While most people can easily identify this common herbaceous plant, there are many fascinating and useful dandelion facts that remain relatively obscure. Learning more about the nutritional and medicinal benefits of dandelion may make you think twice before eliminating this much-maligned but perpetually sunny flower from your lawn and garden.
Essential Dandelion Facts
Have you ever wondered where the dandelion gets its name? The jagged leaf margins of the common dandelion have been said to resemble a lion's teeth. In Old French, this is roughly translated as dente de lion, a term that English speakers have corrupted to create the moniker we know today.
There is more to dandelion than its leaves, however, as cultures around the world have historically used all parts of the plant for medicinal and culinary applications.
Whether eaten in a salad or brewed as tea, dandelion greens pack a powerful nutritional punch. In particular, dandelion leaves are extremely high in beta carotene, vitamin A and iron. Additionally, they are also a good source of vitamins C, D and the entire B complex, and provide a hefty dose of the minerals calcium, potassium and zinc. Like all leafy greens, they are fat-free, low in calories, and rich in fiber. Although not as nutritionally dense as the leaves, the yellow flower petals make a colorful and nutritious addition to salads and stir-fries, and the long taproot takes on a pleasant flavor when cooked alongside other root vegetables.
The medicinal properties of dandelion are so pervasive that they are reflected in the scientific name. The genus name Taraxacum originates from the Greek words taraxos, meaning disorder, and akos, meaning remedy. The species name, officinale, derives from the Latin officinalis, which roughly translates as 'of pharmaceutical value.' A number of medicinally useful plants, such as sage and lavender, share this species name origin to indicate their therapeutic qualities.
The ubiquitus nature of the common dandelion has led to its medicinal use the world over. Some traditional applications for dandelion include:
- Native Americans boiled the herb to make a tea to treat swelling, various skin conditions, kidney disease, and indigestion.
- Chinese physicians used dandelion extensively, particularly to treat breast disorders, digestive upset, and appendicitis.
- European herbalists added the herb to preparations used in the treatment of boils, fever, eye disease, digestive ailments and diabetes.
Today, herbalists combine the dandelion facts established by their predecessors with modern scientific principles to support the liver and gallbladder, to stimulate the appetite and to generally improve digestion.According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the root has a mild diuretic and laxative effect. While many laxatives and diuretics tend to deplete potassium levels, the natural potassium content in dandelion offsets this effect. Dandelion further aids digestion by promoting the health of intestinal flora.
Both the roots and leaves of the plant may help moderate blood glucose levels in diabetics and also improve blood lipid profiles, lowering cholesterol levels and triglycerides while increasing the percentage of high-density lipoproteins.
Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine have long used dandelion to treat breast cancer. This time-honored practice now appears to have support from modern scientific research. In one 2008 study, a water-based solution made from dandelion leaves significantly reduced the growth and the invasiveness of breast cancer cells.
As research continues to support the dandelion facts that traditional healers have known for centuries, this common garden weed is poised to become a key player in modern medical treatments.
Side Effects and Contraindications
Whether used as food or medicine, dandelion is generally a safe and low-risk herb. Side effects are rare and generally mild, and may include mouth sores or allergic reactions in susceptible individuals.
However, according to New York University's Department of Medicine, some dandelion facts have led European authorities to recommend against dandelion use for those with certain medical conditions. Dandelion has a known effect on bile production, and a theoretical effect on stomach acidity. As a result, it may interfere with certain medications or aggravate existing conditions. Consult with your doctor before beginning dandelion use if you have:
- Gallstones or other gallbladder obstruction
- Antacid, lithium, or antibiotic use
Finding Fresh Dandelion
Many people research how to grow exotic herbs like stevia or angelica in their herb garden, but most are able to grow dandelion without any prior knowledge. Dandelions generally pop up wherever the natural vegetation has been disturbed, and will grow in virtually any scenario. If you harvest wild dandelion for teas or salads, choose your source carefully. Parks and roadsides may be contaminated with pesticides, fertilizers or animal wastes. Keep your lawn natural and pesticide-free, and you will have no trouble finding fresh, organic dandelion whenever you need it.
If these dandelion facts have inspired you to use dandelion therapeutically, you can either harvest and prepare your own tea, or you can purchase ready-made supplements. To make dandelion tea, steep one to two teaspoons of dried root or leaves in hot water for five to ten minutes, strain, and drink immediately. Dandelion supplements are available as powdered extracts or as tinctures, using either the leaf or the root as the source material.
As a readily-available, low-risk herb packed with nutritional and medicinal benefits, the common dandelion is dandy, indeed.