False Dandelions For Lunch

by Green Deane

in Edible Raw, Greens/Pot Herb, Plants, Roots/Tubers/Corms

Pyrrhopappus carolinianus, note dark flects

Pyrrhopappus, Hypochoeris: Dandelion Impostors

Most people don’t notice False Dandelions because they have the real thing. But here in the South where real dandelions are scarce and scraggly, False Dandelions stands out. Actually, they are found most of the Eastern US, and up the west coast. Let’s look at several of them starting with the Pyrrhopappus carolinianus.

Pyrrhopappus carolinianus

P. carolinianus is not mentioned in any edible plant book I have. I learned about it from Dick Deuerling, author of “Florida’s Incredible Wild Edibles” which is still in print, the profits from which go to non-profit plant causes.

Dick, however, had a slightly different take on the False Dandelion. While ethnobotanical research shows the Indians ate the roots, Dick preferred the leaves, raw in salads or cooked. The roots, by the way, are said to be much sweeter when picked in autumn. I use them just like Dandelion leaves, that is, young and tender leaves in a salad, older leaves boiled as a green.

Pyrrhopappus (pye-roh-PAP-pus) means “fire fluff” a reference to the floating dandelion-like seed. Carolinianus (kair-oh-lin-ee-AY-nus) means “of Carolina” which was an old way of saying middle America.

Hypochoeris radicata

The second false dandelion is better known and more wide-spread. The Hypochoeris radicata  (hye-poe-KÊ-ris rad-i-KAY-ta) is also called by several other names usually involving “cat’s ear” such as “Smooth Cat’s Ear” or “Spotted Cat’s Ear.”   See pictures at right.

Unlike the previous “false dandelion” the radicata is an import from Europe. It is still very popular wild weed in France, Spain, Italy and Greece. It is one of only 17 plants that are still gathered by farming communities in those countries. You can find it in grassy areas and road sides. They can tolerate dry ground but like moist soil as well. In very wet conditions the rosette can grow in to a clump.

Hypochoeris glabra

H. Radicata might be an acquired taste. Cooking reduces the bitterness but there is always left over bitterness, and the leaves are hairy as well. They can go in go raw in salads, or cooked in soups and also steam well. The “cat’s ear” part refers to the bitter hairy leaves. Radicata means “rooted.” Hypochoeris is translated to mean “for the hogs” because pigs like the roots. Another Hypochoeris, the glabra, right,  is less bitter and is often eaten raw. Glabra means smooth, read hairless.

Agoseris aurantiaca

Lastly a fourth false dandelion, also called the Mountain Dandelion, is the Agoseris aurantiaca, (a-go-SER-iss aw-ran-ti-AYE-kuh) below, found mostly in the western half of north America. It’s leaves were eaten by the Indians.   Agoseris combines two Greek words, aego (goat) and seris (the genus name for a lettuce-like plant) and aurantiaca which means orange-red color.



 Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: On first glance you’ll think P. carolinianus is a dandelion but the flower’s rays are more sparse and you will see dark anthers in the middle area of the flower. The stem is thinner and stronger than a dandelion, and the leaves skinnier and far less intended. They tend to curl laterally towards the center.

H. radicata: first leaves are club-shaped, round end, and hairless, mature leaves grow to eight inches long. Leaves arranged in a basal rosette, hairy, toothed or irregularly lobed edges. Basal leaves obovate in shape and to 8 inches long and 1.5 inches wide with toothed edges that are deeply wavy. The basal leaves are very hairy and sessile (without stalks.) Leaves grow smaller up the stem, have a milk sap, leafless flower stalks with two to seven flowers on each stalk.  H. glabra is similar to radicata but hairless.

Agoseris aurantiaca: Perennial with basal patch of long leaves, variable in shape but 15 inches in length, no stem, several flowers on tall peduncles up to two feet tall. Flower is ray florets with squared, toothed tips, deep orange to red, occasionally yellow, seed has dandelion-like tuff attached.

TIME OF YEAR: Same time as dandelions, greens spring and summer, roots in fall.

ENVIRONMENT: Same environment as dandelions, lawns, fields, common areas, sidewalk cracks. Prefers moist soil.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: P.  carolinianus: Young leaves raw in salads, older leaves boiled like dandelions for a potherb. Autumn roots boiled or roasted.  H. radicata, young leaves raw or cooked. H. glabra, leaves cooked or raw. Flower and buds of all can be used like dandelions. A. aurantiaca, cooked leaves

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Arthur June 15, 2017 at 15:14

I just tried it. It tastes like Asian lettuce with the same amount of subtle bitterness. But the texture is too rough. So, in the future I will pickle it and cut it to very small pieces before I use it for stir frying with pork or other meat, especially in winter time when I can’t grow any vegetables. I will also use them for my noodles to enhance the flavor and increase my mineral intake. I assume it has the same amount of calcium as true dandelion.


Su Cousineau May 17, 2017 at 19:46

Hi, do you know a dandelion look-alike (or perhaps it is dandelion?) with very similar dandy leaves, but with slight purple-ish tinge to leaf margin and a single line of tiny purple hair along stem? Otherwise smooth. This is in a prepared bed with lots of room so it’s lush, tender leaves, about a foot diameter clump. Not flowering while dandelion near by is. Thank you for you awesome site!


Green Deane May 18, 2017 at 05:29

Please, what color is the blossom and where on earth is it?


Su Cousineau May 18, 2017 at 08:50

Massachusetts. No blossom… yet? Nearby dandelions have flowered.


Susan May 7, 2017 at 13:11

Thank you so much for The information that you put on your website. Do all of the above false dandelions have hollow stems?


Green Deane May 8, 2017 at 20:10

I don’t think so.


Melissa Arnold April 6, 2016 at 22:14

What is the name of the little yellow one stemmed flower (yellow center and very small white petals ) that is in all of the road ways right now….thought it might be camomile but i do not believe it is as it does not look like dog fennel leaves. plant is very small mostly just a stem with the flower.
Thank you …i could not find it on your site…which by the way I refer folks to all of the time ..it is great! Was also at herb conference and did your walk with you….very nice as well.


richards Lyon August 24, 2015 at 14:06

Unlike the common dandelion, do these dandelions close up at night, like poppies?


Green Deane August 30, 2015 at 06:14

Not that I know of, but some members in the greater family don’t open much so they might appear to have closed at night, Lactuca Floridana comes to mind.


Greg long January 19, 2016 at 20:37

I am reading that there is not much nutritional value in cats ear. Is this true?


Green Deane January 20, 2016 at 11:26

Less than Dandelions…


jeremy May 16, 2015 at 17:26

I let a plant ( that I thought was dandelion) grow to maturity. It started out like a dandelion, same shape leaves, same yellow flowers and puff balls, but the thing grew tall and fast. by mid summer, the plant was 5 feet tall and had a thigh hollow (hairy too, I think) stalk. any idea what this plant could be? I don’t have a photo…


Green Deane May 18, 2015 at 15:32

There are several possibilities.


Denise Petty May 29, 2014 at 17:57

I picked my false dandelions today, May 29, at 12:30. They were nice and fully open. I took them home and hand plucked the flowers from the green part. My question is, they still have a bitter taste. Is that normal? Also, if I freeze them until I get more, should I wash them first? Thank you for any help.


Green Deane May 29, 2014 at 21:28

They are on the bitter side, washing is just optional.


katie May 22, 2014 at 10:35

I have a lot of catsear in my yard and was thinking about trying some but there is a lot of sits on the internet saying it’s toxic to horses. What is your opinion on this.


Green Deane May 22, 2014 at 11:53

You are not a horse. What various species can eat does not transfer to other species. We can eat avocados which are toxic to most animals. Deer eat poison ivy, squirrels can eat mushrooms that would kill us, arsenic is a disease preventative in chickens.


Bonnie Huntsinget May 19, 2014 at 16:46

I love your great information on edible Dandelions and other plants!
Living off the land with items free…that are more nutritious than store-bought spinach…seems like something everybody should know about! 🙂 Thank you!


Geneva December 6, 2013 at 15:24

Both beautiful plants, I love your pictures! I know Hypochaeris radicata as Hairy Cat’s ear and Hypochaeris glabra as smooth cat’s ear…does this coincide with your knowledge?I was a little confused with the statement that H. radicata was hairless in the last paragraph. Given there are lots of asters that look like this, gotta love them all! I’m in Victoria, BC.


Green Deane December 17, 2013 at 08:10

Young leaves are hairless, older leave are.


Kaaren May 31, 2013 at 12:31

I have been eating dandelion leaves ~~ and see that there are so many kinds — shapes of leaves, etc. How can I be sure it is of the dandelion species? Is it the “taproot” (and what is the visual definition of that word?) or a combination of visual qualities? I am in Washington state.
What is this book I see others are referring to?


Marilyn May 19, 2013 at 09:10

In New Hampshire, I dug some dandelions and there was no tap root. Is this a variety, a young plant, or something else entirely? If not a dandelion, is it edible?


Green Deane May 24, 2013 at 07:24

I’d have to see a picture.


Anita May 26, 2015 at 19:42

One likely possibility is Fall “Dandelion” (Leontodon autumnalis), which is common in NH (where I live also!). It has leaves like a skeletal version of dandelion, flowers similar to dandelion (but later in the year and rather smaller, no milky juice in stem) or hawkweed but not identical, and has no taproot. Edibility not certain, and it’s not a close relative of regular Dandelion. If in doubt, leave it in the ground and just admire!


Breena May 10, 2013 at 13:50

Just out of curiosity, what are the 17 weed species that they still eat in Europe? A friend and I had a discussion the other day, and I realized how many weeds we despise here were actually bright over as food at first. It’s really hard to find some information about when Europeans first brought certain things over to the New world, though.


Dew May 5, 2013 at 22:36

I ordered the book today.. Dick’s book… looking forward to it..


Trey Tate January 26, 2013 at 18:17

Hey Deane, I have noticed a trend that most rosette weeds seem to be edible. I was wondering if there were any rosette patterned plants that would be poisonous or inedible. I took one of your classes in Gainesville, but I’ve relocated to Alabama – hopefully that helps identify my local flora. Love your site, thanks so much.


Green Deane January 28, 2013 at 13:39

No, here is no rule. A lot of non-edible and toxic plants have rosettes.


John Zmorowski March 20, 2012 at 14:49

I Love your website and YouTube videos.
I learn so much.
I live near Cleveland Ohio, I saw some flowers near a creek, I thought it was a dandelion but it had no leaves. It was Colts Foot and is also eatable, medicinal and smoke-able.
Not sure if you have them in Florida.
Thanks for all the information.


Green Deane March 20, 2012 at 16:33

Becareful with coltsfoot. It has been implicated in some deaths lately.


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