Although Westerners commonly view dandelions as a type of weed, this plant has several beneficial effects on human health which western medicine has only begun exploring. Dandelion has been used for centuries both internally and externally by Asian cultures as a medicinal used for digestive disorders, appendicitis, and breast problems (such as inflammation or lack of milk flow). Now we find this plant being studied by western science for its medicinal value.
Recently, studies done in Germany have led to the dandelion root being approved in Germany for, “… anorexia, dyspepsia, and biliary abnormalities,” (Garner-Wizard 2009). Basically, dyspepsia is indigestion and biliary abnormalities are bile duct disorders. Bile is essential for digestion. It is a fluid secreted by the liver and gall bladder to emulsify fats for digestion. It was found that dandelion increases the flow of bile by 3 to 4 times.
Dandelion root is also commonly used as a diuretic. Furthermore, a case study that was carried out on 24 patients found that dandelion can be used to significantly reduce the pain associated with chronic colitis, as well as help to normalize the stool. This plant has also been found to have anti-cancer properties, as well as the ability to lower, “… elevated liver enzymes in hepatitis B patients.” Wow, powerful weed, no single western drug exists which can make these claims in a single pill.
The active substances of dandelion roots (those that have medicinal effects) include: sesquiterpene lactones, phenylpropanoids, triterpenoid saponins, polysaccherides, and inulin. Sesquiterpene lactones are found in numerous plant species and are believed to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Phenylpropanoids appear to have inflammation-modulating properties, while triterpenoid saponins are adaptogenic (combat stress), a property of many Chinese herbs. The polysaccherides present in dandelion may have positive effects on the immune system, as polysaccherides in general are, “… key intermediaries in immune interactions,” (Garner-Wizard 2009). Inulin is a type of dietary fiber and we can all use that in our diets. If that wasn’t enough to make your head spin, dandelion roots also have been found to have a soothing property for indigestion. Current studies are underway using dandelion extract for diabetic patients- results have yet to be finalized, but the study hopes to regulate the AGE’s or advanced gycation endproducts, harmful chemicals produced by those with high blood sugar levels.
Dandelion extract has been labeled as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) for use in supplements and food, and both the root and leaf can be ingested as food (up to 50 grams per dose). Furthermore, this plant is widespread throughout the world and in no danger of overharvesting. However, dandelions in urban areas should probably be avoided if sprayed with herbicides- this is true of any herbal product. So next time you see that dandelion growing between the sidewalk cracks, you’ll know it as one of nature’s wonderful medicinal plants, not just a lowly weed.
Garner-Wizard M. Re: Monograph of Dandelion. Integrative Med. April-May 2009; 8(2): 34-38. http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbclip/378/review050496-378.html.