Blowing dandelion flower in spring seems a universal pleasure to kids from all over the world. With the help of the blow or the wind, its characteristic parachute-like seeds sometimes can be carried miles away and then generate new flowers there. However, this simple pleasure has been taken for granted for most adults, who are careful to only the health benefits that dandelion can bring. To the adult’s joy, it is indeed an amazing herb regardless of who the users are. From the perspective of western medicine, it is often labeled as a “natural antibiotic”. Coincidentally, in traditional Chinese medicine it has long been used as an antipyretic and an antidote to heat toxicity. As you can see, the western and oriental medicine seem have reached a similar conclusion on dandelion’s medicinal uses.
What is dandelion?
Medicinally it refers to the whole dried grass of a variety of species of Taraxacum in the family Asteraceae (Compositae). The main species include Taraxacum mongolicum Hand.-Mazz, Taraxacum ohwianum Kitam., Taraxeamum jsinicum Kitag., Taraxacum erpyhropodium kitag., Taraxacum heterolepis Nakai et H..Koidz., Taraxacum asiatisc Dadlst.(T. leucan-thum (Ledeb.) Ledeb.), and more. These species are slightly different from the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), visually and medicinally. Other names of it include Herba Taraxaci, Pu Gong Ying, Dent-de-Lion, Lion’s Teeth, Lion’s Tooth, and so on. It is usually collected in summer and autumn when dandelion’s flowers are barely open. And then it needs to remove the impurities, wash with water, cut into segments, and dry in the sun. It is normally used fresh or raw.
Taraxacum mongolicum is a perennial herb, which is usually from 10 to 25cm. The whole plant, covered with sparse white soft hairs, contains white milk. Deep-rooted dandelion root is with a single yellow-brown branch that is from 3 to 5cm in diameter. Radicicolous leaves arrange into a rosette; both sides of petiole base expand into sheath; lion’s teeth like leaf blade is linear-lanceolate, oblanceolate, or obovate, 6 to 15cm long, 2 to 3.5cm wide, and with acute or obtuse apex, narrow base, and lobed or irregularly pinnately divided margin. Single apical capitulum is full of bisexual ray florets; multilayer bracts are ovate-lanceolate; receptacle is flat; corolla is yellow, often divided, and with truncated apex; stamens are 5; pistil is 1, and with inferior ovary, slender style, 2-lobed stigma, and short hair. Achenes are oblanceolate, 4 to 5mm long, about 1.5mm wide, with vertical edges connected to stripes, spines, 8 to 10mm beaks at the top of the fruit, and about 7mm white pappus. Bloom time is from April to May and fruiting time is from June to July.
The dandelion weed (Taraxacum mongolicum) contains taraxasterol, choline, inulin, pectin, and so on. And the root of Taraxacum officinale G.H. Weber ex Wiggers, a relative plant in the same genus, contains taraxol, taraxerol, taraxasterol, φ-taraxasterol, β-amyrin, stigmasterol, β-sitosterol, choline, caffeic acid, inulin, fructose, sucrose, glucose, p-hydroxy phenylacetic acid, palmitic acid, cerotic acid, melissic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid, and so on. Dandelion leaf contains lutein, violaxanthin, plastoquinone, vitamins C and D and so on. Dandelion flowers contain arnidiol, lutein, and flavoxanthin.
Now it is time to tell you the facts about dandelions. It is rich in minerals, especially potassium, sodium, phosphorus and iron. Dandelion leaves contain more vitamin A than carrots. Besides it contains some vitamin B, vitamin C and vitamin D too. The whole dandelion plant is edible – leaves can be stir-fried like spinach or made dandelion salad; dandelion root can be also consumed as a vegetable or as a coffee substitute. If you buy dandelion from Chinese medicinal herbs shop, using it to make tea or cook gruel can be a good idea since it is dried herb. In a word, eating dandelions in a long run can be helpful to many ailments, such as acute mastitis, lymphadenitis, boils and carbuncle, acute conjunctivitis, cold and fever, acute tonsillitis, acute bronchitis, gastritis, hepatitis, urinary tract infection, hot eyes, acute pharyngitis, difficult urination, and so on.
As a whole, dandelion herb can benefit in many ways. Also known as “bed-wetting weed”, it is a good herbal diuretic. In Canada this herb is officially registered as a diuretic that can relieve edema; it cares your skin and helps hair growth too. Clinically it gets rid of premature graying, prevents hair loss, treats skin problems like acne and dermatitis, and removes pigmentation rashes/patches and freckle on forehead, nose, and cheeks; it has a strong bactericidal effect on the resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus. For that reason, clinically it is widely used in a variety of respiratory diseases and gastroenteritis; it has a wealth of vitamins A and C and minerals. Drinking dandelion tea before meals can improve indigestion and constipation.
In addition, different parts of dandelion have their own focus medicinally. Leaf is good at improving eczema, relieving dermatitis, and getting rid of joint discomfort; root is skilled in treating gallstones and rheumatism because it has a very good anti-inflammatory effect; flower juice is adept at removing freckles.
So to speak, dandelion is very versatile as a medicinal herb. Here are some tips for you on how to choose the ones with better efficacy. Among the fresh plants, the one with clean leaves and slight aroma is preferred; in the dried weeds the better one is grayish green, drier, and with no impurities.
Modern pharmacological actions of dandelion
1. Its decoction or water extract has a strong inhibitory effect on Staphylococcus aureus, hemolytic streptococcus bacteria, and Moraxella catarrhalis. Besides, it also has a certain inhibition on pneumococcus, meningococcus, diphtheria bacilli, Shigella, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, leptospira, and so on;
2. It has a synergistic effect with TMP (Trimethoprim);
3. It promotes the flow of bile from the gall bladder into the duodenum, protects liver, resists endotoxin, and increases secretion of urine. And it has a better cholagogic effect than capillaris decoction;
4. Its water extract of the aerial parts has anti-tumor effect;
5. In vitro tests suggested that it could stimulate the body’s immune function;
6. Its leaves can ease blocked milk ducts in breastfeeding and promote and lactation.
Sample dandelion recipes on herbal remedies
The Chinese Materia Medica says that dandelion is bitter and sweet in flavor and cold in properties. It covers meridians of liver and stomach. Major functions include clearing heat and removing fire toxicity, reducing abscesses, and dissipating nodules. Essential dandelion uses and indications are acute mastitis, lung abscess, appendicitis, mumps, skin abscesses, furuncles, carbuncles, eye redness and swelling, cold and fever, cough, sore throat, stomach fire, enteritis, dysentery, hepatitis, cholecystitis, urinary tract infection, snake bite, and snake bite. Recommended dosage is from 10 to 30 grams in decoction, or 60 grams in large dose, in decoction. Besides, it can be also used in dandelion juice and powder.
1. Zhi Ru Bian Yong Fang from Wai Ke Zheng Zong (Orthodox Exogenous Illnesses). It is smashed and used with wine externally and internally to treat the beginning of mastitis that is painful, swollen, but with no pus.
2. Ying Teng Tang from Dong Tian Ao Zhi (Profound Essence of the Heaven). It is combined with Ren Dong Teng (Honeysuckle Stem) and Gan Cao (Licorice Root) to cure the initial stage of acute mastitis.
3. Er Wei Shen Xian Yi Zui Shi Xiao San from Wan Shi Mi Chuan Wai Ke Xin Fa (Wan’s Esoteric Heart Methods on Treating Exogenous Illnesses). It is coupled with Honeysuckle Stem to heal carbuncle on the back and suppurative mastitis.
4. Jiu Jin Chang Feng Qi Xiao Wan from He Shi Ji Sheng Lun (He’s Life-saving Dissertation). It is matched with Huai Jiao (Sophora fruit), Shi Bing (dried persimmon), Hei Mu Er (black fungus), and Shen Qu (Massa Fermentata) to treat bleeding hemorrhoids.
5. Wu Wei Xiao Du Yin from Yi Zong Jin Jian (Golden Mirror of Orthodox Medicine). It is equipped with Ye Ju Hua (Wild Chrysanthemum Flower), Zi Hua Di Ding (Herba Violae), Jin Yin Hua (Honeysuckle Flower), etc. to cure skin abscesses, furuncles, and carbuncles.
Dandelion side effects and contraindications
Are dandelions poisonous? As a matter of fact, it is normally considered a non-toxic herb. However, it may lead to a variety of adverse reactions if used improperly.
1. Overdose may occasionally result in gastrointestinal reactions, such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and mild diarrhea. The gavage with high-dose (30g/kg) dandelion decoction to experimental rabbit showed that it caused mild cloudy swelling to hepatocytes and renal tubular epithelial cells and renal tubular narrowing. But no obvious changes had been found in other organs. In the subacute toxicity test, the urine of mice and rabbits showed that slight cloudy swelling of renal tubular epithelial cells could be observed.
2. Dandelion decoction and alcohol infusions may cause hives, generalized itching and other allergic reactions in individuals. In addition, its intravenous injection may also occasionally lead to shivering, pale complexion, bruising or mental symptoms.
3. TCM wise, dandelion shouldn’t be used in the cases of Yang deficiency accompanied with exogenous cold and spleen-stomach deficiency. Therefore, clinically before the use of dandelion it should first make sure whether or not the condition is caused by heat. Otherwise, prescription based no differentiation and abusing dandelion may lead to trouble. In the cases of heat-type infection, it generally won’t result in adverse reactions. However, the patients with cold-nature infections, often manifested as no heat signs, longer duration, and physical weakness, may suffer from anorexia, malaise, fatigue, abnormal sweating, and pale complexion if taking a large dose of dandelion. And the focus of infection won’t improve either. Hence, it is so wrong to simply equate the heat-clearing and detoxifying of dandelion to anti-inflammatory and antibacterial function and then abuse it.