While many people look upon the dandelion as a common lawn nuisance, in some places and times the dandelion has been a source of medicine and food. This herbaceous perennial plant develops a long, milky taproot which is fairly thick. The taproot is white on the inside and dark brown on the outside. Flowers of the dandelion are distinctive and a golden yellow, with a head about 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter. The flower closes in the evening and opens during daylight hours. The fruit of the dandelion is a down-like puffball, with a round seed head that contains a cluster of up to 200 achenes. These narrow seeds have parachute-like tufts which are carried by the wind.
History of Dandelion
This plant’s “official” name, Taraxacum officinale, is interpreted in two different ways. Some botanists believe that the taraxacum is taken from the Persian phrase tark bashgun, or wild endive. More commonly, it is thought the name is taken from the Greek word taraxos, which means disorder, and akos, which means remedy.
The dandelion first appeared in 10th Century medical journals written by Arabian physicians. British apothecaries were writing about the plant by the 16th Century and talking about its diuretic effect. By the 19th Century, the dandelion had also become a well-known herb in America and Europe.
Other names that have been given to this plant include yellow gowan, Irish daisy, Swine’s snout, puffball and peasant’s cloak. The current use of the word ‘dandelion’ is taken from the French dent de lion, or lion’s tooth, which describes the jagged shape of the leaves.
The constituents in dandelion which make it successful in therapeutic uses include:
- Terpenoids – Including taraxerol, taraxacin, taraxasterol and lactucin
- Acids – Caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid
- Carbohydrates – Glucose, fructose, and inulin
- Vitamins and minerals – Dandelion leaves are rich in potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, the B complex vitamins, manganese, zinc and copper
- Phytosterols – Stigmasterol, taraxaterol, capesterol and sitosterol
Dandelion Health Benefits
Dandelion juice is used by European herbalists in the treatment of diabetes and liver diseases. There, the dandelion is regarded as one of the best herbs for strengthening the blood and curing anemia. Dandelion is also known to be a diuretic and is used as a mild laxative, an aid in digestion, and to stimulate the appetite.
Wine can be made from the dandelion and has a taste of sherry and a history of being used as a tonic for the blood. Dandelion wine can be made the same way as any folk wine. To improve or change the flavor, add ginger, sliced lemon and orange rind. Take one gallon of boiling water and 3.5 pounds of sugar and add to each gallon of flowers. Wine yeast can be added for best results.
In the regions where dandelion is considered a major player in herbal medicine, this plant is considered a safe and useful treatment for managing many different liver conditions. It is considered to help promote the production of bile and causes contraction of the bile duct to initiate the flow of stored bile. These two properties play a major role in herbal medicine, and there is limited clinical data which supports these claims in the overall picture of general good health. Such health care practitioners also use dandelion in the management of a variety of gall-bladder conditions. A product in which dandelion is a component is used to treat hepatitis.
Because the liver is an organ of elimination in traditional herbal medicine philosophies, dandelion root is thought to be a protective and useful treatment in conjunction with chemotherapy.
In China, dandelion has been known to be used for such conditions as snakebites, abcesses, and appendicitis.
Several research studies have also demonstrated dandelion’s usefulness as a diuretic when given in high doses. These studies also proved that an extract made from the leaves of dandelion plants were more effective as a diuretic than the root.
Dye can be made from the flowers of the dandelion plant. This dye is used for wool. When using the whole plant, a magenta dye is produced.
Dandelion roots are roasted as a coffee substitute in many parts of the world, or it is added to hot chocolate.
The tender, young leaves of the dandelion are called greens and can be used like chicory. They can be added to salads or older leaves can be cooked in a similar manner to spinach.
The following are recommended dosages:
- Dried root – 3-5 g three times daily
- Root tincture – 5-10 ml three times daily
- Dried leaf – 4-10 g three times daily
- Leaf liquid extract – 4-10 ml three times daily
In some cases, contact dermatitis has been noted after frequent exposure to the fresh plant. This seems irrelevant since most people would use the herbal product from dried material. In studies, even large amounts of this herb were not shown to have any carcinogenic effects. No specific drug interactions have been found, although many physicians do not recommend using herbal diuretics with conventional diuretics.
Dandelion should not be used by individuals who suffer from cases of occlusion of the bile ducts.
Because dandelion is often considered to be a weed by many individuals, it is often heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. Those wishing to consume dandelion for its health benefits should not use plants which are by roadsides or growing wild to avoid such weed killers. Purchase dandelion extract from reputable health food stores.
- Bone, K. A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs: Herbal Formulations for the Individual Patient, Churchill Livingstone (2003)
- Braun, L. & Cohen, M. Herbs & Natural Supplements: An evidence-based guide, Elsevier (2005)
- Duke, J. The Green Pharmacy: Herbal remedies for common diseases and conditions from the world's foremost authority on healing herbs, Rodale Limited (2003)
- Kowalchik, C. & Hylton, W. Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Schwartz Books (1987)
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