One of the most important herbs in the traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic and Western herbal materia medica is the bane of many a lawn-obsessed American: Dandelion! Frustrated homeowners throughout the country have cringed at the sight of delighted youngsters blowing the fluffy seed heads into the wind on a wish. Sunny, bright and cheerful yellow flowers atop a basal rosette of toothed green leaves are easily recognized by adults and children alike. This so-called weed is a miraculous gift of nature and an ally to the vast majority of our friends and family. In many parts of the world, especially France (where it is called Pissenlit -meaning “wet-the-bed” due to its strength as a diuretic), it is even cultivated as a vegetable crop. Its name is translated as “Lion’s tooth” for its yellow flower and the shape of the leaf. Originally brought to our continent by early British settlers for their kitchen gardens, Dandelion is a valuable and safe medicinal herb as well as a delicious addition to a healthy and balanced diet.
According to the Doctrine of Signatures, plants will usually “inform” us of their uses if we carefully observe their appearance. For example, the milky latex the plant exudes when cut suggests its affinity for the breast (an area intimately associated with Liver in Traditional Chinese Medicine); this herb promotes lactation, is anti-tumor and can be used for mastitis as well. The hollow stem reminds us of the throat, and amazingly it is known in Traditional Chinese Medicine to clear heat toxins especially in the throat area. The similarity doesn’t end there, the stems also bear a resemblance to veins, and once again that mirrors its ability to purify the blood, cleanse the arteries, promote heart health, and support healthy arterial and connective tissues. It is also believed that plants with a reddish purple stem help to pull toxic heat from the body, which Dandelion does quite effectively.
Antiviral, antifungal, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, Dandelion also contains significant amounts of calcium (in the root) which supports the skeletal system, Vitamins A, C and D, fatty acids such as omega-3, bitter glycosides, inulin, phosphorus, iron, choline, niacin as well as blood regulating and clot-preventing coumarins (especially in the leaf). Its energy is considered cooling, drying and descending and its taste is decidedly bitter, slightly salty and the starchy root can have a wonderful sweetness as well.
The root and the leaf have similar properties medicinally, but the leaf does contain a much higher concentration of potassium (up to 5% in some plants) which makes it a valuable diuretic, especially when used in conjunction with heart stimulating medicinals. Most diuretic substances, frequently used in the treatment of heart disease, pull potassium from the body via the urine which can aggravate cardiovascular problems, but Taraxicum officinale is an effective diuretic that is rich in potassium, making it an essential adjunct remedy in the treatment of various heart diseases. It is often utilized for edema, fluid congestion and hypertension, but can actually regulate either high or low blood pressure.
Often a meat-laden diet too centered on rich, fatty, spicy foods and habitually containing a generous amount of alcohol is the causative factor in “excess” diseases. Because Dandelion is so cooling and reducing, it treats conditions that are described as “excess” in nature: a ruddy complexion, thick coat on the tongue, a rapid pulse, loud voice, biliousness, irritability, pain and cramping are frequently seen in circumstances requiring its use. Pelvic inflammatory disease, appendicitis, ulcers, diverticulitis and many cases of diabetes fall into this category. Many liver disorders such as cirrhosis, gout, jaundice and hepatitis are successfully treated with Dandelion; a high dose (taken up to six times daily) and a light diet consisting of vegetable broths, rice and mung bean porridge has been used to cure hepatitis.
Decongesting the liver and gallbladder as well as the sinus, this invaluable medicinal supports the lymphatic system, and helps remove mucous, poisons and excess fats from the body. Dandelion encourages bile flow to improve digestion and regulate the appetite; it prevents and can even dissolve gall stones. It neutralizes acid, thereby having an alkalinizing effect on the body while it also promotes growth of beneficial bacteria and cell oxygenation. Its benefits as a tonic act as an immune-stimulant and can also regulate blood sugar, help with food sensitivities and allergies as well as reduce fatigue and general malaise.
Taraxicum officinale is used in the treatment of obesity, to reduce cholesterol, for water swelling associated with the menses and other damp-type imbalances such as candidiasis, urinary tract infections, and some types of lung disease and asthma (not for use with a dry cough). Chronic sinus infections often benefit from regular doses of dandelion for three months or more; when the infection begins to compromise the integrity of the bones in the sinus area, dandelion paired with White Oak bark has been shown to actually recalcify the bone tissue. Other degenerative bone diseases such as osteoarthritis and osteomyelitis as well as painful sciatica and rheumatism are also treated with Dandelion.
Obviously, Dandelion acts on many different systems and areas of the body: it relieves fever and headache, clears infectious heat in the throat; it eases abdominal distention and pain in the hypochondria, as well as promoting a healthy urinary tract, strong kidneys and preventing renal calculi (kidney stones). A mild laxative, Dandelion can encourage intestinal peristalsis for “excess-type” constipation and it soothes intestinal abscesses.
People with skin diseases that fall into the “excess” category also profit from the use of Dandelion; boils, abscesses, swellings, acne, eczema and psoriasis have all shown pronounced improvement after several months of regular Dandelion supplementation. Prolapsed tissues such as hemorrhoids and varicosities occurring in a person with an “excess” constitution can be helped significantly in only weeks. Topically the juice of Dandelion can be applied directly to warts or snakebites- a well-known folk remedy.
Several studies have been conducted on the viability of Dandelion in the treatment of infectious disease with great success. In vitro Dandelion has shown an inhibitory effect on several bacterial pathogens including E. coli, salmonella, meningitis, diphtheria, tuberculosis, the ECHO virus and drug resistant staph. Streptococcus pneumonia, the causative factor in pneumonia, infections of the heart, cellulitis, acute sinusitis, middle-ear infection, brain abscess and more is also inhibited by the therapeutic use of Dandelion. Leptospirea, a spirochetal infectious disease, is a close cousin to syphilis and Lyme disease; studies have shown a positive result for the use of Taraxicum officinale against Leptospirea. Time and research may scientifically conclude that it could also be used for the insidious and rampant Lyme disease as well, though it has been used for just that purpose by many practitioners already, often in combination with Boneset, Burdock root and Teasel.
Some of the most compelling research has been in the area of oncology. A suggestive study stated that a hot water extract (decoction) of Dandelion “inhibits sarcoma-180 in mice with an effective rate of 43.5%, whereas the alcohol extract has no effect. The hot water extract contains a polyose substance that is anticarcinogenic and promotes immunity.” Another study seems to suggest that Dandelion enhances liver function, thereby neutralizing estrogen, a causative factor in some carcinomas of the breast. Various investigations have been conducted to verify the usefulness of Dandelion in the natural or complimentary treatment of AIDS, and many practitioners currently add it to their protocol because of its famed immune-stimulating qualities.
The best thing about Dandelion is its profuse availability; its very wildness insures that it has a high potency. Gather the herb anywhere, providing it is located at least fifty feet from roadsides and from areas that are absolutely free of chemical contaminants such as pesticides and fertilizers. Spring is the best time to gather the leaves before the flower buds appear at the base of the basal rosette in May. Leaves can be used fresh as a tasty addition to salads, made into a tincture with brandy to improve its bitter flavor or dried for use as a tea when it is out of season; the dried leaves however, quickly lose potency. When taking Dandelion medicinally, it’s good to know that small doses are restorative and tonifying, whereas a larger dose is considered cooling and clearing.
The root that is dug in the early spring tends to be moist and sweet, particularly tonifying and nourishing. It is great to eat after being added to boiling water and simmered for 15 minutes, then drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled lightly with salt. The more strongly medicinal and bitter taproot that is harvested around the autumn equinox when at least two years old can be split to ensure fast, even drying in a well-ventilated, warm and arid room. The root can then be decocted by adding 2-3 tsp to one cup water, bringing it to a boil, then reducing the heat and simmering, covered for 15 minutes; drink this three times daily. As a delicious and nutritious coffee substitute, the root can be roasted until fragrant and almost crisp, then ground and steeped or percolated as you would with coffee-liver cleansing and no caffeine jitters!
Do be aware that serious disease should not be treated without the advice or supervision of a qualified practitioner and as always, caution must be exercised with pregnant women. When used as a maintenance protocol or as a food, Dandelion is safe, easy and accessible. It bears noticing that its very abundance should be a message to us written in bright neon: “Attention Humans! You Need My Help!!” Enjoy this diverse and wonderful “weed”, eat it, play with it, talk to it, by golly…Love it!
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