The common weed we call dandelion is one of nature’s incredible healing herbs.
The botanical name for dandelion is Taraxum officinale, though there are several related species of Taraxum also considered dandelion. Taraxum is derived from the Greek words “taraxos” for “disorder” and “akos” meaning remedy.
Dandelion is a common weed with a characteristic beautiful yellow flower that assumes a globe of seeds to spread its humble yet incredible medicinal virtues. Its hollowed stem is full of milky juice, with a long, hardy root and leaves that taste good in a spring salad.
The latex or milky sap that comes from the stem has a mixture of polysaccharides, proteins, lipids, rubber and metabolites such as polyphenoloxidase. Dandelion also contains glycoside compounds such as taraxacin, triterpenes like taraxol and taraxsterol, choline, tannins, sterols, asparagine and carotenoids.
Traditional uses for dandelion
Dandelion is one of the most well known traditional herbs for all sorts of ailments that involve toxicity within the blood, liver, kidneys, lymphatic system and urinary tract. Dandelion has been listed in a variety of formularies and codeces around the world since the tenth century. Its use was expounded by many cultures from the Greeks to the Northern American Indians, who used it for stomach ailments and infection.
Dandelion latex has been used to heal skin wounds and protect wounds from infection—also its function when the plant is injured.
Dandelion is known to protect and help rebuild the liver. Culpeper documented that it “has an opening and cleansing quality and, therefore, very effectual for removing obstructions of the liver, gall bladder and spleen and diseases arising from them, such as jaundice.” It is known to stimulate the elimination of toxins and clear obstructions from the blood and liver.
This is thought to be the reason why dandelion helps clear stones and gravel from kidneys, gallbladder and bladder. It has also been used to treat stomach problems, and has been used to blood pressure. In ancient Chinese medicine, it has been recommended for issues related to “liver attacking spleen-pancreas”—describing the imbalance between liver enzymes and pancreatic enzymes.
Dandelion has been used in traditional treatments for hypoglycemia, hypertension, urinary tract infection, skin eruptions and breast cancer. It has also been used traditionally for appetite loss, flatulence, dyspepsia, constipation, gallstones, circulation problems, skin issues, spleen complaints and anorexia.
In Chinese medicine, dandelion is known to clear heat, more specifically in the liver, kidney and skin. These effects are consistent with dandelion’s traditional uses for rheumatism, gout, eczema, cardiac edema, dropsy and hypertension. Dandelion is also said to increase the flow of bile. Dandelion root has also been used to heal bone infections.
Dandelion has also been used to increase urine excretion, and reduce pain and inflammation. Yet it also contains an abundance of potassium—which balances its diuretic effect (as potassium is lost during heavy urination). It has been documented as a blood and digestive tonic, laxative, stomachic, alterative, cholagogue, diuretic, choleretic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic, anti-hyperglycemic, anti-coagulatory and prebiotic.
Research evidence for Dandelion
A 2016 study from Pakistan’s Allama Iqbal Medical College found that Taraxacum officinale inhibits the growth of hepatitis C (HCV) virus by blocking the expression of the NS5B gene. This allows dandelion to block HCV replication without damaging liver cells (Rehman et al. 2016)
A 2014 study from China’s Xinjiang Medical University found that Taraxacum mongolicum inhibited hepatitis B (HBV) among human liver cells. The research found inhibition rates of over 91 percent. Just as found in the study above, the dandelion blocked gene expression of the virus while not harming the liver cells (Jia et al. 2014).
In a study of 96 chronic hepatitis B cases at the Beijing TCM Hospital (Chen 1990), 46 controls were compared to 51 patients given a mix of herbs that included a dandelion species. After five months of use, the medicinal herb group had a total effective rate of 74.5% compared to 24.4% in the control group.
Another study found that dandelion extract significantly prevented cell death in Hep G2 (liver) cells, while stimulating TNF and IL-1 levels—illustrating its ability to arrest or slow liver disease and stimulate healing (Koo et al. 2004).
Dandelion was shown to stimulate the liver’s production of glutathione (GST)—an important antioxidant (Petlevski et al. 2003).
Dr. Michael Tierra notes that:
“even the most serious cases of hepatitis have rapidly been cured, sometimes within a week with dandelion root tea taken in cupful doses four to six times daily…”
Research from the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that dandelion significantly inhibited two influenza strains: H1N1 and A/PR/8/34. Again, the anti-virus affect was found without harm to human cells (He et al. 2011).
Among 222 different medicinal extracts, dandelion was one of ten that regulated and inhibited the differentiation of osteocytes to osteoclasts—associated with the resorption process that results in bone loss and bone remodeling (bone spurs and growths) (Youn et al. 2008).
A study by researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada (Hu and Kitts 2004) found that dandelion extract suppressed prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) and COX-2. These were apparently inhibited by the luteolin and luteolin-glucosides in dandelion. PGE2 is involved in the pathway that involves pain. And COX-2 is an enzyme also involved in pain. Inhibiting COX enzymes is what most pain killing drugs do, but with the typical side effect of gastric and intestinal problems.
A 2012 review of research from Spain found clear evidence that dandelion reduces inflammation. They also found it to be a strong antioxidant (González-Castejón et al. 2012)
In a 2007 study from researchers at the College of Pharmacy at the Sookmyung Women’s University in Korea (Jeon et al. 2008), dandelion was found to reduce inflammation, leukocytes, vascular permeability, abdominal cramping, pain and COX levels among exudates and in vivo.
Dandelion illustrated the ability to inhibit IL-1 and inflammation in Kim et al. (2000) and Takasaki et al. (1999).
Other studies have illustrated that dandelion inhibits both interleukin IL-6 and TNF-alpha—both inflammatory cytokines (Seo et al. 2005).
Leukotriene production was decreased with an extract of dandelion (Kashiwada et al. 2001).
LDL and artery damage
In another study from Canada (Hu and Kitts 2005), nitric oxide was inhibited. Reactive oxygen species—free radicals—were also significantly inhibited by dandelion—attributed to the plant’s phenolic acid content.
This in turn prevented lipid oxidation—one of the mechanisms in heightened LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and artery inflammation.
A 2016 study from Canada’s Lakehead University found that dandelion extract inhibits cell damage from ultraviolet B radiation. It inhibited free radical formation and protected the cells against UVB absorption (Yang and Li 2015).
Another 2016 study (Lee et al.) from the Kongju National University in South Korea found that Dandelion inhibited melanoma cancer grown among human cells.
A 2015 study from France’s University of Toulouse found that dandelion inhibited the growth of cancer cells.
Other studies found dandelion inhibited cancer in several types of human tumor cell lines resulted in inhibition of cancer cells (Sigstedt et al. 2008).
In a Cochrane review of research from China’s Sichuan University, researchers found that dandelion tea was five times more effective for tonsillitis than antibiotics (Huang et al. 2012). The research included 1,954 people.
Dandelion is one of the richest natural sources of inulin. This is a potent prebiotic. Laboratory research found that it stimulated the growth of fourteen different strains of bifidobacteria. Bifidobacteria are important components of the immune system that inhibit pathogenic bacteria (Trojanova et al. 2004).
Toxicity and free radicals
Multiple studies have shown dandelion to be a potent detoxifying agent. A 2015 study from Spain’s University of San Pablo found that five different Taraxacum species effectively reduced free radical levels within the tissues (Mingarro et al.). A 2001 study found that dandelion increased the liver’s production of superoxide dismutase and catalase, increasing the liver’s ability to purify the blood of toxins (Cho et al.).
The lupeol trierpenes in dandelion illustrated antitumor effects (Hata et al. 2000).
UDP-glucuronosyl transferase, another important detoxifying liver enzyme, was increased 244% from controls by dandelion extract (Maliakal and Wanwimolruk 2001).
A 2011 study from the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that dandelion inhibited the replication of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (Han et al. 2011). HIV replication is responsible for the progression to Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
In another study at the Jiangxi Medical College (Zheng 1990), 472 traditional medicinal herbs were screened against the type 1 herpes simplex virus. After repeated screens, ten “highly effective herbs” included dandelion.
In a study of 24 patients with chronic colitis, pains in the large intestine vanished in 96% of the patients by the 15th day after being given a blend of herbs including dandelion (Chakŭrski et al. 1981).
Research from Canada’s University of Windsor found that dandelion extract kills human leukemia cells in laboratory tests (Ovadje et al. 2011)
Finding and preparing Dandelion
The flowers, roots and the leaves are edible. Dandelion leaves can be picked most of the time, but are tastier during the spring. The roots are typically collected by digging them up during the summertime. They can then be split and sun-dried.
Infusion tea can be made from all the plant’s parts. Roots will typically require a little boiling time, but the leaves and flowers can be steeped in hot water for 15-20 minutes before drinking.
Natural areas are best to harvest from. Lawns or roadsides that have been sprayed or pounded by traffic can contain residues of these toxins. Dandelion supplements are also available, and so are dandelion teas.
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Lee HN, Shin SA, Choo GS, Kim HJ, Park YS, Park BK, Kim BS, Kim SK, Cho SD, Nam JS, Choi CS, Jung JY. Anticancer effects of Ixeris dentata (Thunb. ex Thunb.) nakai extract on human melanoma cells A375P and A375SM. J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Dec 24;194:1022-1031. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2016.11.010.
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