Known as a persistent and prolific weed in many parts of the world, dandelion is grown commercially in Europe. Its leaves and roots are a rich source of vitamins and minerals, and its active ingredients are particularly useful for treating digestive and liver problems.
What it is?
Dandelion grows wild throughout much of the world and is cultivated in parts of Europe for medicinal uses. Closely related to chicory, this perennial plant can grow 30 cm high and has spatula-shaped leaves that are shiny, hairless and deeply toothed. The solitary yellow flower blooms for much of the growing season, opening at day-break and closing at dust and in wet weather. After the flower matures, the plant forms a puffball of seeds that are dispersed by the wind (or by children playing). Supplements usually contain the root (which is tapered and sweet tasting) or the leaves, though the whole plant and its flowers are also valued for their healing properties.
What it does?
Folk healers have long prescribed dandelion root for liver and digestive problems. Because its active ingredients are beneficial for liver function, this herb is useful for a wide range of disorders.
Studies have shown that dandelion root increases the production and flow of bile (a digestive aid) from the liver and gall bladder, helping to treat such conditions as gallstones, jaundice and hepatitis. It is thought that the plant's beneficial effect on various liver functions is probably related to its high content of the B vitamin choline.
Dandelion root is sometimes mixed with other nutritional supplements that boost liver function, including milk thistle, black radish, celandine, beet leaf, fringe tree bark, inositol, methionine, choline or others. Such combinations are usually sold as liver or lipotropic ('fat-metabolising') formulas in health-food stores.
Because it improves liver function, dandelion (in combination with other liver-strengthening nutrients) may help relieve the pain and other symptoms of endometriosis, it also enhances the liver's ability to remove excess oestrogen from the body, thereby helping to restore a healthy balance of hormones in women who are afflicted with these disorders.
Dandelion root acts as a mild laxative, so a tea made from it may provide a gentle remedy for constipation. The herb may also enhance the body's ability to absorb iron from either food or supplements, which may help to combat some cases of anaemia. Some studies also indicate that dandelion may be of value in treating cancer. The Japanese have patented a freeze-dried extract of dandelion root to combat tumours, and the Chinese are using dandelion extracts to help fight breast cancer (a treatment supported by positive results in animal studies). But further studies using humans are needed to determine the herb's effectiveness against specific types of cancer.
As for other medical applications, studies have found that dandelion can lower blood sugar levels in animals, suggesting that it may have some role to play in the treatment of diabetes. The leaves may also have some diuretic effects, so they are sometimes recommended for water retention and bloating.
- Improves liver function; useful during cases of hepatitis (liver inflammation) and jaundice.
- Aids digestion by stimulating release of bile from the liver and gall bladder; may help to prevent gallstones.
- Helps to treat endometriosis.
- Dried or fresh herb/tea/coffee.
- Dandelion should not be used during acute attack of gallstones. Seek professional medical attention.
- Reminder: If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
How to take it?
To strengthen liver function in hepatitis, gallstones and endometriosis: Take 500 mg of a powdered solid dandelion root extract twice a day. This amount may also be found in some lipotropic (liver) combinations. Or take 1 or 2 teaspoons of a liquid dandelion extract three times a day.
For constipation: Drink 1 cup of dandelion root tea three times a day.
For anaemia: Have 1 teaspoon of fresh dandelion leaf juice or tincture each morning and eveing with half a glass of water.
Guidelines for use:
Drink fresh dandelion juice or liquid extract with water. Take pills containing dandelion root extract with or without food. No adverse effects have been reported in pregnant or breast-feeding women; however, dandelion leaf preparations may have diuretic effects, so this group of women may want to avoid the herb.
Possible side effects
Dandelion has no serious side effects. In large doses, it may cause a skin rash, upset stomach or diarrhoea. Stop using it if this happens, and discuss the reaction with your doctor.
Facts and Tips
- To make dandelion tea, use the dried, chopped root or leaves of the dandelion. Pour a cup of very hot water over 1 or 2 teaspoons of the herb and allow it to steep for about 15 minutes. The tea can be blended with other herbs, such as licorice, and sweetened with honey.
- Dandelion is a healthful and nutritious food or beverage. The leaves and the flowers are quite tasty when steamed like spinach, and the pleasantly bitter greens make a tangy addition to salads. A juice can be extracted from the leaves, and the root can be roasted and used to brew a beverage that can be substituted for coffee (without the stimulant effects.)