Green Thumbs Up!

WEEDS?? or Nature’s Herbs??


Bill Emigh

Photo from the Gallery of Bill Emigh

ORIGIN: This plant, often viewed as a troublesome weed, is an overlooked “diamond in the rough” when it comes to the culinary world. The false dandelion originated in the Middle East, Europe and the northern regions of Africa. It has been introduced to 21 of the 50 United States, including Hawaii as well as 2 of the 13 Canadian Provinces and Vancouver Island. It is thought that the smooth cat’s ear was brought to North America by accident because as it dries out, seeds are spread via the blowing wind, [just like dandelions] and these seeds attached to clothing or other goods being shipped for trade and commerce.

VARIATIONS and DIFFERENCES: The Smooth Cat’s Ear[ hypochaeris glabra] is a relative of the more widely known Dandelion [taraxacum officinalel]. There are a few key differences between the 2, but in no way do they diminish the versatility of either plant. The cat’s ear has lobed and hairier leaves whereas the leaves of the dandelion are jagged in appearance. Dandelions have only 1 flower per stem but the cat’s ear will have multiple flowering branches. Also the stem of the dandelion has a white latex sap within it and the cat’s ear does not. This attribute allows the stem of the cat’s ear to be edible. Another close relative is the Hairy Cat’s Ear [hypochaeris radicata]

USES: Although widely considered a non-invasive weed, earlier cultures realized the benefits of this perennial plant. The blooms and stems were regularly used as tabletop decor, the flowering blooms would be used as an ink substitute for crafting and the dried out blooms would provide endless entertainment for children as they would chase the seeds as they were carried away by the wind. Many dreams and wishes were riding on those seeds as they disappeared into the atmosphere. Because the Hypochaeris glabra is in the same flora family as the dandelion [Taraxacum Officinale], it has many of the same edible uses. The blooms are often eaten fresh,raw and/or used as garnishes. The stems of the hypochaeris glabra do not contain the white latex-ish sap that the dandelions do, so they too can be consumed raw; however, they are known to be bland and the older plants will have fibrous texture that can be unappealing. The leaves of young plants are sought after for use in salads because they have a bitterness to them that compliments the other flavors of the dish. The leaves can also be steamed and used to wrap other ingredients in or just to stifle the bitterness. As with it’s more widely known, but less available relative, the dandelion, the roots of the hypochaeris glabra can be dried out and used as a coffee substitute.

Photo from the gallery of Bill Emigh

Photo from the gallery of Bill Emigh


We live in an ever-changing world and often times we create or destroy things that were once safe but now are hazardous to our health. I am speaking about herbicides and pollutants. You should always do responsible research before consuming any plant in the wild. There are numerous books and other publications available in physical form as well as online that give thorough in-depth descriptions and uses. With this in mind, you must also consider the environment that the plant is being harvested from. Factors like herbicide use, polluted water sources, natural disasters and proximity to power plants, reactors or numerous drilling or excavating sites can seriously damage the usability of the plant and in fact can make them toxic. Use extreme caution when foraging in a new or changed area.


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