What Is It?
The word “dandelion” derives from the French “dent de lion,” meaning lion’s tooth. The jagged edges of the plant’s shiny, smooth leaves account for its fierce-sounding name. In Europe the medicinal properties of this perennial (Taraxacum officinale) are so prized that it is grown commercially, but in North America dandelion is often dismissed as a bothersome weed. It wasn’t always so, however. Wise minds at England’s Hudson Bay Company, which was founded in 1670, made sure that employees in their Canadian outposts received shipments of vitamin- and mineral-rich dandelion roots to supplement an excessively meat-laden diet. Ordinary English settlers, too, planted dandelion in their window boxes and herb gardens.
For centuries, dandelion root has been regarded as an effective, gentle laxative. The roots and leaves are most often used to treat liver conditions such as jaundice and hepatitis, and to encourage normal digestion. The yellow flower also contains beneficial compounds. In fact, all parts of the plant have high concentrations of vitamin A, as well as choline, a B vitamin that stimulates the liver. Dandelion is even being explored as a treatment for cancer and other conditions.
Dandelion is sold as a single-herb supplement, and is also available in combinations called liver-complex or lipotropic (fat-metabolizing) formulas. Other ingredients in these products that may benefit liver function include milk thistle, inositol, hexaniacinate, methionine, and choline.
Dandelion may intensify the blood sugar-lowering effect of the diabetes drug, glipizide. Use with caution.
In high doses, dandelion can increase the diuretic effect of loop diuretics such as bumetanide and furosemide. This is also true for thiazide diuretics such as hydrochlorothiazide and indapamide. Consult your doctor for guidance. Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealth Chicago Drug/Nutrient Interactions Chart.
No serious side effects have been associated with the use of dandelion. However, if taken in large quantities (much more than commonly recommended) it may cause a skin rash, diarrhea, heartburn, or stomach discomfort. Stop using the herb if these reactions occur, and mention the problem to your doctor.
Don’t take dandelion if your doctor has advised you that you have a gallbladder problem, a blockage or inflammation of the bile duct, or an obstruction of the bowel (often signaled by persistent constipation or lack of bowel movements). Also, don’t use dandelion during an acute gallstone attack; this requires professional medical treatment.
Because of dandelion’s diuretic effect, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding may want to avoid it.
Don’t pluck the dandelions you find growing in a lawn and use them medicinally; the flowers absorb fertilizers used to stimulate lawn growth. Get them at a health-food store that can verify that the flower was grown in organic, untreated soil.
Use dandelion for no longer than six weeks at a time.
Anemia 1 tsp. fresh juice or tincture with water twice a day
Constipation 1 cup dandelion root tea 3 times a day
Gallstones 400 mg freeze-dried herb or 1 tsp. liquid extract twice a day
David Edelberg, MD