While many people think of the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a pesky weed, it is chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals, such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion leaves are used to add flavor to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots are used in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make wines.
In the past, dandelion roots and leaves were used to treat liver problems. Native Americans also boiled dandelion in water and took it to treat kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn, and upset stomach. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), dandelion has been used to treat stomach problems, appendicitis, and breast problems, such as inflammation or lack of milk flow. In Europe, dandelion was used in remedies for fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, and diarrhea.
So far, there have not been any quality scientific studies on dandelion. Today, the roots are mainly used to stimulate the appetite, and for liver and gallbladder problems. Dandelion leaves are used as a diuretic to help the body get rid of too much fluid.
Hundreds of species of dandelion grow in the temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. Dandelion is a hardy perennial that can grow to a height of nearly 12 inches. The plants have deeply-notched, toothy, spatula-like leaves that are shiny and hairless. Dandelion stems are capped by bright yellow flowers. The grooved leaves funnel rain to the root.
Dandelion flowers open with the sun in the morning and close in the evening or during gloomy weather. The dark brown roots are fleshy and brittle and are filled with a white milky substance that is bitter and slightly smelly.
Dandelion leaves act as a diuretic, increasing the amount of urine your body makes. The leaves are used to stimulate the appetite and help digestion. Dandelion flower has antioxidant properties. Dandelion may also help improve the immune system.
Herbalists use dandelion root to detoxify the liver and gallbladder, and dandelion leaves to help kidney function.
Medicinal Uses and Indications
Most scientific studies of dandelion have been in animals, not people. Traditionally, dandelion has been used as a diuretic, to increase the amount of urine and eliminate fluid in your body. It has been used for many conditions where a diuretic might help, such as liver problems and high blood pressure. However, there is no good research on using dandelion as a diuretic in people.
Fresh or dried dandelion herb is also used as a mild appetite stimulant, and to improve upset stomach. The root of the dandelion plant may act as a mild laxative and has been used to improve digestion. Preliminary research suggests that dandelion may help improve liver and gallbladder function. But this study was not well designed.
Preliminary animal studies suggest that dandelion may help normalize blood sugar levels and lower total cholesterol and triglycerides while raising HDL (good) cholesterol in diabetic mice. But not all the animal studies have found a positive effect on blood sugar. Researchers need to see if dandelion will work in people.
A few animal studies also suggest that dandelion might help fight inflammation.
You can find dandelion herbs and roots fresh or dried in a variety of forms, including tinctures, liquid extract, teas, tablets, and capsules. Dandelion can be found alone or combined with other dietary supplements.
How to Take it
Ask your doctor before giving dandelion supplements to a child so the doctor can determine the dose.
Ask your doctor to help determine the right dose for you.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. However, herbs can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs under the supervision of a health care provider.
Dandelion is generally considered safe. Some people may have an allergic reaction from touching dandelion. Others may get mouth sores.
If you are allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigold, chamomile, yarrow, daisies, or iodine, you should avoid dandelion.
In some people, dandelion can cause increased stomach acid and heartburn. It may also irritate the skin.
People with kidney problems, gallbladder problems, or gallstones should consult their doctors before eating dandelion.
Dandelion leaf may act as a diuretic, which can make drugs leave your body faster. It also interacts with a number of medications that are broken down by the liver. If you are taking prescription medications, ask your doctor before taking dandelion leaf. Medications that may interact with dandelion include:
Antacids: Dandelion may increase the amount of stomach acid, so antacids may not work as well.
Blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants and antiplatelets): It is possible that dandelion may increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you already take blood thinners such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), or clopidogrel (Plavix).
Diuretics (water pills): Dandelion may act as a diuretic, causing your body to produce more urine to get rid of excess fluid. If you also take prescription diuretics, or other herbs that act as diuretics, you could be at risk of electrolyte imbalances.
Lithium: Lithium is used to treat bipolar disorder. Animal studies suggest that dandelion may worsen the side effects of lithium.
Ciproflaxin (Cipro): One species of dandelion, Taraxacum mongolicum, also called Chinese dandelion, may lower the amount of the antibiotic ciproflaxin that your body absorbs. Researchers do not know whether the common dandelion would do the same thing.
Medications for diabetes: Theoretically, dandelion may lower blood sugar levels. If you take medications for diabetes, taking dandelion may increase the risk of low blood sugar.
Medications broken down by the liver: Dandelion can interact with a number of medications. To be safe, ask your doctor before taking dandelion if you take any medication.
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Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.