The Lion in Your Back Yard

It always amazes and frustrates me when I hear people go off about dandelion.  How has this attractive and useful plant become public enemy #1 at the garden center?  Okay, granted, those puffballs are an incredible seed dispersal system and they don’t always disperse where you might want them.  And I have to admit the root system on a dandelion is an engineering marvel.  But look at what else a dandelion has to offer.

Inexpensive children’s toy…At some point in your life you probably plucked a dandelion flower and held it under a chin as a serious survey on butter loving.  Or alternatively, plucked a dandelion puffball and sent the seed heads soaring.  English children used to use a dandelion to tell time.  The hour of the day was determined by either how many times they had to blow on the puffball to scatter all the seeds or how many seeds remained after giving it one good huff…hence, some of its alternative names such as doonhead clock and fairy clock.

Dandelion leaves are a nutritionally rich food, high in calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamins A and C.  3.5 ounces of dandelion leaves have more vitamin A then the same quantity of carrots.  They also have more potassium than bananas.  The leaves can be used as any other salad green, or sautéed or steams a la spinach.  They have recently become something of a foodie item and so you can usually find dandelion greens at the local farmer’s market or possibly the specialty produce section of your store.  If you decide to collect them yourself, choose greens that you are certain have not been sprayed (see rabid gardener comment above), that are not along a road where car and road pollutants are a factor, and that you collect them only in the early spring when they are young and tender.  Dandelion leaves tend to toughen up and get progressively bitter through the growing season.

This brings me to another valuable aspect of dandelion…its medicinal properties.  All parts of dandelion are used medicinally.  It is traditionally used as a chologogue, diuretic, bitter and tonic.  The high potassium content of dandelion is a key in its use as a potassium sparing diuretic.  Other compounds in dandelion include sesquiterpene lactones, phenolic acids, flavonoids, coumarins, triterpenes, carotenoids, phytosterols, and inulin.  Two 2010 studies looked at the effectiveness of dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) on liver toxicity.  The researchers in one study determined that dandelion offered protective effects against alcohol induced liver damage in vivo by elevating antioxidative potentials and decreasing lipid peroxidation.  The other study supported the conclusion that dandelion offered protective effects but focused specifically on the role of the sesquiterpene lactones in the plant.  Dandelion is stimulating to liver function and bile production.  As a digestive, the mild bitterness of the leaves is beneficial to digestion when used as a food, or taken as a tincture or cordial before a meal.  Dr. George F. Collier writing about dandelion in 1843 in The Lancet said “The great objection to its use will be that it costs nothing, and may be made by everyone, without pharmaceutical mystery or expense”.

With all this going for it, why would anyone object to a dandelion?  So next time, you see a spring dandelion, make a salad.  In the summer, enjoy the blaze of golden yellow.  Rejoice that it is providing food for the birds, mice and other animals, and for bees and insects at times when other flowers are not blooming.

 References 

 

Gladstar R. 2001. Family Herbal: A Guide to Living Life with Energy, Health, and Vitality. North Adams MA: Storey Books.

Kane CW. 2009. Herbal Medicine: Trends and Traditions. Lincoln Town Press.

Lust JB. 1974. The Herb Book. New York NY: Bantam Books.

Mahesh A, Jeyachandran R, Cindrella L, Thangadurai D, Veerapur VP, Muralidhara Rao D. Hepatocurative potential of sesquiterpene lactones of Taraxacum officinale on carbon tetrachloride induced liver toxicity in mice. Acta Biologica Hungarica. 2010 Jun;61(2):175-90.

Sanders J. 2003. The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History. Guilford CT: The Globe Pequot Press.

You Y, Yoo S, Yoon HG, Park J, Lee YH, Kim S, Oh KT, Lee J, Cho HY, Jun W. In vitro and in vivo hepatoprotective effects of the aqueous extract from Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) root against alcohol-induced oxidative stress. Food Chemistry Toxicology. 2010 Jun;48(6):1632-7.

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