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Wild Lettuce vs Dandelion – What’s the Difference between Dandelions and Wild Lettuce?

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There are some Dandelion look alikes to look out for when you’re foraging for Dandelion. For example, there’s Wild Lettuce, Hawkbit, and several Cat’s Ears species. It’s really important to know you’re foraging for the right plants, and to know what’s the difference between Dandelion and Wild Lettuce. Let’s compare Wild Lettuce vs Dandelion!

Dandelion Identification

Taraxacum officinale –

Illustration Taraxacum officinale0 clean

Dandelion Leaves

Taraxacum plant

Dandelion is a perennial plant with bright green leaves to 30cm long. The name “Dandelion” comes from the French “dent de lion”, meaning lion’s tooth. This name refers to the ‘teeth’ on Dandelions’ leaves. They’re not sharp, but they are indented, jagged edges.

Taraxacum comes from the Greek taraxos (disorder) and akos (remedy). It may also come from the Persian “tark hashgun”, meaning Wild Endive. The name ‘officinale’ indicates that Dandelion was officially listed as a medicinal herb. It was listed in the US National Formulary until 1965, and dried Dandelion root is listed in the US Pharmacopeia.

Dandelion Flowers and Seeds

Taraxacum 2005 spring 005

Flowers stems are up to 30cm tall. One of Dandelion’s most identifiable features is that it has only ONE yellow daisy flower per stem.

Flowers mature into a puffball seed head. The seed head is well-known for a lot of fun – blowing the seeds! Dandelion flowers throughout the year, almost continuously. Most profuse flowering occurs in May and June. 

The seeds are like little fluffy parachutes, easily carried by the wind. This is how Dandelion propagates in nature.

You can propagate them the same way in the garden! Grab a puffball seed head, take it to your garden, and blow. The Dandelion seeds will sprout where they see fit, growing beautiful, strong plants.

Dandelion has a thick tap root that is edible. The flower stem exudes a milky juice when it’s picked and this juice turns brown on your skin. The brown stain is difficult to remove.

Dandelion flowers are very responsive to weather conditions. On a nice sunny day, the flower will be fully outstretched. However, on a rainy day, the whole flower closes up. It performs the same action for night time.

Eating Dandelion for Humans and Animals

Dandelions are valuable food for humans animals. Many birds love Dandelion seeds, and pigs and goats will happily forage on it. Sheep and cattle might not like it very much, nor do horses. Rabbits love to eat Dandelion though, and it’s well-worth growing it for feeding your rabbits.

Pčela na maslačku 2

Humans can add young leaves (mature leaves are very bitter) to salads and juices. Use Dandelion like lettuce on a sandwich, in stews, curries, and stir-fries. Dandelion seeds can be used for the same purposes. Young leaves taste similar to endive or spinach and can be used in the same way.   

Dandelion beer is a fermented drink, common in many parts of the USA and Canada. Dandelion wine is made from the flowers.

Dandelion roots are roasted as an alternative to coffee. I love a tea called ‘Dandy Chai’ which is a spiced Dandelion-root tea. Dandelion coffee is completely caffeine free and has many health benefits, including promoting healthy liver, kidney, and bowel.

Dandelion Identifiable Features:

  • One flower per stem
  • Jagged, pointed leaves
  • Hollow stems
  • No hairs
  • Flowers continuously, but most profusely in May and June

Dandelion Other names

Lion’s Tooth, Royal Herb, Piss-in-bed, Puff Ball, Wild Endive, Pissabed, Irish Daisy, Blow Ball, Bitterwort, Clock Flower, Cankerwort.

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04/14/2024 06:52 pm GMT

Wild Lettuce Identification

Lactuca virosa –

194 Lactuca virosa L
Lactúca virōsa 4690

Wild Lettuce is a biennial (grows for 2 years) up to 6 ft tall. The Latin name “virosa” means “unpleasantly strong taste or smell” or “toxic” and “lactuca” is “milky extract”.

I’m sure this plant sounds very attractive by now: toxic milky extract with unpleasantly strong taste or smell!

Wild Lettuce has a brown tap root with a smooth, pale green stem. This stem sometimes has purple spots. The plant has some prickles on the lower parts. The broad, oval leaves have jagged edges. Wild Lettuce flowers look like Dandelion flowers.

Lactuca virosa 01062002

It’s best known for its slightly narcotic and pain relieving properties, although all lettuces contain some of these narcotic properties to some degree. Wild Lettuce has the most of all and is often made into a skin lotion for irritation, sun burn, or redness.

Lactuca virosa 01012001

These properties are found in the milky juice that flows freely from the whole plant when you cut it or it is wounded. The sap tastes bitter (Bitter Lettuce!) and smells like medicine. When this milky sap dries it hardens and turns brown. This dried, hardened sap is known as lactucarium.

The drug resembles a feeble opium without its tendency to upset the digestive system. It is used to a small extent as a sedative and narcotic.

Dissolved in wine it is said to be a good anodyne.

Dr. Collins stated that twenty-three out of twenty-four cases of dropsy were cured by taking doses of 18 grains to 3 drachms of extract in twenty-four hours. It is used in Germany in this complaint, but combined with more active drugs. It is said to be also a mild diaphoretic and diuretic, easing colic, inducing sleep and allaying cough. —https://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/l/lettuc17.html

Wild Lettuce Other Names

Lactucarium, Opium Lettuce, Strong Scented Lettuce, Bitter Lettuce, Green Endive, Poisonous Lettuce, Tall Lettuce, Great Lettuce

Buy Wild Lettuce Seeds

Opium Lettuce (Lactuca virosa) 25 Seed
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Wild Lettuce vs Dandelion Comparison

 DandelionWild Lettuce
Flower per stemOne flower per stemMultiple flowers per stem
Height max12″6ft
PricklyNo pricklesPrickles
Bloom timeFlowers continuously, but most profusely in May and JuneFlowers July-August
Parts usedAll parts are usedLactuarium (dried sap) and leaves are used


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  1. I have been studying medicine, (as a layman, mother of three and ailing woman) for many (44years). I’ve had debiltating chronic pain <22 years, and was prescribed (inevitably increasing amounts of) opiates for 14 of those years. After i survived and made it through a hellish withdrawal…I am 5yrs clean but still ailing, and pain is worse than ever. The LAST thing I want now is to be “hooked” yet again, on another pharmaceutical.

    1. Hi there Rosie, my apologies for the delay in responding to you!
      One of my favorite herbs I would highly recommend to you is Herb Robert. In Isabell Shipard’s book “How can I use herbs in my daily life“, she describes many cases of people living with chronic pain who found relief using Herb Robert, particularly in combination with Fenugreek.
      Another plant she highly recommends is the Mushroom Plant (Rungia klossii), due to it being extremely rich in chlorophyll.
      The final herb I recommend you do some more research on is Willow (Salix alba). Willow bark and leaves contain salicin, which transforms to salicylic acid in your body. This acid can help relieve inflammation and may help counteract pain. It may take a little while before its starts working, so don’t give up too soon.

      Please note that, although I have an adv. cert in naturopathy, I am not a qualified medical doctor and I highly recommend you check with your medical practitioners before embarking on your herbal journey.

      I hope you find relief, Rosie!
      x Elle

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  10. Thank you so much for all of the information in your article. I have been happily married to a farmer for 40 years and I learned so much more from you !! Those prickly hairs just hurt my sensitive hands so it is nice to learn more about them other than famous words of my Hubby- “ Yep, those are weeds!” One day my youngest Son yelled STOP – so I stopped and parked our suburban on the side of the ditch. He jumped out and pinched the fresh new light green growth off of ,I believe, a mustard plant. I thought he was nuts! Turned out the Scout leader (farmer!) taught just that week how to eat and survive in the wild of our area. The fresh green was supposed to be high in vitamin C and of course, tasty! Thank you again for your enlightening article!

    1. Thanks LoriLinn! It’s nice to learn more about weeds, they’re not all useless. I used to pull them out for no particular reason other than that they are “weeds” but now I see it more as “a plant that grows where I don’t want it”. I’ve learned so much about weeds over the years, there are many, many that have so many useful benefits. It’s so nice to hear your son is learning about the benefits of weeds and foraging from his scout leader! Elle

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