dandelion – the official weed with official healing potential

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) derives its name from the French for the lions tooth – dent-de-lion – the large toothed leaves are noticeably serrated but they also pack a medicinal bite with some potent bitter glycosides, terpenoids and a good complement of vitamins and minerals including plenty of potassium and iron. There are several explanations in botanical circles for the nomenclature but I personally like the one that derives from the Greek ‘Taraxos – akos’ meaning ‘disorder remedy’, its ‘official’-ness (denoting herbal validation) backing that theory.

Dandelion leaf is utilized in salads and both fresh and dried to produce a herbal tea; 1-2 tsps of chopped herbage per cup of boiling water , steep for 3 – 7 minutes. The fresh foliage is slightly less bitter than the dried. The foliage and tea exert a strong diuretic action and so has a long history in treating UTIs, oedema, high blood pressure, glaucoma, to eliminate uric acid and as a detox. Unlike conventional diuretics which cause a loss of potassium, dandelion tea contains good levels of potassium.

A traditional spring tonic in the customs and pharmacopoeias of many European countries and further afield. Dandelion’s bitter glycosides including taraxacin and taraxacerin – can ease the symptoms and flare-ups of arthritis, acne, eczema, and gastritis. Dandelion has a history of use as a cleanser of the kidney, spleen, gall bladder and liver but note cautions with medications to remedy conditions of those parts.

Dandelion leaf tea increases bile production and stomach acids and is utilized to stimulate the appetite and assist efficient digestion. It is often utilized in the relief of bloating and stomach distention. Dandelion foliage is also a potent source of kynurenic acid which plays a role in the healthy functioning of the digestive system and gut flora and is remedial to diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.
The root is also a great resource, notably roasted as a coffee substitute and detox beverage. Decoct in boiling water for 5-10mins; the ratio is 1/2 – 2 tsp per cup required depending on preferred strength. Higher dosages are more potent therapeutically but also stronger in bitterness. Can be sweetened to taste.

Dandelion in supporting stimulation of bile flow from the gall bladder to the duodenum helps to prompt the efficient digestion of fats and is considered applicably in detoxing from a former fatty diet – and as natural liver detox. As to the ‘bitterness’ – we have a ‘bitter taste’ receptor known as T2R38 which is implicated in how we respond to upper respiratory infection and chronic rhinosinusitis and the aroma of a bitter brew can fire up our anti-inflammatory radar if not actively engage our immune arsenal.

The roots also yield sesquiterpene lactones including eudesmanolide and germacranolide, which act as anti-inflammatories via potent inhibition of transcription factor NF-kappaB. Dandelion’s sesquiterpenes are also supportive to the activity of the pancreas and dandelion root contains two substances, inulin and levulin, that as soluble fibres can help reduce blood cholesterol and lower glucose levels and may see useful application in metabolic syndrome and diabetes treatments.

Caution: Avoid if allergic to ragweed. Dandelion may cancel the action of prescription antacids and increase the action of diuretics, diabetic medication and blood-thinning medications. As with all strong diuretics, anyone utilizing lithium or with kidney or gallbladder problems will require guidance/supervision of use.

About The Holistic Gardener

author of wellness books, columnist, keynote speaker.
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