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Heather Jacobsen  

Benefits of Dandelion

All hail the ubiquitous dandelion. Once prized as much as roses,1 they’ve now been reduced to the ranks of lowly weeds, especially where chemical lawns now reign supreme. But why? Dandelions are so full of vitamins and minerals, and have powerful therapeutic actions, they should instead be considered a super food. Indeed, one of the reasons you find them everywhere—and I mean everywhere, including the North Pole (ok, except for the Sahara, the Amazon and the Antarctic)—is because the benefits of dandelion have been recognized by culture after culture for millennia, often traveling with humans on their way to conquering new lands.

With over 2500 species, mainly endemic to Eurasia, Taraxacum officinale and its subspecies are members of the Asteraceae, whose relatives also include chrysanthemums, marigolds, coneflowers, daisies, and many more. Taraxos is Greek for “disorder,” and Akos for “remedy,” signifying it as remedy for many diseases. And officinale is medieval Latin for the “name often given to plants that were of use to man; it refers to being “of the office” or “of the apothecary.”1 And sure enough, it’s been among the official pharmacopoeia of many countries, up until the mid-1900’s. It’s also been approved by the European Commission E as a medicinal product, whose therapeutic actions are still being assessed.

Worldwide distribution of Dandelion
Worldwide distribution of Taraxacum spp. source: Discover Life

Dandelion seeds were purposely brought to North America by colonial settlers in the seventeenth century, who recognized their importance as both a food and a medicine.2 1 Then, when dandelions colonized the continent faster than their human counterparts, becoming naturalized, Native Americans quickly recognized their medicinal properties, too, and adopted them into their own pharmacopeias. But its use goes back much longer than that.

Some say Arab physicians in the 11th century were the first to describe the use of dandelion leaves as a digestive aid, and cleansing agent. Others say it was the Chinese, more than six hundred years BC, who described it for its anti-inflammatory, overall-health promoting properties. Greeks and Romans used a dandelion-like plant medicinally, but before the use of the current Latin nomenclature to correctly identify species, so it’s not possible to say conclusively that it was the same plant. And remains of Neanderthal man have been found amongst piles of flowers—some known not for their beauty, but for their medicinal properties—leading one to surmise that humans have understood the therapeutic benefits of plants for tens of thousands of years, dandelion among them.1

(The use of dandelion root, which has some properties that are even more powerful than the leaves, has a shorter history of use).3

Benefits of Dandelion

Today, dandelion continues to be used in traditional folk medicine for everything from stomach, liver and kidney disorders, to inflammation, irregular menstruation and menstrual pain.4 Meanwhile, scientists are using its extracts for a variety of chronic diseases, corroborating its therapeutic importance.

This is in part due to dandelion’s high concentration of vitamins and minerals. The leaves are one of the richest sources of Vitamin A (beta carotene), more than oranges and the “same as carrots,” Wringo et al.5 say. They also contain Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), as well as the B vitamins thiamine (B1) and riboflavin (B2), and even D.3 In addition, they have more calcium than spinach and the same amount of iron, as well as sodium, potassium, copper, phosphorus, zinc, and an important mineral for endometriosis, magnesium. This explains “why the lowly dandelion was so highly regarded as a tonic and general remedy by frontiersmen and early settlers long before the days of vitamin pills.”6

Dandelion’s constituents also have a wide range of therapeutic actions. The leaves, like other members of the Asteraceae, contain sesquiterpene lactones, which are known to contain anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and fungicidal properties (among others). Meanwhile, the roots are potent anti-oxidants, have been shown to combat cancer, and are also beneficial in diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. The roots also have anti-inflammatory properties, as well as anti-histaminic, rheumatic and choleretic properties, plus “anti-microbial activity against Staphylococcus Aureus.”5

Dandelion’s healing properties are thought to be due primarily to their terpenes such as taraxasterol, and taraxerol, their phenolic acids, such as chlorogenic, chicoric and caffeic acids, and the storage carbohydrate inulin. But there are many more phytochemicals in the plant—about 100—most of which are still being studied.7 8

Even the milk of dandelion has been known to erase skin blemishes as well as alleviate blisters and insect stings.9 “The milk of dandelion leaves can be used to remove warts, corns or moles. Put the milk on the wart every day for several weeks, and the wart will disappear,” says herbalist A.L. Tommie Bass.2

Dandelion has been used to treat a wide array and, frankly, astounding amount of ailments. Below are just a sampling of how it’s been used, as well as where research is still ongoing.7 8 3 10 11 12 13 2 9 14 15 16. 17 18 4 19 20 21 22

Conditions Treated by Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

arthritic/rheumatic conditions, osteoarthritishepatitis
Alzheimer’s diseaseirregular menstruation
anorexiainsect bites, blisters, wounds
blood cancer/leukemialiver, gallbladder, and kidney disorders
breast cancerliver cancer
breast and intestinal abscessesmalaria
cardiovascular diseasemale infertility
colorectal cancermenstrual pain
diabetesovarian issues
dyspepsiapancreatic cancer
eczema, psoriasis, acneParkinson’s disease
eye inflammationPMS
gastritis, enteritisstomach and spleen issues
gouturinary infections
heartburn and indigestionwarts, corns, moles

Benefits of Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

alterativeblood pressure reducer
anti-depressant/stress modifiercarbohydrate metabolizer
anti-diabeticcholesterol reducer
anti-inflammatorydigestive aid
anti-oxidantdiuretic
anti-tumor/anti-cancerhypo-glycemic
antiviral/anti-microbialimmune system regulator
appetite stimulantlactation promoter
astringentlaxative (gentle)
blood cleanserliver cleanser/protector
blood glucose regulatorpain reliever

Benefits of Dandelion for Endometriosis

If you aren’t already impressed by dandelion’s healing powers, then let me explain how it can benefit women with endometriosis and/or adenomyosis. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any studies on the effects of dandelion, specific to endometriosis. But that doesn’t negate its long history of use in women’s issues, including supporting the uterus, and aiding menstrual irregularities, ovarian issues, and pain and bloating associated with PMS.9 8 4 23 24 It wouldn’t still be used today, if it weren’t an effective folk remedy. Still, given what we do know about dandelion’s actions, well-documented in PubMed, we can find direct correlations to its benefits for women with endometriosis, too.

Hormone Regulation

Endometriosis often arises due to “estrogen dominance”, meaning too much estrogen in relation to progesterone. So the key to healing endometriosis is to get your hormones back in balance.

Dandelion is considered an alterative herb, which means it works to “gradually restore the proper function of the body and increase health and vitality.” It does this mainly by restoring balance to the digestive and immune system, but its effect is holistic, and includes the ability to rebalance your hormones, too—without the need to use hormones themselves.

Wang et al.25 showed that both estrogen and progesterone levels increased with dandelion, suggesting that dandelion “may promote… hormone synthesis… thereby improving ovarian endocrine function.” Another study concurs, showing that dandelion up-regulates both estrogen and progesterone, (as well as follicle stimulating hormone), again, “suggesting the potential application of [dandelion] for the clinical treatment of reproductive hormone-related disturbances.”26

If you are worried about dandelion increasing estrogen, remember that it does it in conjunction with progesterone, so estrogen shouldn’t be dominant. And, as you will soon see, dandelion is also adept at getting rid of any excess estrogen, anyway.

Detoxification

Dandelion’s ability to rebalance hormones may be in part due to its detoxification properties. This was the number one reason I started drinking the tea of its roots, after I received my adenomyosis diagnosis.

Both the leaves and the root are hepatoprotective and make excellent liver tonics, but the root is “even more powerful than the leaves at cleaning the liver.”6 This is especially important for women with endometriosis, because estrogen has to be broken down before it can be flushed out of the liver. And dandelion is purported to be quite adept at breaking down estrogen. While there so far isn’t any research to prove this, dandelion’s detoxification abilities are well-documented, and one can easily surmise that what herbalists and naturopaths have been saying for ages, is true.

Diuretic

Once that estrogen is metabolized by the liver, it still needs to be flushed out of the system. One way is through the kidneys, where, once again, dandelion can help. Dandelion is “one of the most potent diuretics,” says ethnobotanist, Jim Meuninck. It shows “performance equal to prescription Furosemide in animal studies.”8 But whereas most diuretics cause a loss of potassium, “which plays a critical role in many body functions,” dandelion is rich in potassium,27 actually causing a “net gain” of the mineral.3

At the same time that you’re flushing estrogen and other toxins from your body, you’re also alleviating the bloating and water retention often associated with menstrual difficulties. Just watch out, you might find yourself taking frequent trips to the bathroom!28

Image by 0fjd125gk87 from Pixabay

Digestive Aid and Gut Health

Hippocrates said, “all disease begins in the gut.” And there is so much truth in that statement. (Read more about the connection between the health of your gut and chronic illnesses, here.)

Being a bitter herb, dandelion stimulates all the factors that go into optimal digestion, from saliva production to enzyme secretion, which is the first step in ensuring the health of your gut microbiome (You can read more about digestive bitters here.)

The inulin in dandelion root is a soluble-fiber prebiotic that stimulates the growth of beneficial gut flora, among them, lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.29 Inulin also helps eliminate pathogens in the GI tract, which may be important for women with Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO), a common comorbidity with endometriosis. It also improves absorption of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, and is a low-glycemic carbohydrate that provides energy without raising blood sugar.

Dandelion increases bile production,30 aiding in the digestion of fats, and both its leaves and roots can “enhance carbohydrate metabolism,”7 which, again is important for women with SIBO. It might also help women with FODMAPs intolerance, another comorbidity with endometriosis. However, inulin contains fructans, so perhaps low FODMAPs women should stick to just the leaves. (On the other hand, I’m low FODMAPs, and didn’t seem to have a problem with the roots. Maybe because there isn’t a large enough quantity of it in a couple of cups of tea?).

Finally being a gentle laxative, it can now move that broken down estrogen (and other unwanted particles) out of the body through the intestines, too.

Anti-inflammatory and Immune Boosting

One of the reasons dandelion is so effective in aiding so many diseases is because of its powerful anti-inflammatory effects, found in both the leaves and the roots.7 This is extremely important for endometriosis, which is a disease of inflammation. Reduce your inflammation, and you will reduce your debilitating endometriosis symptoms.

Both the zinc and the inulin found in dandelion stimulate the immune system5, and there may be other constituents involved as well. Either way, dandelion is a superb “anti-inflammatory therapy with fewer side effects”20 than conventional therapies.

Dandelion is also shown to have antimicrobial and antiviral properties,30 important when an imbalanced immune system caused by endometriosis can make you more susceptible to other diseases.

Antioxidant

The pedals, leaves and roots of dandelion also have antioxidant effects powerful enough to be “beneficial in diseases associated with oxidative stress,” including cancer and those marked by inflammation.31

Again, this is particularly important for women with endometriosis, which should be considered an autoimmune disease, because both endo and autoimmunity have been associated with oxidative stress.32 33 Incidentally, autoimmune thyroid diseases, which are often comorbid with endometriosis, too, are also linked to oxidative stress.34

Pain-Relieving 

It has been documented that dandelion is also anti-nociceptive, meaning it can alleviate pain.20 This might be more than just an effect of reduced inflammation, because the luteolin in dandelion has been shown to suppress prostaglandins,35 which are hormones said to be involved, not only in inflammation, but also “pain levels.” And while luteolin decreased inflammation in mice, it also served as a muscle relaxant and pain reliever at the same time. 36

Dandelion also contains the amino acid, glycine,37, which, according to Dr. Axe, “is known for having calming qualities.”

How to Consume Dandelion

Photo Credit: Ulyana Khorunzha/Shutterstock

Scientists are working hard to isolate the components of dandelion that are the most therapeutic to create “novel” drugs from the plant. But with 100 healing properties and more than one working on your system at a time, why not just go straight to the source and consume dandelion itself, complete with all its parts?

Everything from the flower to the leaves, to the dandelion’s root are edible. The flowers make a nice addition to a spring salad, as do the leaves (early in the season). Mix with thyme and fennel to balance the bitterness. Or leaves can be sautéed with garlic, or “olive oil, bacon and lemon juice,” says Jim Meuninck.8 Leaves later in the season are more bitter, but he says they can still make a nice addition to a stir fry in “oyster oil, with cayenne, garlic and beef strips.” The leaves can also be made into teas or juices, and Susun Weed9 even has a recipe for dandelion wine.

The roots can be boiled in salted water6, or roasted and eaten as is, or grated for use as a tea. This is how I consumed dandelion. I was too lazy to dig the roots out of the ground myself (maybe I will start once my kids are off to college), and relied on Traditional Medicinals organic dandelion root tea, instead. Dandelion tea is a suitable substitute for women trying to avoid caffeine (due to its effect on cortisol), and now you know it has so many benefits as well.

Check out these great dandelion recipes: https://www.almanac.com/content/dandelion-recipes-wonderful-edible-weed. (If anyone has a paleo version of those fried dandelion blossoms, please post a link in the comments below!)

How Much Dandelion to Consume

Studies have shown no toxicity to dandelion, although, as with anything, an allergic reaction to it is always possible,5 especially if you are allergic to other Asteraceae. On the other hand, “dandelion contains the sesquiterpene desacetylmatricarin, which has antiallergic properties.”30

Also, inulin is a FODMAP, as I mentioned earlier. Given its other digestive benefits and its alterative effects, the malabsorption issues caused by inulin in other FODMAPs foods my be counteracted. But since dandelion has not been tested by Monash University, do take note of how much you consume per day if you’re FODMAPs sensitive.

Wirngo et al.5 state that “renowned physicians, the European commission, and the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia recommended the following range of doses for dandelion”:

Fresh leaves 4-10 g dailyDried leaves 4-10 g daily
2-5 ml of leaf tincture, three times a dayFresh leaf juice, 1 teaspoon twice daily
Fluid extract 1-2 teaspoon dailyFresh roots 2-8 g daily
Dried powder extract 250-1000 mg four times a day 

I currently drink a cup of dandelion root tea a day, but when I first had adeno, I drank 2 cups a day. Any more than that and its laxative effects took over. 😬 Drink to your tolerance.

I swear by dandelion tea. It, and magnesium were the only two supplements I needed to overcome adenomyosis. (Of course, I ate an anti-inflammatory diet, as well, and worked hard at alleviating all my stress). I hope you will join me in a morning pick-me-up, or afternoon refreshment—its great over ice! And the next time you see a dandelion seed head, please blow it into the wind, thank it for all its medicinal properties, and think twice about spraying your lawn with chemicals.

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References
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