The numerous properties of dandelion and the precautions that must be taken when using it
The vegetable species Taraxacum officinale corresponds to the common name of wild chicory. However, it is commonly known as dandelion. It is a species that belongs to the family of the asteraceae or composite. The reason why it has a privileged position on this website is because it is one of the plants with most benefits in the field of natural therapeutic remedies.
If we had to summarize the endless list of advantages that surround dandelion, we would synthesize it in two aspects:
- Its ubiquity, since it can be found everywhere.
- Its administration for an enormous range of health problems.
A little bit of botanical knowledge about Dandelion, How can we find it?
Taraxacum officinale, which has usually been considered a weed, is a herbaceous plant (which means that it has a flexible stem, even though it is a false stem), of annual cycle, and which has a reduced size.
It is common to see it grow spontaneously in wet soils, merging with the conventional landscape of urban gardens, infertile lands, ditches, and highways, sometimes even in the cracks of stone buildings.
Its most renowned name is kind of peculiar, dens leonis or lion’s teeth; it seems to come from the shape of its leaves, that are similar to sharp teeth. But in reality, its aspect varies a lot according to the location and climate.
Its showy flowers grow in the most distal parts of these false stems which are provided with leaves that are alternately disposed without petiole. They are characterized by their yellow color and their hermaphrodite nature and, as all the members of this botanical family, they close at night and during rainy days. Their corolla, which is the most chromatic part of the flowers, is made of five linked petals. They maintain a closing and opening cycle that ends with a definitive closing which signals the onset of their transformation into the fruit (called cypsela), whose anatomy allows it to be ready to drop seeds by the action of the wind. This results in its spread and in the growth of new plants. There are those who describe this fruit as a nut of a winged aspect, covered by little hairs of a silken texture that facilitate this spread by the wind.
Apart from this aeromechanic propagation, it seems that the plant contemplates the possibility that some worms species will spread dandelion seeds through their digestive apparatus.
In order to take advantage of the excellent benefits and medicinal properties of dandelion, late spring is probably the best moment to harvest the soft leaves in order to eat them raw (this topic will be developed in detail in later chapters).
On the other hand, summer is an appropriate time to finish harvesting the rest of the leaves that will have to be dried through natural evaporation while being protected from sunlight. It is important to point out that their later conservation requires a bag with a hermetic seal that will prevent its contamination with dust.
When it comes to the roots, they can be harvested in two specific times of the year according to the aim that wants to be achieved:
- With the increase of flowering, generally between May and June; this is due to the fact that it is the time when it is most abundant in latex.
- In autumn, if what you are looking for is its richness in the polysaccharide inulin, since the harvested root contains a 40% compared to its 12% in spring. Inulin possesses natural benefits and properties for health.
The origins of Dandelion, how and when was it discovered?
The protohistory of this plant has to be found in the territory of today’s Greece, which is spontaneously distributed through the northern hemisphere.
The discovery of two of the most renowned properties of this plant, the choleretic (stimulates the production of bile) and the diuretic ones, are attributed to Arabian doctors of the 5th century (according to the writings of the multifaceted wise man, Avicena)
We would have to travel back in time six hundred years in order to witness the discovery of dandelion as a multi-use remedy. The doctor and botanist Leonart Duch started prescribing it among its patients as a cholagogue (stimulates the release of bile in order to facilitate the digestion of fat), astrigent, stomach analgesic, and a menstrual cycle regulator. Due to unknown circumstances, this doctor created the measure of a lion’s tooth as a therapeutic dose of this plant, the expression “to take a lion’s tooth” soon spread among the population.
Traditional medicine soon started to acknowledge the benefits of this natural remedy. Not in vain, during several centuries it has been included in the catalog of preventive remedies of diseases, fundamentally as a hepatic protector, an organic purifier due to its high diuretic effect, and a blocker of warts due to the action of its sap.
During the 1940s, Dr Henri Leclerc pointed out to the progress achieved due to the use of dandelion infusions in order to control some dermatological problems such as eczema, skin rash, and dermatitis. These effects were more evident in those patients who were apparently suffering only skin problems, but who also had a certain degree of hepatic deficiency. As it was soon discovered, this was due to the close bond between the integrity of the skin and the functioning of the liver.
What chemical compounds of this plant make it so special and its benefits for health
Before developing the benefits that entail to supply our organism with the power of Taraxacum officinale, we would like to give a brief introduction about the kind of substances, both organic and inorganic, that are in charge of special tasks in the maintenance and repair of tissues and organs.
The underground organs of this plant have:
- A great amount of polysaccharides that belong to the group of the glucans and mannans, but specially inulin, which is a very interesting component that has the condition of probiotic oligosaccharide (stimulates the growth of intestinal bacteria that are beneficial for health) and of soluble fiber.
- Choline, a substance that is commonly included in the group B vitamins that develops an intense protection task of the liver, which helps with its detoxification of all waste substances.
- Triterpenes (organic compounds bound to isoprene, a short chain hydrocarbon) derived from latex among with taraxasterol, taraxerol, atarxol, beta-amyrin, stigmasterol, and beta-sitosterol stand out.
- Residual components like caffeic acid, resins, pectin, and mucilages.
When it comes to the green parts, their richness in flavonoids is remarkable (lutein and zeaxanthin), coumarins (such as cichorine and aesculin), carotenoids (whose abundance rivals the one of carrots), vitamins A,C, and D, thiamin, and nicotinic acid (which belong to the vitamin B complex) and minerals, with a higher amount of potassium (5%), but which also contain significant amounts of iron, phosphorus, copper, and magnesium.
Finally, both the roots and the leaves share two compounds that give them a bitter flavor, which are called taraxicin and taraxacerin. They supply this plant with a feature that has nothing to do with its medicinal properties but which has a nutritional interest: its ability to stimulate appetite and to improve digestions.
Properties of Dandelion: Medicinal benefits
We will list the numerous properties of dandelion for health
Without any doubt, when combined, medicinal plants represent an excellent alternative when we consider natural treatments and remedies to combat diseases, since their side effects are minimal and they are ideal for those who reject the use of synthetic substances due to allergies or fear to an overload due to possible sources of toxicity.
In order to focus objectively on the wide range of biological functions with great benefits associated to dandelion, we will quote official institutions of the pharmacology field, which are a valid source of classification of this plant:
- European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP): recommends the dandelion root to normalize the hepatic function and the production of acids and bile salts, as a stimulating agent of the renal function, and to avoid dyspepsias or bad digestions.
- The Spanish Medicines and Sanitary Products Agency (AEMPS) and its European equivalent the European Medicines Agency: both catalog dandelion as a “traditional medicine for the treatment of mild digestive disorders, such as the feeling of abdominal fullness, flatulence, and slow digestion” and to “increase the amount of urine and to clean the urinary conducts and the kidneys”.
However, if there is an organ that benefits from the therapeutic use of dandelion, it is the liver. This is due to the fact that it helps to eliminate toxins that circulate in the bloodstream which exert a strong metabolic pressure on this viscera, and to make more fluid the transit the transit through bile conducts. This is the reason why its consumption is highly recommended for those who need to stimulate their liver because they suffer from the sluggish liver syndrome, as well as for those who suffer from what is called fatty liver (abnormal accumulation of fat in the liver parenchyma).
It improves the health of the eyes: how? There is a general consensus when it comes to recommending the daily intake of at least 12 milligrams of lutein and zeaxanthin flavonoids in order to reduce the development of cataracts and macular degeneration related to aging as far as possible.
Drinking a cup of root infusion already surpasses the requirements that experts have established in order to benefit from it. This infusion supplies 15 milligrams of lutein and zeaxanthin, which will help to maintain the health of these organs.
According to what was said before, it combats night blindness: dandelion is a corrector of sight deficiencies in poor lighting conditions due to its vitamin A and helenine content, which are two active ingredients that stimulate a better production of rhodopsin, which is a protein that acts on specialized cells from the retina called rods, and which is essential to carry out this process in optimal conditions.
It is quite efficient in weight loss diets. Its action in this field does not only come from its energy scarcity, but specially from its diuretic effect with which it contributes to the elimination of water excess through the urine in a natural way.
It has a significant use at a topical level, since it combats both acne and eczema. Let’s not forget that, in the case of acne, its cause seems to be related to the action of some toxins generated by a hormone maladjustment which is common in puberty. This is why dandelion and its detoxifying power can become an important help, since its sap can be used topically, without the need to ingest it. Its additional advantage is that it is a highly alkaline liquid with bactericide efficiency. This feature can also help with acne, since some microorganisms also intervene in this process. But, in general, dandelion is aimed to handle dermatological alterations that are relatively common, such as pruritus (recurrent itchiness) and eczema associated to dermatitis.
Its root extract makes a good remedy to combat constipation if we want to avoid pharmacological laxatives and stimulate intestinal transit without the risk of suffering any irritation or any other problem.
As it has been experimentally proven, dandelion acts as an enhancer of antioxidant enzymes and it is involved in the balance of the profiles of different current lipids, mainly: triglycerides, HDL and LDL cholesterol. At the same time, the experts value amply the possibility that it can offer protection from oxidative stress related to certain disorders of the cardiovascular system.
To conclude, the most outstanding function of Taraxacum officinale: its diuretic action, which does not entail any risks or side effects, allowing a smooth elimination of the toxins accumulated and produced by the metabolism. It is quite advisable to practice a preventive treatment with dandelion with each season change.
How to administer it topically?
Its root is used as a raw material in order to obtain an oil with which to give ideal massages which will help to treat rheumatism and arthritis, thanks to its excellent anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, it also helps with the absorption of clots produced by hematomas.
- Against cellulitis or orange skin: in order to avoid liquid retention, dandelion helps to remove the toxins that predispose its formation. It is one of the most beneficial remedies for this problem.
- It can also be employed to get rid of under eye circles, whose cause in most of the cases is also related to liquid retention.
- In order to prevent the development of freckles and spots on our skin that are mostly related to aging.
- Washing your hair often with dandelion infusion can be a valid measure to combat different abnormalities of the hair, including fragile, dry, or greasy hair.
- A topical use contributes to reduce the fat layer of the skin.
Even though it is scarce, it also has a negative part: side effects and contraindications, How to avoid them?
As long as it is consumed in logical amounts, it can be claimed that dandelion barely produces any side effects and it is practically innocuous. The little risk that it entails is mainly caused by its leaves, if we eat them raw they can supply many oxalates and produce serious health problems. These elements steal the atoms of certain essential minerals such as magnesium, iron, and calcium, which produces an inhibition of their absorption. The stem can also produce certain toxicity, specially in children, due to its abundant latex content.
But the main problem may an allergic reaction. After the consumption of dandelion, it is possible that the digestive apparatus will respond with flatulence, diarrhea, or stomach ache. Or the allergy may also manifest as dermatitis and produce a skin reaction or the irritation of the eyes, dryness of the mouth, shivering, and hyper-salivation. It can even produce headaches, and back or muscle pain.
In any case, we would be dealing with an allergic reaction to one of its components and, evidently, its consumption would have to be stopped. It should be pointed out that all those people who are allergic to ambrosia and composite plants, such as marigold, daisy, or chrysanthemum, may also be allergic to dandelion as well.
Contraindications: How to consume Dandelion correctly
Dandelion is a powerful enhancer of the production of bile, which is why those who suffer from gallstones should avoid its consumption since it can produce strong colics. Something similar happens to the excreting apparatus: the oxalates from the dandelion’s leaves can increase the presence of kidney stones since they are mainly made of these salts.
Similarly, since it is capable of stimulating the production of gastric juices, it is not recommended to those who suffer from acid or stomach ulcers. This can be applied to other digestive disorders such as the colon or ulcerous colitis. An infusion of mallow or marshmallow contains mucilages that may calm these effects.
The case of diabetic people deserves an especial mention. This plant can reduce the level of glucose in the bloodstream if it is combined with the appropriate medicines to control diabetes. Otherwise, it can result in hypoglycemia with blurry vision, sweating, shaking, vertigo, a tingling sensation, and tachycardia…
It must be warned that there is a possibility that some of the elaborations that are meant to be sold also have alcohol, which is why we should take precautions when it comes to children and pregnant or lactating women. In the last two cases, it should also be taken into account the fact that dandelion also has certain hormonal properties.
When it comes to its compatibility with medicines, the consumption of dandelion with the following medicines should be questioned:
- Lithium: dandelions inhibits the excretion of this metal, whose accumulation in blood can produce a long or short-term intoxication.
- Potassium: dandelion can increase sharply the serum levels of potassium when we follow a treatment with this substance due to hypertension.
- Antibiotics: it is possible that dandelion inhibits the intestinal absorption of antibiotics, an effect that is most frequent with the so called quinolones, among which the following stand out: norfloxacin, ciprofloxacin, enoxacin, sparfloxacin and trovafloxacin.
- Similarly, it is not recommended to combine it with diuretic medicines due to its diuretic power, since it could produce dehydration due to excessive liquid loss.
- Anti-coagulants (like aspirin) and neuro-muscle action blockers (such as the botulinum toxin or succinylcholine): in the case of consuming any of these medicines, it is extremely important to consult your doctor if you can actually consume dandelion or not.
A wide range of ways to consume dandelion and its possible combinations: How to consume it?
Due to its scarce energy supply, which is due to its low fat and carbohydrates content, it is ideal to add it to any diet that is focused on losing weight. How? One of the most common administration ways is in infusion, even though it is very nutritive it barely has any calories (only 25 per cup).
Its leaves can be eaten raw in salads. In order to avoid the bitter taste that they acquire progressively, the young leaves must be harvested a few days after they start growing. They can also be eaten sauteed as a condiment for dishes with mushrooms, onions, or vegetables. Another option is to soak them for thirty minutes in brine, then boil them like any other vegetable.
The root is used as a substitute for coffee, but without the complications of that drink. How?, in order to enjoy dandelion as a natural replacement for coffee, you have to toast and ground its roots. It can be easily elaborated by toasting the roots in an oven until they become brownish, which is the moment where they are ready to be consumed.
As appetizers before meals or, in the case of anorexia, you can put the buds of the flowers in vinegar, which will be an excellent resource.
In order to prepare a toning salad for the liver you can use some fresh leaves combined with lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, basil and parsley. If you usually consume these kind of salads, you will need to prevent the deterioration of the dandelion leaves, which is the reason why it is quite convenient to store them hermetically with cooking paper that will absorb the excess of humidity so that they can be edible during 4 days. The petals of the flowers and the buds can serve as flavor enhancers and to color salads.
It can be made into juices, by normally mixing it with some fruit. It is recommended to drink a glass of juice daily.
Its jam is a very popular ingredient in certain European regions and it is frequently referred to as dandelion honey due to the fact that it has a similar texture to authentic honey. The best raw material in order to prepare it are flowers that are harvested at the central hours of the day during the months of April or May. In order to elaborate it, you need two handfuls of flowers combined with a liter of water, half a kilo of sugar, and half a lemon.
The market of dietetics and the herbalist’s shop is well provided of elaborations from dandelion, alone or combined, and both for external and internal use. The most common ones are those made of the roots and/or leaves, but for a few years now, the pharmacological industry has widened enormously its range of products with appealing formulas in the form of dry extracts, fluid extracts, fresh root juice, and capsules.
But maybe, the most common way to consume dandelion are infusions, made from its flowers and dry leaves, followed by liquid extracts (or drops), and then capsules, which can be made both from powder or dry extract; the last ones, at the same time, can be made from:
- Root, a dose from 3-5 grams, it can be consumed up to three times a day.
- Leaves, between 4 and 10 grams, also a maximum of three times a day.
- Blend of the root and the leaves, between 3.5 and 5 grams, same as before.
Infusion for acne
Acne and boils can be combat with a decoction made of 5 grams of burdock root and another ten of dandelion root in three quarters of water.
This blend needs to be boiled in ten minutes more or less and another ten to let it settle so that the active ingredients diffuse well. From it we can drink around a hundred milliliters three times a day.
Remedy for prostate inflammation
It is an infusion made with five grams of nettle and another five of dandelion in half a liter of water that you just have to boil and let settle for a few minutes. By stimulating the production of urine, dandelion contributes to mitigate the inflammation of this gland due to its diuretic capacity.
A few years ago, it was published in the “Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine” a study that proved that dandelion causes a remarkable increase in the amount of urine throughout the five following hours to its consumption.
Another study, this one about the cultivation of tissues which was published in the “Journal of Medicinal Food”, proved that dandelion triggers a significant inhibition of nitric oxide, prostaglandins, interleukins, and cytokines, all of them substances that intervene in the process of inflammation.
How to consume dandelion for liquid retention?
Take a spoonful of dried horse tail herb, and another of dandelion, then dissolve them in half a liter of water and boil them, you can consume up to three cups a day. Those who suffer from hypertension should take precautions and should consult their doctor who will be the one that will consider if its consumption can trigger any adverse reaction.
Perfect infusion for hepatic cirrhosis
In order to treat cirrhosis, we can provide a good help for the liver in the form of a cocktail made with 20 grams of dandelion, 30 of passionflower and 50 of milk thistle. In order to adjust the dose, of this blend we have to take just a teaspoon that will be added to boiling water in a cup, and you just have to let it settle. You can drink five cups a day, and it is advisable to drink a minimum of 3 per day.
How to consume dandelion as a remedy for warts?
When we uproot and cut the dandelion plant, a milky matter comes from its root, which has the curious ability to eliminate warts. In order to obtain a maximum efficiency, the root must be fresh and this liquid must be applied quickly on the wart that then must be protected with a plaster. This must be done twice a day.
Remedy for ovarian cysts
The aim is to reduce the volume of these cysts by changing the hormone balance that caused its formation. Its composition is extremely simple: prepare an infusion by mixing a teaspoon of dandelion dry leaves in a cup of water of a hundred milliliters.
For the accumulation of uric acid in blood
This excess is often caused by the generation of high amounts of waste substances which result from the decomposition of an excess of animal proteins and alcohol. One of the most common clinical manifestations is gout, which produces an intense pain in the thumb of the feet, but it can also frequently cause acute pain in the joints due to their inflammation, which in the worst cases can produce episodes of renal or hepatic deficiency.
The infusion is achieved through an identical combination of dandelion, chives, and green anise, from which it is recommended a maximum of three glasses a day,
The polyphenols from dandelion are the ones in charge of its efficiency in the elimination of uric acid, which also contribute to purify the lymphatic system.
Infusion with horse tail
With these two plants you can prepare an excellent infusion, who will act on disorders such as arterial hypertension, renal lithiasis and gout, among others. In order to elaborate it, you have two mix both spoonfuls of dry horse tail and dandelion and submerge them in a liter and a half of boiling water. Once it boils, leave it for a few minutes and let it settle for a quarter of an hour. You can drink up to three cups a day, cold or hot, it is recommended to strain the preparation.
If you are looking for a simple and quick way of consuming dandelion without getting involved in very complex preparations, capsules are the perfect resource. They are available in herbalist’s shops and in natural products shops, and of course, in the online HSN shop.
When it comes to the dose, the instructions on the product must be followed, since it depends on the amount of dry extract that the capsules contain, but it is usually two capsules with each one of the three main meals of the day.
HSN offers products of tablets of 500 and 300 mg of dandelion (combined with a 10% of flavonoids)
It is another option which is as comfortable as the capsules. It can be found in plenty of herbalist’s shops and its consumption is simply since you just have to add a few drops of it in a glass with plenty of water or juice. You can also consume 30 drops of tincture with water as a detoxifying element three times a day.
It contains, like almost any tincture, high levels of alcohol, which is the reason way it is not recommended to consume it during pregnancy or lactation (specially in higher amounts than the ones found in foods).