There are several hundred subspecies of dandelion. It is a perennial herb that reaches a height of 10–40 cm. Its pinnatifid leaves are arranged in a rosette at the base of the stem, just above the sturdy tap root. A hollow, light-coloured, leafless and somewhat soft stem emerging from the centre of the rosette ends in a single flower head. The green parts of the plant contain plenty of white latex.
Dandelions frequently appear near areas of human activity in places such as meadows, roadsides and empty lots. Many native microspecies also grow along shorelines or in wetlands, for example. The dandelion is common throughout Finland. Dandelions can be cultivated for salads in a nutrient-rich, soil-rich medium.
The leaves are gathered in spring and early summer when they measure 10–15 cm, before the flowers bloom. Only the top two thirds of the leaves are gathered, either by hand or cutting with scissors. Where dandelions are cultivated, harvesting machines are used. In northern Finland, the leaves are harvested before mid-July. The roots are gathered either in the spring before flowering, or in late autumn as the leaves are withering. The flower heads are picked when they have opened, and the flower buds when they are as immature as possible. The roots are harvested with a spade or digging machine.
In terms of recommended daily allowances, dandelion leaves contain significant quantities of nutrients such as calcium, iron, and riboflavin as well as vitamins C, B6, A, and E.
The leaves have a strong peppery and pungent, often bitter, flavour. It is best to remove the acrid-tasting mid-vein of the leaf. The leaves can be used in salads, stews and soups. The roots can be added to soups, casseroles, and stews, or used as a flavouring for homebrews or other beverages, or as a coffee substitute. When ground, they can be added to flour for baking or making porridge.