Dandelion is a force to be reckoned with. Its taproot is like an iron spike, seemingly capable of breaking apart a sidewalk, or at least rock hard clay where nothing else will grow. If you've ever chewed on a leaf — they are, after all, edible — you know they pack a bitterness that would take paint off the wall.
The English name dandelion is a mispronunciation of the French dents-de-leon, which means teeth of the lion. It is a reference to the pointed serrations along the leaves, but also to the strength that the ancients associated with the plant. That taproot collects boatloads of minerals from the soil — calcium, iron, vitamin C and others — and channels them into the leaves, which American pioneers added to their gruel to help ward off scurvy. Top chefs now use them as a mineral-rich contribution to soup stocks, a practice which tenderizes the leaves and subdues the bitter flavor. The root of dandelion is so rich with nutrients it creates a frothy brown drink when steeped in boiling water; a concoction used the world over as a coffee substitute.
Though it is food, medicine and drink, we still despise dandelion in our lawns and flowerbeds. It's not a plant that anyone would grow on purpose, but appreciation for its virtues makes it a little easier to tolerate. Children, at least, love it for its softer side — the perfectly round, poufy seed heads that are the perfect thing on which to blow a wish into the sky.