Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen
Botanical Name: Taraxacum officinale, Taraxacum mongolicum, Taraxacum palustre, Taraxacum vulgar.
Other Common Names: Blowball, canker wort, clock flower, dente de lion, dudhal, dumble-dor, fairy clock, huang hua di ding (yellow flower earth nail), Irish daisy, lion’s tooth, lowenzahnwurzel, mælkebotte, milk gowan, min-deul-rre, monk’s head, mongoloid dandelion, priest’s crown, puffball, swine snout, tell-time, white endive, wild endive, witches’ milk.
Habitat: Dandelion can be found in the temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. Hundreds of species of this hardy and beneficial herb are found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Some botanists believe that the plant is circumpolar; that is, native to all the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Other botanists classify the dandelion as a species introduced to North America from Eurasia. It is found growing wild in meadows, pastures, waste grounds, sand, gravel, rocks, and even cracks in concrete. Most commercial dandelion is cultivated in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the United Kingdom.
Plant Description: Dandelion is a hardy, variable perennial that is closely related to chicory (Cichorium intybus) that can reach a height of nearly 12 inches. The roots are fleshy and brittle roots are filled with a white milky substance that is bitter and slightly odorous. The dark brown roots may reach into the soil for a foot or more. The shiny, hairless leaves are irregularly dentate or pinnate, either oblong or spatulate. The leaves grow in a rosette from the milky taproot. The grooved leaves funnel rainfall down to the roots. The yellow flowers grow singly on a straight stem that is leafless, hollow, smooth and pale green; it may be tinged with mauve. The flowers are light-sensitive, opening in the morning and closing in the evening or in the event of cloudy weather. The familiar puff-ball that succeeds the flower is a globular cluster of achenes, each of which is fitted with a parachute-like tuft that easily floats on the breeze in order to distribute the seeds. Dandelion flowers open with the sun in the morning and close in the evening or during gloomy weather. The dark brown roots are fleshy and brittle and are filled with a white milky substance that is bitter and slightly smelly.
Plant Parts Used: Leaves, flowers, and root. Dandelion leaves act as a diuretic, increasing the amount of urine your body makes. The leaves are used to stimulate the appetite and help digestion. Dandelion flower has antioxidant properties. Dandelion may also help improve the immune system. Herbalists use dandelion root to detoxify the liver and gallbladder, and dandelion leaves to help kidney function.
Available Forms: You can find dandelion herbs and roots fresh or dried in a variety of forms, including tinctures, liquid extract, teas, tablets, and capsules. Dandelion can be found alone or combined with other dietary supplements.
History: In the past, dandelion roots and leaves were used to treat liver problems. Native Americans also boiled dandelion in water and took it to treat kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn, and upset stomach. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), dandelion has been used to treat stomach problems, appendicitis, and breast problems, such as inflammation or lack of milk flow. In Europe, dandelion was used in remedies for fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, and diarrhea.
Dandelion flowers have been used to make dandelion wine, for which there are many recipes. Most of these are more accurately described as “dandelion-flavored wine,” as some other sort of fermented juice or extract serves as the main ingredient. It has also been used in a saison ale called Pissenlit (the French word for dandelion, literally meaning “wet the bed”) made by Brasserie Fantôme in Belgium. Dandelion and burdock is a soft drink that has long been popular in the United Kingdom.
Another recipe using the plant is dandelion flower jam. In Silesia and other parts of Poland and the world, dandelion flowers are used to make a honey substitute syrup with added lemon (so-called May-honey). Ground roasted dandelion root can be used as a non-caffeinated coffee substitute.
Dandelion is on the FDA’s list of safe foods and is approved by the Council of Europe.
The chief constituents of Dandelion root are Taraxacin, acrystalline and Taraxacerin, an acrid resin, with Inulin (a sort of sugar which replaces starch in many of the Dandelion family, Compositae), gluten, gum and potash. It contains substantial levels of vitamins A, C, D, B-complex, iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium, manganese, choline, calcium and boron.
Diuretic, tonic and slightly aperient. It is a general stimulant to the system, but especially to the urinary organs, and is chiefly used in kidney and liver disorders.
Dandelion is not only official but is used in many patent medicines. Not being poisonous, quite big doses of its preparations may be taken. Its beneficial action is best obtained when combined with other agents.
Note there are some dandelion look-alikes such as cat’s ear (Hypochoeris radicata), hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella), young wild lettuce (Lactuca spp.) plants, and sow thistle (Sonchus spp.) (Tilford, 1997; Virginia Tech, n.d., Edible Wild Food, n.d.). Note that dandelion differs from these plants in that it only has one flower per stem (no branching stems), has a hollow stem containing milky latex, and is not hairy. Cat’s ear and hawkweed, for example are both hairy and have multiple flowers per stem on branched, solid stems.
Medicinal Uses and Indications
Most scientific studies of dandelion have been in animals, not people. Traditionally, dandelion has been used as a diuretic, to increase the amount of urine and eliminate fluid in your body. It has been used for many conditions where a diuretic might help, such as liver problems and high blood pressure. However, there is no good research on using dandelion as a diuretic in people.
Preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs). A specific combination of dandelion root and leaf extracts of another herb called uva ursi taken by mouth seems to help reduce the number of UTIs in women. In this combination, uva ursi is used because it seems to kill bacteria, and dandelion is used to increase urine flow. However, this combination should not be used long-term because it is not known if uva ursi is safe for extended use.
Inflammation of the tonsils (Tonsillitis). An early study found that people who had their tonsils removed recovered faster if they ate soup containing dandelion compared to those who ate soup without dandelion.
Fresh or dried dandelion herb is also used as a mild appetite stimulant, and to improve upset stomach. The root of the dandelion plant may act as a mild laxative and has been used to improve digestion. Preliminary research suggests that dandelion may help improve liver and gallbladder function. But this study was not well designed.
Preliminary animal studies suggest that dandelion may help normalize blood sugar levels and lower total cholesterol and triglycerides while raising HDL (good) cholesterol in diabetic mice. But not all the animal studies have found a positive effect on blood sugar. Researchers need to see if dandelion will work in people.
Scientists at the Baylor College of Medicine have discovered the cancer chemopreventive potential of dandelion root against breast cancer. Conventional anti-cancer drugs target only the bulk of the tumor cell population, but not the rarer cancer stem cells, which are capable of indefinite self-renewal and proliferation, says Michael Lewis, Ph.D., an assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology at the Baylor College of Medicine. The results of this experiment, published in the “Journal of the National Cancer Institute,” showed that dandelion root kills both breast cancer stem cells and the bulk of the tumor.
A study by S.J. Chatterjee and colleagues published in the journal “Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine” on December 30, 2010, reported that dandelion root can be a major strategy to prevent chemical-mediated breast cancer because it can detoxify carcinogens, thus protecting tissues against carcinogenesis. In MCF-7 breast cancer cells, dandelion root extract also showed the capacity to induce apoptosis, or programmed cell death, study findings have suggested.
A few animal studies also suggest that dandelion might help fight inflammation.
Surprising Benefits Of Dandelion
Improves Bone Health: Dandelion is rich in calcium, which is essential for the growth and strength of bones and is also rich in antioxidants like vitamin C and luteolin, which protect bones from age-related damage. This inevitable impairment is often due to free radicals and is frequently seen as bone frailty, weakness, and decreased density.
Treats Liver Disorders: Dandelion can help the liver in many ways. While the antioxidants like vitamin C and luteolin keep the liver functioning in optimal gear and protect it from aging, other compounds in dandelion help to treat hemorrhaging in the liver. Furthermore, dandelion aids in maintaining the proper flow of bile, while also stimulating the liver and promoting digestion. Proper digestion can reduce the chances of constipation, which in turn reduces the risk of serious gastrointestinal issues.
Controls Diabetes: Dandelion juice can help diabetic patients by stimulating the production of insulin from the pancreas, thereby keeping the blood sugar level low. Since dandelions are diuretic in nature, they increase urination in diabetic patients, which helps to remove the excess sugar from the body. Diabetics are also prone to renal problems, so the diuretic properties of dandelion can help in removing the sugar deposition in the kidneys through increased urination. Furthermore, the dandelion juice is slightly bitter to taste, which effectively lowers the sugar level in the blood, as all bitter substances do. Consistently lower blood sugar and a regulated insulin release prevents dangerous spikes and plunges in diabetics, so dandelion extracts can be a perfect solution!
Treats Urinary Disorders: Dandelions are highly diuretic in nature, so they help eliminate deposits of toxic substances in the kidneys and the urinary tract. The disinfectant properties of dandelions also inhibit microbial growth in the urinary system. In fact, the diuretic properties of dandelions are so strong that in France, the flower is also called “pissenlit” which means “urinate in bed”.
Skin Care: Dandelion sap, also known as dandelion milk, is useful in treating skin diseases which are caused by microbial and fungal infections. This treatment stems from the fact that the sap is highly alkaline and has germicidal, insecticidal and fungicidal properties. You should be careful while using this sap and avoid any contact with the eyes. This sap can be used on itches, ringworm, eczema, and other skin conditions without the risk of side effects or hormonal disturbances commonly caused by pharmaceutical skin treatments.
Prevents Acne: Dandelion juice is a good detoxifier, diuretic, stimulant, and antioxidant. These four properties make it a great treatment for acne. Before we know how it treats acne, we must know what causes it. Acne typically arises during the teenage years, when the body undergoes many physiological and hormonal changes. The flood of new hormones that bring about the changes in the body must be regulated, but if they don’t remain at a healthy ratio, they tend to deposit somewhat toxic substances into the body. These toxins tend to come out along with sweat through the sweat glands or sebaceous glands on the skin.
During these hormonal changes, these glands secrete more oils which, when mixed with dead skin, block the pores and the secretion of toxins is obstructed. Therefore, the toxic substances cannot escape and eventually result in acne. This situation is exacerbated by the microbial infections on the affected places. Dandelion juice, being a stimulant, diuretic, and detoxifier in nature, can help to regulate proper secretion of hormones, increase sweating, and widen the pores. All of these factors help to facilitate the removal of toxins through sweat and urine. Furthermore, dandelion sap, if externally applied to areas with acne, can inhibit microbial infection and reduce the signs of acne. Also, it can speed up healing due to its vitamin C content, so the scars and ugly red inflammation that traditionally follows acne treatment will be less noticeable.
Weight Loss: Our urine consists of up to 4% fat, so the more we urinate, the more water and fats are lost from the body. Dandelions, being diuretic in nature, promote urination and thereby help in losing the dreaded “water weight” without causing any side effects. Furthermore, dandelions are low in calories, like most leafy greens, but for the small expense of calories (~1oo cal. /4 cups), you get a huge amount of beneficial side effects. This is also why dandelions are sometimes used as sweeteners because they are not packed with unhealthy sugars.
Prevents Cancer: Dandelions are high in antioxidants, such as vitamin C and luteolin, which reduce the free radicals (major cancer-causing agents) in the body, thereby reducing the risk of cancer. Vitamin C also detoxifies the body, which further helps to protect from the development of tumors and various cancers. Luteolin poisons essential components of cancer cells when it binds to them, rendering them ineffective and unable to reproduce. This characteristic has been demonstrated most notably with prostate cancer, although there are other studies being done.
Treats Jaundice: Jaundice is primarily a disorder of the liver in which the organ starts overproducing bile, which ultimately enters the bloodstream and wreaks havoc on the body’s metabolism. The excess bile is also reflected through the color of the skin and eyes, which typically develops a yellow tint. The treatment of jaundice includes three main steps. First, you need to curb the production of bile. Second, you must remove the excess bile from the body, and third, you have to fight the underlying viral infection.
Dandelions are very helpful in all of these steps. They promote liver health and regulate bile production. Being diuretic in nature, they promote urination, where the excess bile can be eliminated. Finally, as an antioxidant and disinfectant due to the presence of vitamin C and luteolin, dandelions fight viral infections as well. They are most beneficial when taken with sugarcane juice since they replace the sugar in the body, which is significantly lowered due to the impact of excess bile. A lack of sugar can cause extreme fatigue and weakness, so dandelions help to boost your energy levels after infection.
Prevents Gall Bladder Disorders: Dandelions are very beneficial for the gallbladder and liver, because they improve their general functioning, protect them from ill effects of oxidants and infections, and regulate the various secretions from both organs.
Cures Constipation: Certain components of dandelion, namely the high levels of dietary fiber make it a beneficial aid for digestion and proper intestinal health. Dietary fiber stimulates healthy bowel movements by adding bulk to stool and also reduces chances of constipation as well as diarrhea. It regulates bowel movements, which can prevent serious gastrointestinal issues. It is commonly prescribed for children who are experiencing constipation, as it is relatively soothing on the stomach. It has also been used to stimulate the appetite, particularly following trauma or surgery.
Prevents Anemia: Dandelions have relatively good levels of iron, vitamins, and protein content. While iron is an integral part of hemoglobin in the blood, vitamin B and protein are essential for the formation of red blood cells and certain other components of the blood. This way dandelion can help anemic people keep their condition in check.
Regulates Blood Pressure: Urination is an effective way of lowering blood pressure. In fact, most of the modern medicines for lowering blood pressure are based on this phenomenon. Dandelion juice, being diuretic in nature, increases urination, both in quantity and frequency. Therefore, it helps to lower high blood pressure. The fiber in dandelion is also helpful in reducing cholesterol and thereby assists in lowering blood pressure since cholesterol is one of the factors that increase blood pressure. Finally, there is a high potassium content in dandelions, which is very effective in lowering blood pressure by replacing sodium.
Other Benefits: Dandelions can also be used as a vegetable and are a good source of fiber. It promotes digestion, and in the past, it was used to treat scurvy because of its high levels of vitamin C. It also has healing effects on dyspepsia, infections in the stomach, intestines and urinary system.
How to Take it
Pediatric: Ask your doctor before giving dandelion supplements to a child so the doctor can determine the dose.
Adult: Ask your doctor to help determine the right dose for you.
Dandelion Tea— Infuse 1 OZ. of Dandelion in a pint of boiling water for 10 minutes; decant, sweeten with honey, and drink several glasses in the course of the day. The use of this tea is efficacious in bilious affections, and is also much approved of in the treatment of dropsy.
- Or take 2 OZ. of freshly-sliced Dandelion root, and boil in 2 pints of water until it comes to 1 pint; then add 1 OZ. of compound tincture of Horseradish. Dose, from 2 to 4 OZ. Use in a sluggish state of the liver.
- Or 1 OZ. Dandelion root, 1 OZ. Black Horehound herb, 1/2 OZ. Sweet Flag root, 1/4 OZ. Mountain Flax. Simmer the whole in 3 pints of water down to 1 1/2 pint, strain and take a wineglassful after meals for biliousness and dizziness.
For Gall Stones— 1 OZ. Dandelion root, 1 OZ. Parsley root, 1 OZ. Balm herb, 1/2 OZ. Ginger root, 1/2 OZ. Liquorice root. Place in 2 quarts of water and gently simmer down to 1 quart, strain and take a wineglassful every two hours.
For a young child suffering from jaundice: 1 OZ. Dandelion root, 1/2 oz. Ginger root, 1/2 oz. Caraway seed, 1/2 oz. Cinnamon bark, 1/4 oz. Senna leaves. Gently boil in 3 pints of water down to 1 1/2 pint, strain, dissolve 1/2 lb. sugar in hot liquid, bring to a boil again, skim all impurities that come to the surface when clear, put on one side to cool, and give frequently in teaspoonful doses.
A Liver and Kidney Mixture— 1 OZ. Broom tops, 1/2 oz. Juniper berries, 1/2 oz. Dandelion root, 1 1/2 pint water. Boil in gredients for 10 minutes, then strain and adda small quantity of cayenne. Dose, 1 tablespoonful, three times a day.
A Medicine for Piles— 1 OZ. Long-leaved Plantain, 1 OZ. Dandelion root, 1/2 oz. Polypody root, 1 OZ. Shepherd’s Purse. Add 3 pints of water, boil down to half the quantity, strain, and add 1 OZ. of tincture of Rhubarb. Dose, a wineglassful three times a day. Celandine ointment to be applied at same time.
Word of Caution: Dandelions can be helpful in lowering blood sugar, but for patients already taking blood-sugar modulators, this can result in hypoglycemia, an equally dangerous condition. Consult your doctor before adding dandelion supplements on top of your normal treatment. Also, the milk sap of dandelions has been known to cause itchiness, irritation, or allergic reactions on the skin, and should be kept away from the eyes. Finally, there is a rare type of fiber in dandelions called inulin and some people have a predisposed sensitivity or allergy to it which can be quite severe. While adding dandelion greens to your diet in any way, start small and closely monitor your body’s response.
Precautions: The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. However, herbs can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs under the supervision of a health care provider.
Dandelion is generally considered safe. Some people may have an allergic reaction from touching dandelion. Others may get mouth sores.
If you are allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigold, chamomile, yarrow, daisies, or iodine, you should avoid dandelion.
In some people, dandelion can cause increased stomach acid and heartburn. It may also irritate the skin.
People with kidney problems, gallbladder problems, or gallstones should consult their doctors before eating dandelion.
Dandelion leaf may act as a diuretic, which can make drugs leave your body faster. It also interacts with a number of medications that are broken down by the liver. If you are taking prescription medications, ask your doctor before taking dandelion leaf. Medications that may interact with dandelion include:
Antacids: Dandelion may increase the amount of stomach acid, so antacids may not work as well.
Blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants and antiplatelets): It is possible that dandelion may increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you already take blood thinners such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), or clopidogrel (Plavix).
Diuretics (water pills): Dandelion may act as a diuretic, causing your body to produce more urine to get rid of excess fluid. If you also take prescription diuretics, or other herbs that act as diuretics, you could be at risk of electrolyte imbalances.
Lithium: Lithium is used to treat bipolar disorder. Animal studies suggest that dandelion may worsen the side effects of lithium.
Ciproflaxin (Cipro): One species of dandelion, Taraxacum mongolicum, also called Chinese dandelion, may lower the amount of the antibiotic ciproflaxin that your body absorbs. Researchers do not know whether the common dandelion would do the same thing.
Medications for diabetes: Theoretically, dandelion may lower blood sugar levels. If you take medications for diabetes, taking dandelion may increase the risk of low blood sugar.
Medications broken down by the liver: Dandelion can interact with a number of medications. To be safe, ask your doctor before taking dandelion if you take any medication.
Dandelion Pesto – Adapted from The Wild Wisdom of Weeds by Katrina Blair
- 2 cups fresh young dandelion greens
- 1 cup basil
- 1 cup cashews, almonds, or pine nuts
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 cup water
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Wash and dry dandelion greens and basil.
- Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth and creamy.
- Serve as a dip with vegetable crudites or crackers, on pasta, or as a sandwich spread.
The Health Benefits Of Dandelion For Dogs
If your dog suffers from digestive issues, dandelion may be a great herb to consider. The dandelion flower may be used for its antioxidant properties and may improve the immune system. It is also high in lecithin. Dandelion leaves are loaded with potassium. They also stimulate the appetite and help digestion along with kidney function. They are an ideal choice for dogs with chronic indigestion or those with gas. Dandelion leaf also acts as a diuretic, making it useful in cases of arthritis, kidney stones, congestive heart failure and gallbladder disease. And best of all, dandelion leaf contains lots of potassium, which can be lost through urination. Dandelion leaf also stimulates the liver and promotes the elimination of waste material from the body. Dandelion root is also quite useful and nutritional. The root is a liver tonic and helps to remove toxins from the body, via the kidneys. Signs of toxicity can include:
- Skin disease
- Chronic constipation
- Dandelion root can also treat gallstones and gallbladder inflammation.
Using Dandelion: Dandelion can be used as a dried herb, a tea or as a tincture.
Dandelion Tea – To make dandelion tea:
- Use 5g to 30g dried herb infused in 8oz water.
- You can use 1/3 of a cup per 20 pounds of your dogs body weight, up to 3 times a day.
- For dried herbs, use a teaspoon per 20 pounds.
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