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Dandelion

Botanical name: Taraxacum officinale

Photo

© Steven Foster

Parts used and where grown

Closely related to chicory, dandelion is a common plant worldwide and the bane of those looking for the perfect lawn. The plant grows to a height of about 12 inches, producing spatula-like leaves and yellow flowers that bloom year-round. Upon maturation, the flower turns into the characteristic puffball containing seeds that are dispersed in the wind. Dandelion is grown commercially in the United States and Europe. The leaves and root are used in herbal supplements.

Dandelion has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
1Star

Constipation (root)

Edema (water retention) (leaves)

Indigestion and heartburn (leaves and root)

Liver support (root)

Pregnancy and postpartum support (leaves and root)

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)

Dandelion is commonly used as a food. The leaves are used in salads and teas, while the roots are sometimes used as a coffee substitute. Dandelion leaves and roots have been used for hundreds of years to treat liver, gallbladder, kidney, and joint problems. In some traditions, dandelion is considered a blood purifier and is used for conditions as varied as eczema and cancer. As is the case today, dandelion leaves have also been used historically to treat water retention.

Active constituents

The primary constituents responsible for dandelion’s action on the digestive system and liver are the bitter principles. Previously referred to as taraxacin, these constituents are sesquiterpene lactones of the eudesmanolide and germacranolide type, and are unique to dandelion.1 Dandelion is also a rich source of vitamins and minerals. The leaves have a high content of vitamin A as well as moderate amounts of vitamin D, vitamin C, various B vitamins, iron, silicon, magnesium, zinc, and manganese.2

An animal study found that at high amounts (2 grams per 2.2 pounds [1 kg] of body weight), the leaves possess diuretic effects comparable to the prescription diuretic furosemide (Lasix®).3 However, to date, these results have not been demonstrated in human clinical trials. Since edema, or water retention, may be a sign of a more serious disease, people should seek the guidance of a physician before using dandelion leaves for either of these conditions.

The bitter compounds in the leaves and root help stimulate digestion and are mild laxatives.4 These bitter principles also increase bile production in the gallbladder and bile flow from the liver.5 For this reason dandelion is recommended by some herbalists for people with sluggish liver function due to alcohol abuse or poor diet. The increase in bile flow may help improve fat (including cholesterol) metabolism in the body.

How much is usually taken?

As a general liver/gallbladder tonic and to stimulate digestion, 1/2–1 teaspoon (3–5 grams) of the dried root or 1–2 teaspoons (5–10 ml) of a tincture made from the root can be used three times per day.6 Some experts recommend the alcohol-based tincture because the bitter principles are more soluble in alcohol.7

As a mild diuretic or appetite stimulant, 1–2 teaspoons (4–10 grams) of dried leaves can be added to a 1 cup (250 ml) of boiling water and drunk as a decoction.8 Or, 1–2 teaspoons (5–10 ml) of fresh juice or 1/2–1 teaspoon (2–5 ml) of tincture made from the leaves can be used three times per day. Fresh dandelion leaves can be eaten as part of a salad.

Are there any side effects or interactions?

Dandelion leaf and root should not be used by people with gallstones without the supervision of a healthcare practitioner.9 People with an obstruction of the bile ducts should not take dandelion. In cases of stomach ulcer or gastritis, dandelion should be used cautiously, as it may cause overproduction of stomach acid. Those experiencing fluid or water retention should consult a doctor before taking dandelion leaves. The milky latex in the stem and leaves of fresh dandelion may cause an allergic rash in some people.

Dandelion root contains approximately 40% inulin,10 a fiber widely distributed in fruits, vegetables and plants. Inulin is classified as a food ingredient (not as an additive) and is considered to be safe to eat.11 In fact, inulin is a significant part of the daily diet of most of the world’s population.12 However, there is a report of a 39-year old man having a life-threatening allergic reaction after consuming high amounts of inulin from multiple sources.13 Allergy to inulin in this individual was confirmed by laboratory tests. Such sensitivities are exceedingly rare. Moreover, this man did not take dandelion. Nevertheless, people with a confirmed sensitivity to inulin should avoid dandelion.

Are there any drug interactions?
Certain medicines may interact with dandelion. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.

References:

1. Wichtl M. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1994, 486–9.

2. Bradley PR (ed). British Herbal Compendium, Vol 1. Bournemouth, Dorset, UK: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1992, 73–5.

3. Racz-Kotilla E, Racz G, Solomon A. The action of Taraxacum officinale extracts on body weight and diuresis of laboratory animals. Planta Med 1974:26:212–7.

4. Kuusi T, Pyylaso H, Autio K. The bitterness properties of dandelion. II. Chemical investigations. Lebensm-Wiss Technol 1985;18:347–9.

5. Böhm K. Choleretic action of some medicinal plants. Arzneimittelforschung 1959;9:376–8.

6. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 119–20.

7. Foster S. Herbs for Your Health. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1996, 26–7.

8. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 118–9.

9. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 118–20.

10. Duke JA. Handbook of Phytochemical Constituents of GRAS Herbs and Other Economic Plants. Boca Raton, FL; CRC Press, 1992.

11. Carabin IG, Flamm WG. Evaluation of safety of inulin and oligofructose as dietary fiber. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 1999;30:268–82 [review].

12. Coussement PA. Inulin and oligofructose: safe intakes and legal status. J Nutr 1999;129:1412S–7S [review].

13. Gay-Crosier F, Schreiber G, Hauser C. Anaphylaxis from inulin in vegetables and processed food. N Engl J Med 2000;342:1372 [letter].

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