Gardeners consider it to be a pesky weed; children puff its fluff and make wishes, and for herbalists, it is excellent food and medicine.
We’re talking about dandelion, the invasive plant that likes to take over our gardens and even pop up in cracked sidewalks.
A rich source of beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, iron and calcium, dandelion has a history of use as a laxative and appetite stimulant. Both the leaves and the roots of this plant are considered to have numerous health benefits.
Let us learn more about this plant and its health benefits.
What is dandelion?
Dandelions are a flowering plant that is native to Asia, Europe, and North America. They are also known as Taraxacum officinale.
The common name for this plant `Dandelion’ is derived from the French ‘dent de lion’ which means lion’s tooth, referring to the shape of its leaves.
Dandelions are a member of the daisy family and are related to sunflowers, dahlias, artichokes, thistle, ragweed, and lettuce.
Be it the roots, leaves and the blossoms, all parts of this plant are useful. Its leaves can be harvested in early spring for eating. Later in the season, you can harvest the larger leaves, dry them and use them in tea.
You can eat its flowers as green buds. The petals of the flowers are collected for jelly and tea. Later, when the hard frost has killed off the plant, its roots can be harvested and used.
History of dandelion
The dandelion plant has long been used as a medicinal herb for its appetite-stimulating, digestion-aiding, and laxative effects. Its origins can be traced back to 659 BC in ancient China.
The health benefits of dandelion were also known to ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. An Arab physician first recorded the curative properties of dandelion in the tenth century.
It has been traditionally used for improving digestion and healing the liver.
Certain Native American tribes also used dandelion root to relieve pain, and they also steamed the leaves of this plant and used them topically to heal sore throats.
Dandelion Nutrition facts
Dandelion is low in calories and rich in many important minerals and vitamins. One cup (55 grams) of chopped dandelion greens contains (1):
- Calories: 25
- Carbohydrates: 5 grams
- Dietary fiber: 2 grams
- Protein: 1 gram
- Vitamin A: 5588 IU (112 % DV)
- Vitamin K: 428 mcg (535 % DV)
- Vitamin C: 19.3 mg (32% DV)
- Calcium: 103 mg (10% DV)
- Iron: 1.7 mg (9% DV)
- Potassium: 218 mg (6% DV)
- Manganese: .2 mg (9% DV)
Health benefits of dandelions
You can consume almost all parts of the dandelion plant. The dandelion roots, greens, and flower tops are known to have several health-promoting properties. Let us learn about the health benefits of various parts of the dandelion plant.
Dandelion greens benefits
The best time to harvest dandelion greens is during spring. It would be best if you chose young and tender leaves as they have a milder flavor. The leaves of dandelion can be steamed, sautéed, eaten raw and even dried and used as a tea.
1. Protect the liver
Dandelion leaves can play an essential role in improving liver health. Dandelion leaves are a rich source of vitamin A in the form of antioxidant beta carotene and vitamin C.
According to a 2010 study, when researchers gave rats with hepatitis dandelion leaf extracts, it prevented oxidative damage and damage to the liver (2).
Further studies have also proved that anti-oxidant foods like dandelion greens even treat and prevent oxidative damage caused by free radicals (3).
2. Improve eye health
Dandelion leaves are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients that are important for maintaining healthy eyesight. These nutrients filter the light as it enters the eye and protects eye tissue from any damage.
According to the American Optometric Association, consuming at least 12 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin lowers the risk of age-related macular degeneration(AMD) and cataract.
Dandelion greens are also rich in vitamin A, which is very important for eye health. A deficiency in vitamin A can also lead to blindness.
In addition to vitamin A, dandelion leaves also contain vitamin C and E, all of which are important for reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
According to a 2005 study, a high dietary intake of beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc, can substantially reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (4).
Dandelion greens are a natural diuretic. They have been traditionally used to increase the amount of urine to eliminate fluids from the body, which is helpful for people with liver problems and high blood pressure.
It also helps in reducing water weight and preventing urinary tract infections.
During a 2009 study, volunteers were given fresh dandelion greens extract to investigate whether it would increase urinary frequency and volume.
The results showed a significant increase in the frequency of urination in the five hours after the first dose (5).
4. Aid weight loss
Like all leafy greens, dandelion leaves are also low in calories. One cup of chopped dandelion leaves contains only 25 calories. These leaves are also a rich source of fiber, which can promote satiety and help in weight loss.
According to a 2008 study, dandelion greens can act as an inhibitor of pancreatic lipase which leads to higher excretion of fat and inhibits fat absorption (6).
Elevated blood triglyceride is a common lipid disorder in America. Triglycerides are a fatty substance present in the bloodstream. High levels of triglycerides can lead to atherosclerosis and can significantly increase the risk of heart attack.
Dandelion greens reduce the activity of pancreatic lipase, the enzyme that breaks triglycerides down into fatty acids. This helps in increasing the excretion of triglycerides and which helps lower the blood triglyceride levels.
Dandelion root benefits
Dandelion roots can be dried and consumed as a tea, and they can also be eaten in the whole form. They are also available in capsules, powders, and extracts.
1. Improves digestion
Dandelion root tea has been traditionally used to treat constipation and other minor digestive issues. Dandelion root is rich in prebiotic fiber inulin. Research has shown that inulin helps reduce constipation and increase intestinal movement (7).
Another 2011 research studied the effects of dandelion extracts on the gastric emptying and smooth muscle motility in rodents.
The researchers found that rats that were treated with dandelion root extracts had a significant increase in the rates of stomach contractions and emptying of stomach contents (8).
2. May prevent and treat cancer
Research has shown that dandelion root may be used as an anti-cancer agent. During a 2012 study, researchers observed that dandelion root extract combats pancreatic cancer by inducing apoptosis (9).
During a 2011 study, researchers observed that when skin cancer cells were treated with melanoma extract, it started killing off the cancer cells within 48 hours (10).
3. Protects against liver damage
Sever animal-based studies have shown that dandelion root has a protective effect on liver tissue in the presence of toxic substances and stress.
According to a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2010, when mice were treated with dandelion root extract, it helped protect them against liver fibrosis due to carbon tetrachloride.
Another study showed that the extracts of dandelion root have protective effects against alcohol-induced toxicity in the liver by elevating antioxidative potentials and decreasing lipid peroxidation (13).
4. Reduces cholesterol
Studies have shown that dandelion root lowers and controls cholesterol levels and raises HDL.
During one study when rabbits fed on cholesterol-rich diet were given dandelion extracts, it led to the reduction of total cholesterol. It also reduced LDL cholesterol and increased HDL cholesterol (14).
5. Fights diabetes
Dandelion tea prepared from the roots of the dandelion plant is rich in many vitamins and minerals. This tea is beneficial for people with diabetes as it stimulates the production of insulin and keeps the blood sugar levels low.
Dandelion tea is also a diuretic, so it also helps flush out excess sugar stored in the body.
6. Fights bacteria
Dandelion root also has anti-microbial properties which help in fighting bacterial infections.
According to a 2015 study, the antimicrobial efficacy of dandelion root extracts supports the use of dandelion root extract as a source of natural antimicrobial compounds (15).
This study showed that dandelion root is especially effective against the bacteria responsible for staph infections and foodborne illnesses.
Side effects and interactions
Dandelion is safe for most people when we use it in amounts found in food. However, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using it as not enough is known about its use during pregnancy and lactation period.
Some people can develop an allergic reaction to dandelion when it is consumed or applied to the skin.
If you are allergic to any of the plants in the daisy family like sunflowers, dahlias, artichokes, thistle, ragweed, and lettuce, you must avoid using dandelion.
Dandelion can also decrease the absorption of certain antibiotics like enoxacin, norfloxacin, trovafloxacin, ciprofloxacin, sparfloxacin, and grepafloxacin.
Since dandelion is rich in vitamin K, it can impact blood clotting. So, if you are taking any blood thinners like Warfarin, you must consult with a doctor before taking dandelion.
Dandelion also has diuretic properties which may decrease the affectivity of the body in getting rid of lithium as this can lead to serious side effects. So if you are taking lithium, check with your doctor before taking dandelion.
Dandelion is a nutritious and beneficial plant and provides many health benefits. You can consume almost all parts of the dandelion plant including its roots and leaves can be consumed.
Dandelion helps in protecting the liver, improving digestion, treating cancer, reducing cholesterol and it even aids weight loss.
So add the leaves of this unique plant to your salad or smoothie or make tea from its roots and enjoy its numerous health benefits.