I really hate the word weed. Who decides which plants are desirable and which plants are weeds? For example, the humble Dandelion. That resilient little flower that pops up in the cracked concrete of a parking lot just as easily as it pops up on suburban lawns. I’ve always been taught the dandelion is a weed and should be ripped up and trashed. Which is crazy! The Dandelion is full of health benefits, and it deserves a place in any good herbalist’s garden.
The majority of the research below is from The Herbal Academy.
Botanical Name: Taraxacum officinale
Common Name: Dandelion, Blowball, Cankerwort, Irish daisy, Monk’s head, Priest’s crown, Swine snout, Wild endive, Witch Gowan, and Yellow Gowan
TCM name: Pu gong ying
Ayurvedic name: Simhadanti
Parts Used: Entire Plant
Constituents: Vitamins A and B. Leaf: calcium, potassium, iron, carotenoids, coumarins. Root: potassium, calcium, phenolic acids, taraxocoside, inulin.
Native to: Eurasia
Geographic Region: North America, South America, Europe, India, New Zealand, southern Africa, Australia
Description: Yellow flowers comprised of a collection of individual ray florets. Each ray floret has a notched petal at the tip, and the ray itself becomes a nectar filled tube at the ovary (4) Within the florets are fine white fibers called pappus that lead to the ovules and will eventually become the fluffy white ball of kites that carry the seeds on the wind, and are traditionally wished upon.
The leaves and hollow flower stems grow from a basal rosette. The smooth dark green leaves are deeply toothed at their edges, the tips of the jagged teeth pointing back towards the center of the rosette. The French name for dandelion is “dent de lion” or “tooth of the lion” (1).
The roots, which are brown on the outside with a white interior (and the stems) contain a type of latex. This latex contains a bitter sesquiterpene lactone that protects the plant from predators, thus protecting the nutrients stored in the roots (8).
*Dandelion has been mistaken for, and mistakenly used instead of: cat’s ear (Hypochoeris radicata), hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella), young wild lettuce (Lactuca spp.), and sow thistle (Sonchus spp.) (10,12,2). Dandelion can be differentiated from these other plants by the fact that it only has one flower per stem, no branching stems, and has smooth hollow stem that contains milky latex.
Harvest: Roots are harvested in spring and fall, with spring roots more bitter and fall roots sweeter due to the storage of nutrients throughout the growing season. Fall roots also contain more of a soluble fiber that feeds beneficial gut bacteria called polysaccharide inulin, (6).
Leaves can be harvested throughout the growing cycle, although spring leaves and newly unfurled leaves are not as bitter than mid-summer and Fall leaves (16).
Sustainability: Dandelion is a perennial in the aster family (Asteraceae) that grows in fields and meadows, along roadsides and sidewalks, and in lawns and gardens throughout the world. No known issues with sustainability.
Uses: Therapeutic & Edible-
Liver: Herbal support for the liver as a digestive bitter and alterative. David Hoffmann (3) calls dandelion “a most valuable general tonic and perhaps the best widely applicable diuretic and liver tonic” while Matthew Wood calls dandelion a “spring tonic” and “blood purifier” (14). On an energetic level dandelion is cooling and is indicated for hot, congested conditions lodged in deep tissues (14).
The mildly bitter taste of the leaves signals bitter taste receptors on the tongue and throughout the digestive tract (5). In nature, the bitter taste is often associated with plant chemicals that are toxic to insect and mammal predators, so humans have evolved to detect these bitter tastes, which then stimulate the digestive and eliminatory processes needed to remove them from the body (5). Edible bitters stimulate saliva production, digestive enzymes, and bile. Europeans have traditionally eaten dandelion greens in the spring (14) to “cleanse” the digestive system after a long winter of heavy foods.
Dandelion root is used for its alterative action to cool inflammation, thin fluids, and cleanse the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas (14). Dandelion is both choleretic, increasing bile production in the liver, and cholagogue, causing the gallbladder to release bile (14) into the small intestine and aid in the digestion of fats. Due to its gentle improvement of bile flow, dandelion acts as a mild laxative (11). As herbalist David Hoffmann (3) writes, “as a hepatic and cholagogue, dandelion has an affinity for the liver, stimulates the gallbladder, and is helpful for relieving inflammation and congestion of both organs.”
Herbalist Kiva Rose describes alterative herbs as those that “restore function to the body by way of the metabolism, through increasing both eliminative functions and also through increasing the absorption of nutrients” (9). In its role as an alterative, dandelion supports the liver in removing metabolic wastes and hormones from the blood and encourages elimination, thus helping to clear eruptive skin conditions such as acne and eczema and supporting hormone balance.
Kidneys: Dandelion leaf stimulates the kidneys, increasing diuresis and encouraging proper elimination of uric acid, thus clearing out metabolic wastes. This is helpful in the case of water retention, gout, arthritis, and rheumatism, for example. Dandelion’s high potassium and other mineral content offsets the resultant potassium and mineral loss through the urine (3, 16).
Stomach: Fall-harvested dandelion root is excellent nourishment for the body’s beneficial gut microorganisms. Known as a prebiotic, inulin is an indigestible carbohydrate that feeds gut bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, optimizing digestive function and crowding out other harmful bacteria (6). Inulin may also help stabilize blood sugar levels (6). This prebiotic herbal electuary made with fall-harvested dandelion root is a nice way to introduce more inulin into the diet.
Skin: Contains protein, magnesium, and calcium which are vital to the production of healthy skin. Also contains Vitamins A & B which are powerful antioxidants that help protect the skin from UV damage and free radicals. Antioxidants also help to plump the skin, minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Fiber helps to reduce inflammation, as proteins are helping to make skin stronger which results in more resilient cells and all-over healthier skin. This naturally translates to bright, vibrant, smooth skin (16).
As a natural anti-inflammatory, dandelion is also beneficial to sensitive skin and skin that is plagued by chronic conditions such as eczema and rosacea. Dandelion contains linoleic acid, which helps skin maintain moisture and rebuild collagen structures when applied topically (16).
Edible: All parts of the dandelion are edible and nutritious.
Actions: Diuretic, Cholagogue, Bitter Tonic, Hepatic, Alterative, Aperient
Taste: Bitter, Slightly sweet, Slightly salty – leaf
Energy: Cooling, Pungent, Drying
Adult Dosage: Root tincture: 2-5 mL 3x/day (1:5 in 60%). Root decoction: 2-3 teaspoons simmered in water for 10-15 minutes 3x/day Leaf tincture: 5-10 mL 3x/day (1:5 in 50%). Leaf infusion: 1-2 teaspoons dried leaf infused in 1 cup hot water for 15 minutes, 3x/day. Fresh leaves can also be eaten steamed or raw. Dosage information from Medical Herbalism by David Hoffmann (3).
- Blair, K. (2014). The wild wisdom of weeds. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.
- Edible Wild Food. (n.d.). Sow thistle. Retrieved from http://www.ediblewildfood.com/sow-thistle.aspx
- Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
- Johnston, B. (2010). A close-up view of the wildflower “Dandelion” (Taraxacum officinale). Retrieved from http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/indexmag.html?http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artjun10/bj-dandelion.html
- Masé, G. (2013). The wild medicine solution. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
- Murray, M. & Pizzorno, J. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods. New York, NY: Atria Books.
- Pedersen, M. (2010). Nutritional herbology: A reference guide to herbs. Warsaw, IN: Whitman Publications.
- Phys.org. (2016). The dandelion uses latex to protect its roots against insect feeding.Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2016-01-dandelion-latex-roots-insect.html
- Rose, K. (2008). Terms of the trade 2: Alteratives. Retrieved from http://bearmedicineherbals.com/terms-of-the-trade-2-alterative.html
- Tilford, G.L. (1997). Edible and medicinal plants of the West. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company.
- Tillotson, A.K. (2001). The one earth herbal sourcebook. New York, NY: Kensington Publishing Group.
- Virginia Tech. (1997). Virginia Tech weed identification guide: Common catsear or false dandelion. Retrieved from https://oak.ppws.vt.edu/~flessner/weedguide/hryra.htm
- Weed, S. (1989). Healing wise. Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree Publishing.
- Wood, M. (2008). The earthwise herbal: A complete guide to old world medicinal plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
- Retrieved from: http://www.ediblewildfood.com/dandelion.aspx
- Retrieved from: https://herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/monographs/#/monograph/1009