The Dandelion – Friend or Foe?
By Dr. Jeanette (Jeannie) Thomason
Taraxacum Officinale is the correct name for the common dandelion with the word dandelion translating from the French for lion’s tooth; this refers to the spiky green leaves that grow from the taproot.
This plant and it’s healing properties are so well respected, that it appears in the U.S. National Formulatory, and in the Pharmacopeias of Hungary, Poland, Switzerland, and the Soviet Union. It is one of the top 6 herbs in the Chinese herbal medicine chest.
The dandelion is a strange plant. You can see that to some it is a powerful medicinal herb, or a delicious food, while to (most) others it’s a mere lawn nuisance as they tend to take over and, after all, considered to be “just a weed!”.
What most people don’t know is that Dandelions can actually be beneficial to a garden ecosystem as well as to human and animal health. Dandelions attract beneficial ladybugs and provide early spring pollen for their food. In a study done at the University of Wisconsin, experimental plots with dandelions had more ladybugs than dandelion free plots, and fewer pest aphids, a favorite food of the ladybugs. Dandelions long roots aerate the soil and enable the plant to accumulate minerals, which are added to the soil when the plant dies.
Not only are dandelions good for your soil, they are good for your health. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a serving of raw (un-cooked) dandelion leaves contains 280 percent of a human’s adult’s daily requirement of beta carotene as well as more than half the requirement of vitamin C. Dandelions are also rich in vitamin A. While I do not recommend the plant be given dogs as a part of their daily diet as a supplement when needed it has many healthful benefits. Humans/omnivores however, can surely eat it as part of their daily diet, either raw in a salad or steeped and made into a tea, this maligned little plants leaves and root have been known to:
prevent or cure liver diseases, such as hepatitis or jaundice;
act as a tonic and gentle diuretic to purify the blood, cleanse the system, dissolve kidney stones, and otherwise improve gastro-intestinal health;
assist in weight reduction;
cleanse the skin and eliminate acne;
improve bowel function, working equally well to relieve both constipation and diarrhea;
prevent or lower high blood pressure;
prevent or cure anemia;
lower serum cholesterol levels by as much as half;
eliminate or drastically reduce acid indigestion and gas buildup by cutting the heaviness of fatty foods;
prevent or aid in healing of various forms of cancer;
prevent or control diabetes mellitus;
When used in moderation, there are no negative side effects and it selectively acts on only what ails the particular body.
Nutrient Content of Dandelion: Dandelions are nature’s richest source of beta-carotene, Vitamin A (helps fight cancer), it is also rich in fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and the B vitamins (helps reduce stress), thiamine and riboflavin, and are a good source of protein. Dandelion is also rich in micronutrients such as copper, cobalt, zinc, boron, and molybdenum, as well as Vitamin D. Dandelion greens contains nearly as much iron as spinach.
According to the USDA Bulletin #8, “Composition of Foods” (Haytowitz and Matthews 1984), dandelions rank in the top 4 green vegetables in overall nutritional value. Minnich, in “Gardening for Better Nutrition” ranks them, out of all vegetables, including grains, seeds and greens, as tied for 9th best. According to these data, dandelions are nature’s richest green vegetable source of beta-carotene, from which Vitamin A is created, and the third richest source of Vitamin A of all foods, after cod-liver oil and beef liver! They also are particularly rich in potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and the B vitamins, thiamine and riboflavin.
Marei (Hobbs 1985) indicated that dandelion is also rich in micronutrients such as copper, cobalt, zinc, boron, and molybdenum, as well as Vitamin D.
Much of what dandelions purportedly do in promoting good health could result from nutritional richness alone. Vogel considers the naturally occurring sodium in dandelions important in reducing inflammation of the liver. Gerasimova, the Russian chemist who analyzed the dandelion for, among other things, trace minerals, stated that “dandelion [is] an example of a harmonious combination of trace elements, vitamins and other biologically active substances in ratios optimal for a human organism” (Hobbs 1985).
Beyond nutritional richness, however, are the active chemical constituents contained in dandelions which may have specific therapeutic effects on the body. These include, as reported by Hobbs (1985):
* Inulin, which converts to fructose in the presence of cold or hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Fructose forms glycogen in the liver without requiring insulin, resulting in a slower blood sugar rise, which makes it good for diabetics and hypoglycemics;
* Tof-CFr, a glucose polymer similar to lentinan, which Japanese researchers have found to act against cancer cells in laboratory mice; Lentinan is a yeast glucan (glucose polymer) that increases resistance against protozoal and viral infections.;
* Pectin, which is anti-diarrheal and also forms ionic complexes with metal ions, which probably contributes to dandelion’s reputation as a blood and gastrointestinal detoxifying herb. Pectin is prescribed regularly in Russia to remove heavy metals and radioactive elements from body tissues. Pectin can also lower cholesterol and, combined with Vitamin C, can lower it even more. Dandelion is a good source of both Pectin and Vitamin C;
* Coumestrol, an estrogen mimic which possibly is responsible, at least in part, for stimulating milk flow and altering hormones;
* Apigenin and Luteolin, two flavonoid glycosides which have been demonstrated to have diuretic, anti-spasmodic, anti-oxidant and liver protecting actions and properties, and also to strengthen the heart and blood vessels. They also have anti-bacterial and anti-hypoglycemic properties, and, as estrogen mimics, may also stimulate milk production and alter hormones;
* Gallic Acid, which is anti-diarrheal and anti-bacterial;
* Linoleic and Linolenic Acid, which are essential fatty acids required by the body to produce prostaglandin which regulate blood pressure and such body processes as immune responses which suppress inflammation. These fatty acids can lower chronic inflammation, such as proliferative arthritis, regulate blood pressure and the menstrual cycle, and prevent platelet aggregation;
* Choline, which has been shown to help improve memory;
*Several Sesquiterpene compounds which are what make dandelions bitter. These may partly account for dandelions tonic effects on digestion, liver, spleen and gall bladder, and are highly anti-fungal;
* Several Triterpenes, which may contribute to bile or liver stimulation;
* Taraxasterol, which may contribute to liver and gall bladder health or to hormone altering.
These chemicals, individually, are not unique to dandelions, but the combination of them all in one plant, along with high levels of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and fiber account for the many claims made regarding this unassuming plant.
These claims include the following results of clinical and laboratory research, again as reported in Hobbs (1985):
* A doubling of bile output with leaf extracts, and a quadrupling of bile output with root extract. Bile assists with the emulsification, digestion and absorption of fats, in alkalinizing the intestines and in the prevention of putrefaction. This could explain the effectiveness of dandelion in reducing the effects of fatty foods (heartburn and acid indigestion);
* A reduction in serum cholesterol and urine bilirubin levels by as much as half in humans with severe liver imbalances has been demonstrated by Italian researchers;
* Diuretic effects with a strength approaching that of the potent diuretics Furosemide and Lasix, used for congestive heart failure and cirrhosis of the liver, with none of the serious side effects, were found by Romanian scientists. They found that water extract of dandelion leaves, administered orally, because of its high potassium content, replaced serum potassium electrolytes lost in the urine, eliminating such side effects common with the synthetics as severe potassium depletion, hepatic coma in liver patients, circulatory collapse, and transmission through mothers’ milk;
* In 1979 a Japanese patent was filed for a freeze-dried warm water extract of dandelion root for anti-tumor use. It was found that administration of the extract markedly inhibited growth of particular carcinoma cells within one week after treatment;
* Dental researchers at Indiana University in 1982 used dandelion extracts in antiplaque preparations;
* In studies from 1941 to 1952, the French scientist Henri Leclerc demonstrated the effectiveness of dandelion on chronic liver problems related to bile stones. He found that roots gathered in late summer to fall, when they are rich in bitter, white milky latex, should be used for all liver treatments;
* In 1956, Chauvin demonstrated the antibacterial effects of dandelion pollen, which may validate the centuries old use of dandelion flowers in Korean folk medicine to prevent furuncles (boils, skin infections), tuberculosis, and edema and promote blood circulation.
Also, Witt (1983) recommends dandelion tea to alleviate the water buildup in PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome).
? Dandelion is especially important in promoting the formation of bile and removing excess water from the body in edematous conditions resulting from the liver problems. It is thought to be especially useful in cases of enlargement of the liver and for jaundice, even in little children.
? Dandelion tea can help cure even the serious case of hepatitis.
? Dandelion tea or juice improves the functioning of the pancreas, kidneys, spleen, and stomach.
? Dandelion tea and juice can help lower serum cholesterol and uric acid levels in the body by as much as half.
? Dandelion is a good blood cleanser and it helps prevent age spots and other skin disorders.
? Lukewarm dandelion tea is useful for dyspepsia.
? Dandelion is used as a mild laxative in habitual constipation.
? Dandelion is good for fever.
? Dandelion is good for stress and insomnia.
? The root tea of dandelion combined with a good diet and exercise can eliminate diabetes.
? Dandelion relieves menopausal symptoms
? Dandelion is a superior source of organic magnesium. Magnesium alkalinizes the bloodstream and at the same time contributes to bone density and health. It is vital for strong teeth and preventing tooth decay and pyorrhea.
? Dandelion has a good effect in increasing the appetite and promoting digestion.
? Dandelion is useful in the treatment of warts. The milk from the cut end of dandelion should be put on the wart twice or thrice a day.
? Dandelion’s rich iron content makes it useful for treating anemia.
? Dandelion root is a rich source of nutritive salts which is useful in a variety of ailments.
1. Klass, C. and M.P. Hoffman. 1996. Attracting insects’ natural enemies. Ecogardening factsheet #14. Cornell Univ. Dept. of Horticulture. http://www.cce.cornell.edu/programs/hort/gardening/factsheets/ecogardening/attracten.html.
2. Harmon, J.P. et al. 2000. Coleomegilla maculata (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) predation on pea aphids promoted by proximity to dandelions. Oecologia 125: 54-548.
3. Hill, S.P. and B. Walsh. 1992. Ecological lawn maintenance. EAP Publication – 68. Ecological Agriculture Projects, McGill University. http://www.eap.mcgill.ca/Publications/EAP68.htm.
4. Mattern, V. 1994. Don’t weed em eat em. Organic Gardening 41(4):70.
5. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. 2001. USDA nutrient database for standard reference. www.nal.usda.gov/fnic. (Query for dandelion greens, raw.)
6. Ody, P. 1993. The complete medicinal herbal. New York, NY: DK Publishing, Inc., p. 103.