are used include the leaves (cooking), roots (medicinal) and blossoms (fermenting). Harvest only from plants which are herbicide and pesticide-free. Don't use plants from along roadsides or near heavily-trafficked areas.
The leaves provide a potent dose of Vitamins D, A, and calcium which is great served fresh for birds, reptiles and rabbits. Use only the tender young leaves which are produced prior to flowering for the best flavor. (Check out the Dandelion Festivus section for preparation and serving tips). If your yard is anything like mine, you should have plenty to harvest.
If you want to use the roots, collect only the large, well-formed ones from plants two or more years old. Dig up in wet weather (not during frost which will lessen the activity of the roots). Avoid breaking the roots by using a trowel or fork and lifting carefully. Shake off as much dirt as possible and then cleanse the roots. Cut off the crowns of leaves, but do not cut or slice the roots so that you won't lose the valuable milky medicinal juice. Dry the roots for approximately two weeks and then place them in containers which will prevent attacks of moths and beetles. The roots, as mentioned earlier, can be used medicinally or in place of coffee without the negative effects of caffeine. (Check out the Dandelion Festivus section for details.)
One final thought, for those of you who don't have a "green thumb", the Dandelion will make you feel like a master gardener. It seeds itself, is drough-resistant, and grows well in almost any soil type.