Daisy Family (Asteraceae)
Dandelion, although sadly becoming a target of weed killing
chemicals in recent times, has been cultivated in countries such as
France, and wild harvested in many countries in Europe. The leaves were
both considered a food and a digestive aid, and the root was roasted and
used as a coffee substitute. The French term for dandelion, pissenlit,
translates to ‘pee the bed’, indicating its diuretic properties (De la
Foret, 2017). Dandelion is an important pollen source for insects during gap times, or when it’s too windy to get to rich pollen sources that trees can provide. It also holds significant cultural value with its seed orb a source of delight for children, and the symbolism of sun, moon and stars that straddle its flower, seed head, and seed formations.
Dandelion is rich in vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and B, inositol, lecithin, and minerals such as iron, potassium, magnesium, sodium, calcium, silicon, copper, phosphorus, zinc, and manganese. It is one of the richest sources of beta-carotene, which is a precursor of vitamin A, containing 11,000 µg/100 g leaves (Wirngo et al., 2016).
Oxidative stress is known to damage cells and is associated with degenerative processes. It occurs when there is an excess of free radicals in the body compared to antioxidant levels.
Dandelion flower, leaf, and root extracts have been found to exert antioxidant, free radical scavenging activity (Wirngo et al., 2106).
The bitterness of dandelion leaf stimulates saliva and other gastric secretions, and it has been traditionally harvested in spring to help break up stagnation from the heavier, starchier foods of winter.
Nearly half of the content of dandelion root is made of inulin, a complex carbohydrate that stimulates good gut bacteria to grow, improving gut health (Wirngo et al., 2016). Inulin also has fibre, which slows digestion, improving nutrient and promoting feeling of fullness, and it reduces cholesterol absorption (Healthline, n.d.).
The urinary system is one of the body’s cleansing processes that occurs via the kidneys filtering blood and removing waste through urine. So herbs and foods that promote urination - diuretics - are often supportive of this cleansing process, and dandelion leaf is one such food/herb.
A study by Clare et al. (2009) showed that this plant ethanolic
leaves extract increases urinary frequency and fluid excretion in
healthy individuals. Two other studies showed a positive effect of Taraxacum officinale
extract on the treatment and prevention of kidney diseases, such as
kidney stones (Ghale-Salimi et al., 2018, Karakuş et al., 2017).
Diuretics are often used as a component of high blood pressure or heart disease treatment. With high blood pressure, release of fluid eases up pressure in blood vessels. With heart failure, the weakened heart may pump blood less vigorously, leading the kidneys to sense reduced fluid and respond by retaining fluid. Diuretics are used to reverse this and release fluid (Heart Matters, n.d.). Compared to pharmaceutical diuretics that are often associated with potassium depletion, dandelion adds potassium to the body (Engels and Brinckmann, 2016).
The liver plays an important role in many aspects of health such as hormonal balance, fat digestion, and the processing of metabolic wastes naturally generated by the body, as well as toxins the body accumulates that originate outside of the body. Therefore, dandelion’s impact on liver health can indirectly impact other aspects of health, or imbalances impeding good health.
One study found that dandelion root water extract protected against alcohol-induced liver damage in cell lines and in an animal model (Mahboubi and Mahboubi, 2020). Another study found that daily oral daily administration of dandelion leaf hot water extract (500 mg/kg) for 30 days decreased the total cholesterol, triglycerides, and several other markers of liver damage in the blood and liver. Dandelion’s antioxidant action protects the liver against oxidative stress that can damage it (Mahboubi and Mahboubi, 2020).
Dandelion flower has been traditionally made into an infused oil to relieve arthritic and muscle pain. Taraxasterol, a constituent of dandelion, was found to have anti-arthritic effects in an animal study when compared to a control group not receiving treatment (Jiang et al., 2016).
There is some evidence that both dandelion root and dandelion leaf can help regulate blood sugar levels.
Inulin, a substance present in dandelion root, contains fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), which can help normalise blood sugar levels (Wingo et al. 2016).
A randomised study to assess the effect of dandelion leaf and dandelion root on fasting blood glucose (FBG) demonstrated benefits of both on blood sugar levels (Idrissu et al., 2016). Consumption of 5g of treatment each day for nine days showed a statistically significant reduction in fasting blood glucose without affecting urination significantly. There was no difference in FBG between the root or leaf groups (Idrissu et al., 2016).
In an vitro study to assess effects of different dandelion root extracts on the activity of two enzymes (α-amylase and α-glucosidase) known to catalyse starch into glucose, the water extract had the greatest inhibitory effect on the enzymes (Jingwen et al., 2021). In addition, a separate analysis of the constituents in the different extractions showed that the water extract had far greater amounts of polysaccharides (long-chained carbohydrates) than the methanol and ethanol extracts, indicating that polysaccharides may be responsible for this effect. This also shows the importance of using different herbal preparations for different impacts. To impact blood sugar, a root decoction or leaf infusion may be more effective than a tincture.
Dandelion is generally safe, but here are some precautions as quoted from Mount Sinai (n.d.):
Dandelion is considered generally safe, but people with sensitivity to Daisy family plants may react when contacting dandelion.
Dandelion leaf may act as a diuretic, which can make drugs leave your body faster. It also interacts with a number of medications that are broken down by the liver. If you are taking prescription medications, ask your doctor before taking dandelion leaf. Medications that may interact with dandelion include:
Antacids: Dandelion may increase the amount of stomach acid, so antacids may not work as well.
Blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants and antiplatelets): It is possible that dandelion may increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you already take blood thinners such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), or clopidogrel (Plavix).
Diuretics (water pills): Dandelion may act as a diuretic, causing your body to produce more urine to get rid of excess fluid. If you also take prescription diuretics, or other herbs that act as diuretics, you could be at risk of electrolyte imbalances.
Lithium: Lithium is used to treat bipolar disorder. Animal studies suggest that dandelion may worsen the side effects of lithium.
Ciproflaxin (Cipro): One species of dandelion, Taraxacum mongolicum, also called Chinese dandelion, may lower the amount of the antibiotic ciproflaxin that your body absorbs. Researchers do not know whether the common dandelion would do the same thing.
Medications for diabetes: Theoretically, dandelion may lower blood sugar levels. If you take medications for diabetes, taking dandelion may increase the risk of low blood sugar.
Medications broken down by the liver: Dandelion can interact with a number of medications. To be safe, ask your doctor before taking dandelion if you take any medication.