Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a common meadow herb of the Asteraceae or sunflower family. There are about 100 species of dandelion, and all are beneficial. This sun-loving beauty is a native of Greece, naturalized in temperate regions throughout the world, and familiar to nearly everyone. The perennial dandelion grows freely wherever it can find a bit of earth and a place in the sun. Dandelion's nutritive and medicinal qualities have been known for centuries.
Dandelion's common name is derived from the French dent de lion, a reference to the irregular and jagged margins of the lance-shaped leaves. There are numerous folk names for this widely-used herb. They include pissabed, Irish daisy, blow ball, lion's tooth, bitterwort, wild endive, priest's crown, doonheadclock, yellow gowan, puffball, clock flower, swine snort, fortune-teller, and cankerwort. The generic name is thought to be derived from the Greek words taraxos, meaning disorder, and akos, meaning remedy. Another possible derivation is from the Persian tark hashgun, meaning wild endive, one of dandelion's common names. The specific designation officinale indicates that this herb was officially listed as a medicinal. Dandelion held a place in the United States National Formulary from 1888 until 1965, and the dried root of dandelion is listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP).
Dandelion may be distinguished from other similar-looking herbs by the hollow, leafless flower stems that contain a bitter milky-white liquid also found in the root and leaves. The dark green dandelion leaves, with their irregular, deeply jagged margins, have a distinctive hairless mid-rib. The leaves are arranged in a rosette pattern, and may grow to 1.5 ft (45.7 cm) in length. They have a
lovely magenta tint that extends up along the inner rib of the stalkless leaf. When the plant is used as a dye, it yields this purple hue. Dandelion blossoms are singular and round, with compact golden-yellow petals. They bloom from early spring until well into autumn atop hollow stalks that may reach from 4–8 in (10.2ndash;20.3 cm) tall. The golden blossoms yield a pale yellow dye for wool. After flowering, dandelion develops a round cluster of achenes, or seed cases. As many as 200 of these narrow seed cases, each with a single seed, form the characteristic puffball. Each achene is topped with a white, feathery tuft to carry it on the breeze. Dandelion's tap root may grow fat, and reach as deep as 1.5 ft (45.7 cm) in loose soil. The root has numerous hairy rootlets. Dandelion is a hardy herb and will regrow from root parts left in the ground during harvest.
Dandelion has a long history of folk use. Early colonists brought the herb to North America. The native people soon recognized the value of the herb and sought it out for its medical and nutritious benefits. The entire plant is important as a general tonic, particularly as a liver tonic. It may be taken as an infusion of the leaf, a juice extraction, a root decoction, or a tincture. Fresh leaves may be added to salads or cooked as a potherb. The juice extracted from the stem and leaf is the most potent part of the plant for medicinal purposes. It has been used to eradicate warts and soothe calluses, bee stings, or sores. Infusions of dandelion blossoms have been used as a beautifying facial, refreshing the skin.
Dandelion is a nutritive herb rich in potassium, calicum, and lecithin, with iron, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, proteins, silicon, boron, and zinc. Dandelion provides several B vitamins along with vitamins C and E as well as vitamin P. Chemical constituents in the leaf include bitter glycosides, carotenoids, terpenoids, choline, potassium salts, iron, and other minerals. The root also has bitter glycosides, tannins, triterpenes, sterols, volatile oil, choline, asparagin, and inulin.
Many herbalists regard the dandelion as an effective treatment for liver disease, useful even in such extreme cases as cirrhosis. It cleanses the bloodstream and increases bile production, and is a good remedy for gall bladder problems as well. The herb is also a boon to such other internal organs as the pancreas, kidneys, stomach, and spleen. The dried leaf, taken as a tea, is used as a mild laxative to relieve constipation. Dandelion leaf is also a good natural source of potassium, and will replenish any potassium that may be lost due to the herb's diuretic action on the kidneys. This characteristic makes dandelion a safe diuretic in cases of water retention due to heart problems. The herb is useful in cases of anemia and hepatitis, and may lower elevated blood pressure. Dandelion may also provide relief for rheumatism and arthritis. Dandelion therapy, consisting of therapeutic doses of dandelion preparations taken over time, may help reduce stiffness and increase mobility in situations of chronic degenerative joint disease. The root, dried and minced, can used as a coffee substitute, sometimes combined with roasted acorns and rye.
All parts of the dandelion have culinary and medicinal value. It is best to harvest fresh young dandelion leaves in the spring. The small, young leaves are less bitter, and may be eaten uncooked in salads. Larger leaves can be lightly steamed to reduce bitterness. Leaves gathered in the fall are naturally less bitter. Dandelion blossoms, traditionally used in wine making, may be gathered throughout the flowering season. The deep, fleshy taproot should be gathered in the fall. It takes careful digging and loosening to extract the root intact, although
Leaf infusion: Place 2 oz of fresh dandelion leaf, less if dried, in a warmed glass container. Bring 2.5 cups of fresh nonchlorinated water to the boiling point and add it to the herbs. Cover the mixture and steep for 15–20 minutes, then strain. Drink the infusion warm or cold throughout the day, up to three cups per day. The prepared tea can be kept for about two days in the refrigerator.
Tincture: Combine 4 oz of finely-cut fresh dandelion root and leaf (or 2 oz of dry powdered herb) with 1 pt of brandy, gin, or vodka in a glass container. The alcohol should be enough to cover the plant parts and have a 50/50 ratio of alcohol to water. Cover and store the mixture away from light for about two weeks, shaking several times each day. Strain and store in a tightly capped dark glass bottle. A standard dose is 10–15 drops of the tincture in water, up to three times a day.
Dandelion acts as a cholagogue, which means that it increases the flow of bile. It should not be used by persons with closure of the biliary ducts and other biliary ailments.
Dandelion is a safe and nutritious herb widely used throughout the world. No health hazards have been reported when dandelion is used in designated therapeutic doses. According to the PDR For Herbal Medicine, however, some "superacid gastric complaints" could be triggered by using the herb. Dandelion stems contain a liquid latex substance that may be irritating to the skin of senstitive persons.
No interactions have been reported between dandelion and standard medications.
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