What is Dandelion?
A dandelion is a flower and is also a broad term for many types of flowers that are native to Europe and North America. Taraxacum is the large genus to which these plants belong. They are herbaceous and perennial plants that grow very well in temperate climates. They also reproduce quickly and effectively, so it is possible to cultivate plenty of dandelions at the same time. Interestingly, dandelion translates into “lion’s tooth” in French.
Despite the health benefits of dandelions, they are more popular as ornamental flowering plants than as medicine, because the flowers look brilliant and are frequently seen in gardens and parks. In terms of history, the plant is believed to have evolved about 30 million years ago in Eurasia.
Dandelion is a very rich source of beta-carotene which we convert into vitamin A. This flowering plant is also rich in vitamin C, fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus. It’s a good place to get B complex vitamins, trace minerals, organic sodium, and even some vitamin D too.
The health benefits of dandelion include relief from liver disorders, diabetes, urinary disorders, acne, jaundice, cancer, and anemia. It also helps in maintaining bone health, skin care and weight loss. Moreover, dandelion is also known to aid in improving appetite, reducing muscle pain, stomach disorders, and it helps treat bruises as well.
History of Dandelion
There’s three aspects to the official name and common names of common dandelion, Taraxacum officinale. Officinale, the species name, is a Latin term that is attached to those herbs that contain long-accepted medicinal properties.
The Persians originally called the herb tarashquq around 900 A.D. Around 100 years later, they called it Taraxcum. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a reference to what either name means or why it changed. The second part of the origin of the scientific name comes from the appearance of the leaves of the plant. Consensus is that they resemble the canine teeth of a lion. Dents de lion is French for teeth of the lion.
But, the burning question…what do lions and wet bed sheets have in common? Well, in this case, they have ties to dandelion history and its name origins. The French also called this plant ‘pis-en-lit.’ Dandelions are known diuretics. A diuretic is something that removes fluid from your body. Let’s just say that eating dandelions before bed could cause you to pis-en-lit or wet the bed.
Throughout history, the flower heads in the fly-away seed stage, earned this plant nick-names similar to blowing flower. It has also been called a number of things in reference to the white, milky sap in the stem – milk, milk pot, dog milk, butter, sow milk and a number of other similar variations. The most poetic name I found for dandelions was the Chinese name which translates to, “flower that grows in public spaces by the riverside.”
Early Uses & Folklore of Dandelions
The first known written record of dandelions being used medicinally dates back to the 10th and 11th Centuries. But, it’s recorded use is believed to date back to Ancient Rome and the Anglo Saxons. It first appeared in European history in the 13th Century when it was used by the Welsh.
Unlike many of the other herbs that I’ve studied, the written dandelion history that I found is quite vague. John Gerard (1545-1611) and John Parkinson (1567-1650), famous English botanists and herbalists, used it as a medicine but I didn’t find any fun quotations or odd uses for the herb.
Outdoors-men do have a clever way of predicting the weather that involves dandelions. If rain is coming and the plant has gone to seed, they believe that the head will close around the fluffy seed ball to protect it and it will not re-open until the weather has cleared.
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Historical and Modern Medicinal Uses of Dandelion
I mentioned in our first article on dandelions that dandelion coffee may be a treatment , or perhaps even a cure (we can hope and pray, can’t we?) for some cancers. There are also a number of other ailments where dandelion may offer viable treatment options.
The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM) website mentioned the herb was used by Native Americans for kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn and upset stomach. The Chinese used it for stomach problems, appendicitis and breast problems (inflammation and lack of milk flow). In Europe, it has been used to relieve fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes and diarrhea. The University cautioned the use of dandelion for any of these ailments as there have not been “any good scientific studies on dandelion.”
The National Institutes of Health, in a publication about the Risks and Benefits of Commonly used Herbal Medicines in Mexico (Mexico & Herbal Medicines), dedicates an entire section of the report to the humble dandelion. It is used in Mexican, North American and Chinese folk medicine to treat “loss of appetite, dyspepsia, flatulence, gallstones, bile stimulation, laxative, diuretic, circulatory tonic, skin toner, blood tonic, and digestive tonic. It is also used for the treatment of viral and bacterial infections as well as cancer.”
The article includes a lot of the scientific properties and a long list of the compounds contained in dandelions. While I started my college career as a chemistry student, the list of chemical compounds in dandelions left my eyes glazing over. If anyone is interested, please visit the NIH article to see the list. I will mention one thing, they specifically mentioned its high potassium content.
Preliminary Results as a Viable Treatment
Leaving out much of the scientific stuff…the report mentioned that preliminary data would indicate that dandelion flower extract has anti-inflammatory benefits – something the Puritans could have told them. Experiments in rats are showing positive results that may help diabetics. And another report from 2006, says the dandelion root may reduce the recurrence rate of urinary tract infections in women.
Drug Interactions & Other Precautions
Dandelion’s diuretic properties may speed up how fast medications may travel through your system – in other words, dandelion could push your medication through your system before it can provide you any benefit. It also impacts how your liver breaks down medications thereby making some medications stronger and others weaker.
While a number of sources mention using dandelion for stomach ailments, including indigestion, the UMM site cautions that it could actually increase the amount of stomach acids produced. Dandelion may increase the risk of bleeding so anyone on blood-thinning medication might want to avoid consuming dandelion. Dandelion is also believed to make the side effects of lithium worse – oh joy, just what those poor folks need.
It is believed Chinese dandelion (Taraxacum mongolicum) lowers the absorption of ciproflaxin and other Quinolone antibiotics. The research, however, did not include common dandelion. It would probably be smart to assume that any variety of dandelion may impact any antibiotic rather than take the risk. Diabetics should use care with dandelion. If it does indeed reduce blood sugar levels and you are already taking medication, you may end up decreasing your blood sugar to unsafe levels.
Allergic Reactions to Dandelion
There are some who suffer hayfever-like allergies to dandelion flowers. UMM recommended anyone allergic to chamomile, chrysanthemums, daisies, marigold, ragweed or iodine should avoid dandelion. Products containing dandelion pollen are being investigated for their potential to cause allergic reactions. The NIH article said one woman, who took a weight loss supplement containing a number of herbs, including dandelion, suffered anaphylaxis after taking the product for 3 weeks.
When used topically, on the skin, dandelion sap can cause contact dermatitis and other allergic reactions. The science speak that followed was way above my head but it seemed as if there was some thought these allergic properties, while primarily troublesome, could be depended upon to ‘increase the clearance of drugs’ in certain situations. (I think that’s a good thing.)
I also found several folk remedy sites that mentioned using fresh dandelion sap on on warts, bee stings, acne and calluses. One explained that exposing the skin to the sap will cause a mild allergic reaction that causes the body to more effectively heal itself.
Dandelions Saved the War Effort?
Well, several nations involved in World War II hoped it would anyway. By 1942, the Japanese controlled 90% of the world’s natural rubber production. When World War II started, the United States was using around half of the world’s natural rubber supply. A single military airplane could use a half a ton of rubber. Tanks used a ton and battleships used 75 tons. Even war fighters used 32 pounds of rubber. Any army, without access to natural or synthetic rubber was unlikely to be victorious.
In 1922, the British placed export restrictions and increased the price of rubber. The Germans, Americans and Russians began searching for alternatives.
The Germans were the third largest consumers of natural rubber. Having experienced difficulties during World War I due to shortages of rubber, Germany developed Methyl rubber. It worked for tires but it was expensive and soft. So soft, that vehicles equipped with them had to be jacked up when not in use. By 1930, they had developed a better synthetic rubber, Buna S; which they used throughout World War II. The Americans had also created a synthetic rubber similar to Buna S., referred to as GR-S. However, when war broke out, there were no commercial processes in place to use it commercially. Russia was facing a similar dilemma.
Enter the lowly dandelion.
OK, so it isn’t as dramatic as I’m making it out to be. But, in their desperate search to provide the huge quantities of rubber their armies required, the Germans, Americans, Russians and several other European countries began programs trying to find alternatives to natural rubber from the Hevea brasilienis (rubber) trees in Southeast Asia. Scientists knew that dandelions, particularly the Russian dandelion, produced natural latex.
That milky white juice that flows through the stem of dandelion flower stalks and the roots of the plant were being looked at as a new, natural source for the rubber so much of the world was in desperate need of. Once the war was over, natural rubber became available again and prices went down, efforts to use dandelion as a natural rubber and latex source were discontinued.
A New Millenia, New Worries & New Solutions
Natural Rubber Sources Threatened
As a fungus attacks many of Southeast Asia’s rubber trees, the world once again turns to dandelions as a possible alternative source of natural rubber.
I found one article which claimed, but did not source, that dandelion rubber produced during the 1940s and 50s was heavier than rubber produced from Hevea brasiliensis trees. Which means it produced a superior tire.
One of the major difficulties in using dandelions as a natural rubber source is that the sap polymerizes when exposed to the air. German researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology have developed a new variety of Russian dandelions. Taraxacum koki-saghyz or TKS produces four to five times more usable latex than common dandelion.
In recent years, scientists in Akron, Ohio and Tokyo are investigating using Russian dandelions as a raw material for car tires. Bridgestone Americas is working with the Program for Excellence in Natural Rubber Alternatives at Ohio State University. Dandelion is showing great promise as a source of natural rubber and latex. It also seems to be far more hypoallergenic. It has not caused any allergic reactions in the tests done to date.
Dandelion & Ethanol
Dandelion is also showing promise as a natural source for ethanol. Did you know that only 24% of the corn in the United States is used for food in the United States? 40% is being used to produce ethanol, according to a 2012 New York Times Editorial, “Corn for Food, Not Fuel.” I don’t know about anyone else, but, I would much rather see a traditional non-food plant being used to produce fuel than one of the world’s most important food-stuffs being used for fuel.
Additional Dandelion Information
Bet you didn’t know there was so much dandelion history. I admit I had no idea when I started researching this herb. Want to learn more? Be sure to visit our article about dandelions where you’ll learn about several different varieties of this herb, where you can find dandelion festivals and how the herb is consumed.
Nutritional Value of Dandelion
Dandelion is low in calories and rich in carbohydrates and fiber. It contains vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and vitamin K. The minerals in it include iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. Dandelions are native to Eurasia and North America; the two species, T. officinale and T. erythrospermum, are found as weeds worldwide.
The name dandelion comes from the French word dent-de-lion, meaning “lion’s tooth.” Dandelion plants are from the Asteraceae family and part of the Taraxacum species. They look like very small flowers that are collected together into a flower head, or floret. Many Taraxacum species produce seeds asexually by apomixis, meaning the seeds can be produced without pollination. This is why dandelions are genetically identical to the parent plant.
The leaves of a dandelion flower are typically five to 25 centimeters long. The flower heads are a yellow to orange color; they open in the daytime and stay closed at night. When you break the stem of a dandelion, it exudes a white and milky liquid. When the flower head matures, it becomes a white ball that contains many seeds and fine hairs.
Amount Per 100 grams
- Calories 45
- Total Fat 0.7 g – 1% RDA
- Cholesterol 0 mg
- Sodium 76 mg – 3% RDA
- Potassium 397 mg – 11% RDA
- Total Carbohydrate 9 g – 3% RDA
- Dietary fiber 3.5 g – 14% RDA
- Sugar 0.7 g
- Protein 2.7 g – 5% RDA
- Vitamin A 203% RDA
- Vitamin C 58% RDA
- Calcium 18% RDA
- Iron 17% RDA
- Vitamin B-6 15% RDA
- Magnesium 9% RDA
High in Vitamin K
Vitamin K is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in bone and heart health, and can you believe that dandelions contain over 500 percent of your daily value? That makes dandelions excellent at preventing vitamin k deficiency. Vitamin K is the main vitamin involved in bone mineralization and blood clotting — in fact, vitamin K builds bones better than calcium! And it helps maintain brain function and a healthy metabolism.
There is increasing evidence that vitamin K can improve bone health and reduce the risk of bone fractures, especially in postmenopausal women who are at risk for osteoporosis.
Vitamin K also helps with menstrual bleeding because of its blood-clotting capabilities. Recently, it has caught attention for its cancer-fighting properties too. Vitamin K has been shown to be effective as a natural cancer treatment, including reducing the risk of prostate, colon, stomach, nasal and oral cancers. One study conducted in 2014, published in the Journal of Nutrition, that included over 7,000 participants found that vitamin K has the power to significantly reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular mortality.
Rich in Fiber
Dandelion tea and greens are high-fiber foods, making them a beneficial aid for digestion and intestinal health. Fiber is responsible for quickly moving foods through the digestive tract, helping it function optimally. Fiber works by drawing fluids from the body to add bulk to the stool.
High-fiber diets also reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes; fiber has the power to lower the risk of some cancers’ help with diverticulosis; and prevent heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, kidney stones and obesity. Some studies show that women with PMS or those who are menopausal can experience some relief from symptoms with high-fiber diets.
Good Source of Vitamin A
Vitamin A plays a critical role in maintaining healthy vision, neurological function, healthy skin and more. Vitamin A is an antioxidant, so it has the power to reduce inflammation by fighting free radical damage. Just one cup of dandelion greens has over 100 percent of the daily value of vitamin A, so you can fight premature aging, respiratory infections and vision impairment with just a mug of dandelion tea.
Vitamin A also provides immune support, promotes skin health and helps prevent cancer. For women who are pregnant, getting enough vitamin A is very important, especially during the third trimester. A pregnant woman can even suffer from night blindness if her vitamin A intake isn’t sufficient.
Health Benefits of Dandelion
1. Bone Health
Dandelion is rich in calcium, which is essential for the growth and strength of bones. It 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.
2. Liver Health
Dandelion are rich in antioxidants vitamin C and luteolin keep the liver functioning in optimal gear and protect it from aging, other compounds in dandelion help treat hemorrhaging in the liver. Furthermore, dandelion aids in maintaining the proper flow of bile, while also stimulating the liver and promoting digestion.
3. Regulates Blood Sugar
Dandelion juice can help diabetics 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 remove 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.
4. 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. Dandelion juice is a good detoxifier, diuretic, stimulant, and antioxidant. These four properties make it a great treatment for acne.
5. Aids in Weight Loss
Dandelions are diuretic in nature and they help promote urination and thereby help in losing the dreaded “water weight” without causing any side effects.Our urine consists of up to 4% fat, so the more we urinate, the more water and fats are lost from the body.
6. Reduces Cancer Risk
Dandelions are high in antioxidants, such as vitamin C and luteolin, which reduce free radicals (major cancer-causing agents) in the body, thereby reducing the risk of cancer. Vitamin C also detoxifies the body, which further protects 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Prevents Constipation
The high levels of dietary fiber make dandelion 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 and 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.
10. 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.
How to eat a Dandelion?
There are many ways to include dandelion in your diet as it is available in many forms.
- You can enjoy dandelion wine, fry up the flowers into fritters, make coffee out of the stem, leaves, and seeds, and so much more.
- Dandelion root tea is a great beverage if you are looking for a new addition to your breakfast.
- You can use dandelion greens in your salads, to add some unique nutrients to the meal and can also put them on sandwiches in place of lettuce.
- Dandelion greens can also be ground up and made into pestos and other spreads for a new taste!
Dandelion Root vs. Dandelion Greens
Both the root and the greens of the dandelion are high in nutrients and commonly used as both natural remedies and versatile ingredients. Dandelion greens come from the leaves of the dandelion and can be steamed, sautéed or even eaten raw. They have an earthy, bitter taste that can complement a variety of dishes. Dandelion root, on the other hand, is often powdered and roasted for use as a coffee substitute or added raw to herbal teas. Although used differently, both offer an array of impressive and diverse benefits to health.
Dandelion Root Benefits
1. May Kill Cancer Cells
Interestingly enough, several studies show dandelion root may be useful in the prevention and treatment of cancer. A 2011 study out the University of Windsor in Canada treated skin cancer cells with dandelion root extract and found that it started killing off cancer cells within just 48 hours of treatment. Another study in Onco target showed that dandelion root extract was able to kill 95 percent of colon cancer cells within two days. Other research has shown that dandelion root may aid in the treatment of leukemia, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
2. Reduces Cholesterol
High cholesterol is one of the major contributors to coronary heart disease. This waxy substance can build up in the blood vessels, causing arteries to become hardened and narrow and making it harder for blood to flow through. Changing your diet is one of the easiest ways to prevent high cholesterol. Along with limiting your intake of ultra-processed foods, including more whole foods like fruits and vegetables can help lower cholesterol.
Dandelion root has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. In one study, rabbits were fed a high-cholesterol diet and supplemented with dandelion root. Dandelion led to a reduction in total cholesterol, triglycerides and bad LDL cholesterol as well as an increase in beneficial HDL cholesterol. When combined with regular physical activity and a healthy diet, including a serving of dandelion root in your day could help keep your heart healthy and ward off heart disease.
3. Rich in Antioxidants
Free radicals are compounds that form in your body as a result of things like stress, pollution and a poor diet. Over time, the accumulation of free radicals can lead to cell damage and chronic disease. Antioxidants can help neutralize free radicals and have been shown to reduce the risk of conditions like heart disease and cancer. Studies show that dandelion root is especially high in antioxidants, which may account for its many potent health benefits.
4. Supports Liver Health
From filtering toxins to metabolizing drugs, the liver is essential to many aspects of health. Dandelion root benefits your liver, helping protect it and keep it working effectively. One study by the Department of Food and Nutrition at Chonnam National University in the Republic of Korea showed that dandelion root extract prevented damage to the liver caused by alcohol toxicity in both liver cells and mice.
These protective effects are likely due to the amount of antioxidants found in dandelion root as well as its ability to prevent damage caused by free radicals.
5. Fights Bacteria
In addition to its many other health benefits, dandelion root also possesses antimicrobial properties that can help stop the growth of disease-causing bacteria. A study in Ireland published in Phytotherapy Research showed that dandelion root was especially effective against certain strains of bacteria that are responsible for staph infections and food borne illness.
Although more research is needed, dandelion root may be a useful natural method for fighting off bacterial infections.
Benefits of Dandelion Greens
1. Promote Eye Health
Dandelion greens are jam-packed with vitamin A, fulfilling 112 percent of the daily requirements in each cup. Vitamin A is an important nutrient when it comes to eye health. In fact, vitamin A deficiency can even lead to blindness in some cases.
One study in the Journal of the American Medical Association comprising 5,836 older adults showed that a higher intake of vitamin A was linked to a significantly lower risk of age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that causes vision loss. Including dandelion greens and other vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables in your diet can help keep your eyes healthy and promote better vision.
2. Decrease Water Weight
If you’re looking to reduce bloat and water retention, dandelion greens may be able to help. Thanks to their natural diuretic properties, dandelion greens can increase urination to prevent water build-up. In a study out of the Department of Herbal Medicine at the Tai Sophia Institute in Maryland, consuming an extract of dandelion greens was shown to increase the frequency of urination in 17 participants.
In addition to helping increase water weight loss, the diuretic properties may also help the liver remove toxins more efficiently and prevent urinary tract infections.
3. Aid in Weight Loss
Dandelion greens are extremely low in calories with just 25 calories in each cup. They also contain a good amount of fiber, which can help keep you feeling full. Including a few servings of dandelion greens in your diet may reduce hunger and promote satiety, which can help ease weight loss.
One study also found that dandelion greens could inhibit fat absorption in a similar way to some weight loss drugs. It works by blocking the activity of pancreatic lipase, an enzyme that breaks down fat molecules in the body. In the study, dandelion extract slashed pancreatic lipase activity by a whopping 86 percent, leading to a greater excretion of fat. Pair dandelion greens with regular exercise and a nutritious diet to optimize your results and lose weight fast.
4. Lower Triglycerides
Besides aiding in weight loss, inhibiting the activity of pancreatic lipase may also help lower triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your bloodstream. Having high triglycerides in your blood is one of the risk factors for heart disease. Dandelion greens have been shown to reduce the activity of pancreatic lipase, the enzyme that breaks triglycerides down into fatty acids. This leads to an increased excretion of triglycerides and a decrease in blood triglyceride levels.
5. Protect the Liver
Much like dandelion root, dandelion greens have been shown to have powerful liver-protecting properties.A 2010 animal study showed that dandelion green extract prevented oxidative damage and reduced both inflammation and damage to the liver in Sprague-Dawley rats. There is also increasing evidence suggesting that eating high-antioxidant foods, like dandelion, could help decrease damage caused by free radicals and prevent liver disease.
How to Find Dandelion Root and Dandelion Greens
Dandelions are abundant throughout backyards and grocery stores alike. While it is safe to pick dandelions from your own yard and use them, you should be sure to avoid areas where weed killer or pesticides have been sprayed and remember to wash thoroughly. Younger plants tend to be less bitter as well as more tender. The greens from these plants can be incorporated into a delicious dandelion leaves salad or sautéed for a savory side dish.
You can also use the roots by digging a bit deeper and making sure to pull out all of the stems it may be attached to. Wash the roots well to make sure all dirt is removed and use it to make a tasty tea or soothing coffee substitute. Dandelion root pills and liquid extract are also available at many pharmacies and health stores. If you decide to supplement with dandelion, make sure to look for a reputable brand with minimal added ingredients and fillers.
How to Use Dandelion
You can use both the leaves and root of the dandelion in a wide array of recipes, from sauces to soups and beyond. Dandelion is good for sautéing and steaming as well as mixing into casseroles, corn breads or quiches. It can also be used raw in place of other greens to add a bitter, earthy flavor to salads. Meanwhile, dandelion root can be either steeped in water to make herbal dandelion root tea or even roasted and used as a substitute for coffee.