Catsear (hypochaeris radicata) is a perennial yellow wildflower, very similar in appearance to the dandelion and often mistaken for it – in fact, catsear’s other names include false dandelion. There are several ways to identify a catsear correctly; for example, it has hairy leaves, while a dandelion’s are smooth. A catsear also has slightly more rounded leaves than a dandelion.
A native species in Europe, catsear also grows much further afield, in countries including Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Japan. Catsear is found in grasslands, lawns, field and open forests, and flowers from late May to September.
Catsear is used for several culinary purposes, has many reputed medicinal properties and is part of the RHS Perfect for Pollinators list. The rich nectar of this wildflower attracts bumble bees, butterflies and other insects which help support the eco-system.
Growing and harvesting
Plant catsear seeds in a sunny position, and it will grow quite happily, appearing around one month after dandelions. Use a pair of sharp scissors to harvest catsear leaves and wear old clothes – its sap stains and it can get everywhere! Keep the cut ends of the leaves pointing down and make sure they are hydrated fairly soon after harvesting them.
As an alternative to growing catsear and the work it involves, you can keep things simple and invest in Meadowmat, a pre-grown wildflower meadow that’s as easy to lay as lawn turf. Meadowmat and organisations such as local Wildlife Trusts and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) can provide further advice and tips about planting wildflowers, and their many benefits.
Traditional uses for Catsear
Catsear is an aromatic plant which has traditionally been used for a wide variety of culinary purposes. Its leaves can be steamed and cooked in the same way as any other leafy vegetable, and give flavour and texture to dishes such as stir-fries. The raw leaves can also be added to salads, as can the petals, which can also be used to make wine. Catsear roots can even be roasted and ground, and are used as a substitute for coffee.
Catsear is rich in nutrients and antioxidants – hence its popularity in recipes around the world – and this also means it has long been used for medicinal purposes. Uses include acting as a diuretic for kidney problems, and treating urinary infections, gallstones, rheumatism, constipation and liver infections.