This plant of lawns, vacant lots and grassy areas began in Europe and now is found widespread through North America, both Canada and the United States. It grows from a central rosette of leaves above a tap root, just like dandelion. All parts of the plant have a milky sap that exudes when it is broken, and the seeds are windborne, just like dandelion. The major difference in appearance between the two is the formation of the flowers….on a dandelion the plant produces flowers at the end of a single, unbranched stalk. But the Cat’s Ear produces forked stalks that produce flowers at the end of each branch. This perennial is considered a noxious weed in Washington State.
The leaves and roots of the Cats Ear are the most often consumed although all parts are edible. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads of cooked like dandelion greens. They can be included in stir fry, steamed or boiled. The roots can be used as dandelion and chicory, chopped, roasted then ground to make coffee.
This plant has been confused with dandelion by many, used in cooking like dandelion, and is used in herbal medicine like dandelion. The only difference in medicinal use is that the Cats Ear is milder in action than dandelion, but it can be used for digestive and liver issues just like dandelion!
The only negative about this plant (other than some thinking it a noxious weed) is the possibility that it may cause Australian Stringhalt in horses. To avoid this possibility do not allow you horse to graze where there is Cats Ear growing in abundance. Horses must consume large quantities for this issue to crop up. The symptom is a sudden flexion of one or both of the lateral extensor tendons of the back legs.