Dandelions are famous for their bright yellow-colored flowers, but are they actually flowers, weeds, or herbs? Let’s find out.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a perennial herbaceous plant in the Asteraceae family, genus Taraxacum.
This genus includes about 40 species of related plants commonly known as “dandelions.” However, not all of them can be found worldwide. The two most common species are Taraxacum officinale (common dandelion) and Taraxacum erythrospermum (red-seeded dandelion).
The common dandelion is found everywhere. It often grows on lawns, in gardens, in yards, in grasslands, in sub-alpine areas, on uncultivated land, along roadsides, and in almost any sunny place where grass grows.
Dandelion is usually an easily recognizable plant due to its rosettes of irregularly lobed, and lance-shaped leaves that grow above the ground, the bright yellow flowers supported by hollow stems that contain a milky white sap when cut, or the seeds that are carried by the wind attached to parachute-like structures.
Below we’ll try to shed light on a matter regarding the classification of this plant.
Is a dandelion a flower?
Because of the well-known yellow flowers that this plant produces, some wonder if the dandelion is actually a flower.
The English word “flower” can have several meanings depending on the context.
Botanically, the term “flower” refers to the reproductive structure found in flowering plants (Angiospermae).Wikipedia
In general language, “flowers” are either the blooms of flowering plants (used in the botanical sense) or entire plants that are typically cultivated for their attractive blooms.
These types of plants we normally refer to as flowers are commonly grown in pots or cut and arranged in bouquets, put in a vase, or utilized in a floral arrangement.
Dandelions are not typically grown as ornamental flowers or sold in flower shops like roses, lilies, daisies, or other similar species.
While we can say that dandelion is a flower, I think there is a better classification for it, and that is a wildflower.
A wildflower is a flower that grows in the wild, meaning it was not intentionally seeded or planted.Wikipedia
Is a dandelion a weed?
Although the term “weed” has no botanical importance, a weed is usually considered an undesirable plant.
The most common reasons for a plant to become unwanted are either because it grows in the wrong place, it has no usage to humans, or these two combined.
For instance, the plants that grow aimlessly in our gardens, yard, lawns, or in crop fields and have no practical use for us can be considered weeds.
What about dandelions? Are dandelions weeds?
Although every part of the dandelion plant is edible and can be consumed in salads or teas, if they grow in the wrong place, dandelions are frequently viewed as weeds.
For example, if dandelions grow unwantedly on a green lawn, they will probably be seen as weeds because they grew in the wrong place. However, if these plants were cultivated by someone specifically to use them in making tea, they would not be seen as weeds anymore.
Many sources also refer to dandelions as weeds, including even important authorities such as The University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Is a dandelion a herb?
The word “herb” has several different meanings, depending on the context.
The botanical term “herb” refers to a herbaceous plant, defined as a small, seed-bearing plant without a woody stem in which all aerial parts die back to the ground at the end of each growing season.Wikipedia
So, according to the botanical definition of herbs, we can say that dandelions are herbs as they don’t have a woody stem and their above-the-soil parts die in the winter.
In common language, herbs are a widespread group of plants (excluding vegetables and other plants consumed for macronutrients) with savory or aromatic properties that are used for flavoring and garnishing food, for medicinal purposes, or for fragrances.Wikipedia
Dandelions are also herbs considering the everyday definition.
All parts of the plant can be put to use. In the spring, parts of dandelions are consumed in the form of salad, tea, or infusion, and the flowers can be pickled for the winter.
The petals of their flowers are often used as a garnish in salads and desserts and have a honey-like flavor.
Both the common dandelion and the red-seeded dandelion are edible species.
Dandelions also have various uses in natural medicine and carry various therapeutic properties. The leaves are often used as a diuretic, to stimulate appetite, treat constipation, and aid digestion.
Recent studies also indicate that dandelions may contain substances that can help in the prevention and treatment of some liver diseases.
When picking dandelions for eating or making teas, first make sure that these plants are true dandelions. There are also several look-alikes that produce yellow flowers similar to those of dandelions, commonly known as false dandelions.
So, should we refer to dandelions as flowers, weeds, or herbs?
When we do not use these terms from a botanical point of view or when there is no clear definition of these words in common language, there is a lot of room for interpretation.
As we concluded earlier in this article, dandelions can be classified both as flowers (and included in a narrower category of wildflowers), common weeds, and food or medicinal herbs.
Sometimes these plants are included in one of these categories depending on the context. As per our example above, they can be considered herbs when cultivated with a purpose, but weeds when they grow undesirably in our gardens, lawns, or cultivated fields.