Perhaps you thought it was a skinny dandelion. Its little bright yellow flowers are growing around your house or in your lawn if you’ve put off mowing until warmer weather. Your instinct were close: It’s not a dandelion but a close relative, the false hawksbeard (Crepis japonica). This Asian native was first reported in the United States in 1831.
If you take a closer look you can see how it differs from the dandelion. The flowers are on a branched, solid stem. They are smaller, dime-size, and there are several of them at one time. Dandelions have a non-branching hollow stem and only one blossom at a time, quarter-size to half dollar or more.
Dandelions have a white sap. If you break the slender stem or soft leaf of the false hawksbeard, there’s no white sap. And while this can vary some by location and weather, the false hawksbeard is usually a lighter shade of green than the dandelion. The false hawksbeard can sometimes have small dark markings around the edge of the leaf. Occasionally a leaf will be half purple or even all purple, especially after cold weather.
And if you want to get picky, the dandelion leaf always has an arrow head at the end of the leaf pointing away from the plant. The false hawksbeard does not. But, like the dandelion, the false hawksbeard does not appear to be “prickly.” This will help you separated both of them from two local edible sow thistles.
As for height, the false hawksbeard can be from 4 inches tall to a foot and a half. About 12 inches is common.
Foragers often pick on (what we call) drunk botanist and dead Latin. How plants get named and what that translates into can sometimes be shocking and only occasionally helpful.
In this case, the botanical name for false hawksbeard is Crepis japonica. The “crepis” part comes from a Greek word (krepis) that means a light-textured veil, often used in funerals dating back a couple of thousand years. That became “crispus” in Latin, and through French became “crepe” in English, as in crepe paper.
Some botanist thought the false hawksbeard’s leaves resembled crepe paper, thus it was called Crepis. The “japonica” part is even more esoteric: To the same drunk botanist, the seeds resembled Japanese sandals.
Like its relative the dandelion, the leaves of false hawksbeard are edible raw or cooked. They can be mild to bitter. This time of year they are a reliable pot herb. You just boil them a little like you would dandelions, or, if you like bitter, eat them raw. Hungry people in other parts of the world eat the entire plant: Leaves, roots, blossoms and stems.
While the false hawksbeard is here all year, like the dandelion it favors the cooler months. And what of dandelions? They like not only cooler weather but acidic soil. Comparatively, Florida is a hot limestone plate. So the best place and time to look for dandelions is near oaks in the winter.
Green Deane has been foraging wild edibles for more than 60 years. He holds a degree in education and currently teaches about wild edibles full time, helping people who want to know more about foragables to enjoy the process and be safe while doing so. He has a huge number of articles and videos available on his website, EatTheWeeds.com. Contact him at EatTheWeeds.com/contact-me.
Flower: In the composite family, disk flower resembling a dandelion. Leaves: Oblong, soft, wrinkled and curly, often tinged red on the edge. Stem: Round, fuzzy, skinny, up to two feet. Seed: Seeds look like a miniature dandelion puff ball, several on one stem. Root: Vertical tap root.
TIME OF YEAR
Springtime, can persist into warmer months in southern states and again in the fall through winter.
Moist, semi-shaded to sunny areas, sandy to rich soil. Likes grassy areas and unmaintained lawns.
METHOD OF PREPARATION
Young leaves can be eaten raw; better cooked as a potherb. Very mild when young. Boil for 10 minutes or longer.