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 and are valued for their various medicinal uses.
What it does within the body
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. 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.
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. 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. These bitter principles also increase bile production in the gallbladder and bile flow from the liver. 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.
- Constipation: The bitter compounds in dandelion leaves and root are also mild laxatives.
- Edema: Dandelion leaves have diuretic effects that may be comparable to the prescription diuretics used to treat edema.
- Indigestion: Dandelion acts as a digestive stimulant and may be helpful for indigestion.
- Heartburn: Dandelion acts as a digestive stimulant and may be helpful for indigestion.
- Pregnancy: Dandelion is a tonic herb, believed to strengthen or invigorate organ systems. A rich source of vitamins and minerals, it promotes urine and bile flow and helps with the common digestive complaints of pregnancy.
- Postpartum: Dandelion is a tonic herb, believed to strengthen or invigorate organ systems. A rich source of vitamins and minerals, it promotes urine and bile flow and helps with the common digestive complaints of pregnancy.
- Diabetes: Animal studies have shown that dandelion can lower blood sugar levels. In a case report, a patient who was taking insulin for diabetes developed episodes of hypoglycemia after adding dandelion to her treatment regimen.
Common Herbalist Uses
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.
Precautions to consider
Dandelion leaf and root should not be used by people with gallstones without the supervision of a healthcare practitioner. People with an obstruction of the bile ducts should not take dandelion.
Animal studies have shown that dandelion can lower blood sugar levels. In a case report, a patient who was taking insulin for diabetes developed episodes of hypoglycemia after adding dandelion to her treatment regimen. People taking blood sugar-lowering drugs should therefore not take dandelion without the supervision of a doctor.
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, 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. In fact, inulin is a significant part of the daily diet of most of the world’s population. 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. 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.
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