Common name: Dandelion
Other names: Lion’s tooth, wild endive, piss-abed
Latin name: Taraxacum officinale
Affinities: Urinary system, digestive system, immune system
Actions: Alterative, laxative, antirheumatic, diuretic, stomachic, cholagogue, nutritive
Specific indications: Inflammation of liver and gall-bladder, weak digestion, constipation, joint inflammation, painful and inflamed muscles, poor complexion with acne, high cholesterol, type II diabetes, dry scaly skin
Diseases: Congestive jaundice(3), rheumatism(3), gout(3), cardiorenal edema(3), acne(3), eczema(3), rheumatoid arthritis(3), type II diabetes(3)
Parts used: Root or leaf
Energetics: Cooling, drying
Characteristics: Dandelion is a plant that is native to Greece and parts of Asia, it is found growing abundantly in Europe and America (Felter and Lloyd, 1898; Castleman, 2001). It grows in fields, gardens, and along roadsides, it yields bright yellow flowers from April to November. The genus name taraxacum is derived from the Greek word ‘taraxos’, meaning ‘disorder’ and ‘akos’ meaning ‘remedy’ (Singh et al., 2008).
History: Chinese physicians have used dandelion for at least 2000 years to treat bronchitis, hepatitis, boils, and various other conditions (Castleman, 2001). It is thought that Ayurvedic physicians also used the herb for similar purposes. It was the 10th century Arab physicians that first recognised that dandelion increased urine production. In the middle ages in Europe the Doctrine of Signatures stated that yellow flowers were linked to the livers yellow bile and so dandelion was considered a liver remedy. It gained a reputation for the treatment of jaundice and gallstones. The 17th century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper used dandelion, writing of it in Culpeper’s complete herbal, ‘Dandelion is under the dominion of Jupiter. It is of an opening and cleansing quality, and therefore very effectual for the obstructions of the liver, gall and spleen, and the diseases that arise from them, as the jaundice, and hypochondriac; it openeth the passages of the urine’ (Culpeper, 1814).
The 19th century Eclectic physicians in America also were familiar with dandelion and in King’s American Dispensatory, it is recommended for, ‘loss of appetite, weak digestion, hepatic torpor, and constipation’ (Felter and Lloyd, 1898). An interesting point is also made, ‘Prof. King states that, as far as his experience with this article had gone, he thought its virtues had been overrated. Nevertheless, it is a slow, but efficient agent when properly prepared for use’.
Current applications: David Hoffman in his text, Holistic Herbal, mentions dandelion is a very powerful diuretic and perhaps the best widely applicable diuretic and liver tonic (Hoffman, 1988). He mentions pharmaceutical drugs that are diuretic deplete potassium from the body, however, since dandelion is rich in potassium it is a balanced diuretic. It may have use in congestive jaundice, as part of a wider treatment for muscular rheumatism, and also cases of water retention. For liver and gall-bladder problems it may be combined with barberry, and for water retention, yarrow. Dandelion and burdock is classic combination for treating acne over a few months.
Matthew Wood has some insights regarding dandelion and mentions it is indicated when heat descends deeply into the tissues, and that it is regarded as one of the finest liver remedies, both as food and medicine (Wood, 2011). His specific indications include; cardiorenal edema, high cholesterol, type II diabetes, muscular heat and pain, chronic rheumatism, rheumatoid arthritis, acne, and indigestion with gas. Dandelion has long been used to slowly cleanse the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.
Science: Besides its diuretic utility, dandelion is useful as a food in some circumstances due to its rich nutrient content (Clare et al., 2009). It is a rich source of potassium, as well as other vitamins and minerals. A pilot study in humans without a control group implied that it is indeed a diuretic (Clare et al., 2009). Studies using various in vivo and ex vivo models have demonstrated anti-inflammatory (Jeon et al., 2008) and anti-tumour effects (Ovadje et al., 2011). One interesting study found that dandelion extract significantly decreased serum glucose concentration in diabetic rats and lowered cholesterol in serum and liver tissue (Cho et al., 2002). They also found the dandelion extract appeared to normalise anti-oxidant enzyme activity in the liver which was perturbed due to the diabetes. This study implies that dandelion does have an affinity for the liver and may have uses in treating diabetes and high cholesterol at least partially through a liver based anti-oxidant effect.
Safety: High. However, in the very young or sensitive, caution in dosing and length of treatment is required. It may quite easily aggravate dryness in the constitution.
Dosage: 5-60 drops of tincture 2-3 times daily.
Research on models
Anti-inflammatory: In a study, the authors found an ethanol extract of dandelion displayed anti-inflammatory activity using in vivo models (Jeon et al., 2008).
Anti-tumour: In one study, the authors found aqueous dandelion root extract contains components that act to induce apoptosis selectively in cultured leukemia cells (Ovadje et al., 2011).
Anti-diabetic: In one study, the authors discovered that a dandelion extract significantly decreased serum glucose concentration in diabetic rats and lowered the total cholesterol concentrations in the serum and hepatic tissue (Cho et al., 2002). Additionally, the hepatic antioxidant enzyme activity reverted to near-control values with treatment, therefore mitigating the oxidative stress in the liver associated with diabetes. They concluded, dandelion extract improves lipid metabolism and is beneficial in preventing diabetic complications from lipid peroxidation and free radicals in rats.
Research on humans
Diuretic activity: In one human study (N = 17, open label, no placebo group) the authors observed a significant increase in urine production with treatment of an ethanolic extract of dandelion (Clare et al., 2009). This was a pilot study.
Castleman, Michael. The New Healing Herbs: The Classic Guide to Nature’s Best Medicines Featuring the Top 100 Time-Tested Herbs. Rodale, 2001.
Cho, Soo-Yeul, et al. “Alternation of hepatic antioxidant enzyme activities and lipid profile in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats by supplementation of dandelion water extract.” Clinica Chimica Acta 317.1 (2002): 109-117.
Clare, Bevin A., Richard S. Conroy, and Kevin Spelman. “The diuretic effect in human subjects of an extract of Taraxacum officinale folium over a single day.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 15.8 (2009): 929-934.
Culpeper, Nicholas. “Culpeper’s complete herbal.” (1814).
Felter, Harvey and Lloyd, John. King’s American Dispensatory, 1898.
Hoffman, David. Holistic herbal. Element Books, 1988.
Jeon, Hye-Jin, et al. “Anti-inflammatory activity of Taraxacum officinale.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 115.1 (2008): 82-88.
Ovadje, P., et al. “Selective induction of apoptosis through activation of caspase-8 in human leukemia cells (Jurkat) by dandelion root extract.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 133.1 (2011): 86-91.
Singh, Amritpal, Samir Malhotra, and Ravi Subban. “Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)-Hepatoprotective herb with therapeutic potential.” Pharmacognosy Reviews 2.3 (2008): 163.
Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal, Volume I: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books, 2011.