Quite possibly the best known of the lawn weeds, the common dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, stands strongly at the interface between an annoyance that impedes our perfectly manicured lawns and an astounding herbal medicine that should be embraced.
Dandelion’s medicinal uses range from being a powerful digestive tonic that can help with an impressive range of digestive concerns to supporting liver, urinary, skin, immune and women’s health issues.
Dandelion takes over our lawns and ditches, and anywhere from sidewalk cracks to garden beds. If you can accept that it actually has much to offer you, you can start enjoying the bounty of medicine it offers as one of the best known and widely used tonic herbs.
It is said that the medicine we need most grows in our own backyards, so if this is true, the weed persistently and stubbornly growing up all around you might just be trying to tell you something!
Dandelion as Medicine
The entire dandelion plant has medicinal uses, but it is the leaf and root that are used most commonly. The root is valued for its ability to act as a digestive tonic, supporting digestion and liver function, while the leaf is best known for its nutrient value as a wild food source, and medicinally as a diuretic that is comparable to some pharmaceutical diuretics.
Together, these actions make the plant beneficial for helping strengthen the body’s systems of elimination. These systems support the body’s natural detoxification abilities, which in turn can have a positive effect on whole-body health and wellness, correcting conditions we didn’t even know were related to our liver health.
Dandelion roots, when dug in spring, are bitter and an excellent tonic to the liver and digestive system. They are considered both stimulating and decongesting to the liver.
Dandelion roots stimulate the flow of bile, helping break down cholesterol and fats, and offering benefit to congested livers and gallbladder conditions like gallstones. Since the liver plays a crucial part in detoxification and other important metabolic processes (8), strengthening your liver can help to correct common health concerns you might not guess are related to liver health, such as rheumatic conditions, chronic skin conditions and the balancing of hormones, to name a few.
To reap the most of dandelion’s bitter effect, you need to hold the taste in your mouth for a moment. This bitter taste triggers increased hydrochloric acid secretion and bile flow which in turn increases the clearance of metabolic wastes from the liver. Although the root is the most bitter, dandelion greens also possess bitter qualities.
Improves General Digestion
The ritual of consuming bitters prior to a meal has traditionally been used across many cultures to improve appetite, digestion, absorption and elimination.
As a mild bitter tonic, dandelion root encourages healthy digestive function and can help with common digestive issues like constipation, poor appetite, indigestion, bloating, flatulence and hyper-acidity. It can also be used to help stabilize blood sugar, and for signs of malabsorption.
It is said that when a natural health practitioner doesn’t know what to treat (when a condition is complicated), and they don’t know where to start, it is always helpful to treat the digestive system. The health and wellness of our whole body, our entire being, is connected to the good health of our digestive system.
Liver Tonic and Associated Actions
Dandelion root has hepatoprotective, anti-hepatotoxic, and mild hepatorestorative actions. It can be used as a liver tonic and to generally strengthen liver health as part of disease prevention, as well as in a mildly restorative way, as in the case of a liver disease like hepatitis. (4)
Increasing the health of your liver can have many far-reaching effects, beyond what many realize. Strengthening your liver can help:
• balance hormones, and related conditions—see the “Dandelion and Women’s Health” section below for more
• decrease blood cholesterol
• chronic skin conditions (7)
• break down dietary fats and help digest fatty foods
Dandelion root assists with elimination, which has benefits ranging from helping with mild constipation to helping to clear conditions of the liver, gallbladder and joints.
The cholagogue action of dandelion root helps to decongest the gallbladder by increasing the flow of bile, while its choleretic action helps to promote bile production.
Inulin Enhances Gut Flora
Dandelion roots, when dug in fall, are less bitter, and contain from 25% (10) up to 40% inulin (2), a pre-biotic starch which offers health benefits including improved gut flora, decreased inflammation of intestinal mucosa, and enhanced immune function. Since inulin isn’t extracted well by alcohol, use dandelion as a food or tea to gain the advantages offered by inulin.
Use Dandelion Root to Help with These Common Health Concerns
Common digestive issues:
• indigestion, poor digestion (to enhance assimilation and elimination), bloating, flatulence, gas, nausea, and constipation
Other digestive issues:
• signs of malabsorption (floating, smelly, light-colored stool; undigested food in stool) (1)
• hyper-acidity; in mild cases of excess stomach acid, bitters like dandelion root can often help
• balancing blood sugar; can be used as part of a broader herbal and dietary treatment for diabetes (4)
• stomach ulcers (4)
• dyspepsia (2, 10)
• as part of a broader treatment for IBS; IBS-related constipation is best treated with gentle, mild laxatives like dandelion root (8)
• for poor appetite
• liver disease, like hepatitis (10); during acute illness and as a restorative remedy after (4)
• jaundice (2, 10)
• toxic exposure (10)
• cirrhosis (7)
• to reduce risk of or to help treat gallbladder disease and conditions including gallstones (10)
• chronic skin conditions
• chronic rheumatic conditions; use leaf and root together for best benefit
• balancing hormones (and related conditions/symptoms)
• part of broader treatment of hypoglycemia (4, 2); to regulate blood sugar levels (9)
• general health of liver and gallbladder
• for improved gut flora (as a tea or food), and immune function
• bitters have traditionally been used with food intolerances and allergies(8)
Keep the Herbal Learning Coming!
Dandelion Leaves-Herbal Diuretic
Dandelion leaves have a tonic effect on the kidneys. They are known as the perfect herbal diuretic. They are high in potassium, so unlike pharmaceutical diuretics which deplete this mineral, dandelion leaf replenishes the body of important vitamins and minerals, including potassium. Depletion of potassium can be dangerous, because it is critical to the healthy function of muscles, especially the heart. As a diuretic, dandelion leaves support the kidneys and help rid the body of excess waste through the urine.
Dandelion leaves are useful in cases of occasional water retention, like swelling of the ankles. Under the care of your healthcare provider they can be used for edema due to hypertension, ascites (abnormal accumulation of fluids in the abdominal cavity) (2 and 10), as well as congestive heart failure. (10)
Simon Mills and Kerry Bone report that the high level of potassium and diuretic activity of dandelion leaves makes it specifically useful in “the treatment of elevated systolic blood pressure in the elderly”. (8)
Use Dandelion Leaf to Help with These Common Health Concerns
• Gallstones and urinary stones—prevention and treatment
• Occasional water retention (swelling of ankles)
• Edema due to hypertension
• Congestive heart failure
• Elevated systolic blood pressure, especially in the elderly (8)
• Rheumatic conditions (arthritis); use leaf and root together for best benefit
Root and Leaf Together:
Detoxification and Anti-Rheumatic Effect
The digestive and liver tonic effects of dandelion root, combined with the diuretic properties of the leaf, make dandelion an excellent herb to help strengthen the body’s systems of elimination, which in turn support our body’s natural detoxification abilities.
Together, the root and leaf of dandelion stimulate cellular metabolism, help vitamins and minerals circulate to tissues that need them, and aid in the elimination of metabolic waste, like uric acid, which contributes to joint pain. These actions combine to produce an anti-rheumatic effect, which has benefit in chronic rheumatic conditions like arthritis and gout. (7)
Dandelion and Women’s Health:
The liver is the site where our hormones get broken down and a congested liver may not be able to process them adequately. The endocrine system plays a role in this as well, but a healthy liver is important to this process. Imbalanced hormone levels can lead to common women’s health concerns like PMS (8), estrogen-related fibroids (7) and endometriosis (9). The gentle liver tonic effects of dandelion root can help with such conditions by increasing estrogen clearance through the liver. (4) It can also help to protect the liver from the effects of hormone-based drugs like the birth control pill. (9)
Since the dandelion leaf is helpful for reducing fluid retention of any kind, it lends itself to woman’s health, helping eliminate excess water due to PMS, including menstrual bloating and breast tenderness. (9)
Although not a common usage in Western Herbal Medicine, dandelion is prized for its use in both the prevention and treatment of different breast-related conditions in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. In these systems dandelion is well-loved as a lymphatic tonic, an herb that promotes detoxification of that system. As such, it is useful in treatments for breast cancer, mammary gland inflammation, sore breasts, breast tumors of various types, cysts, suppressed lactation, and swollen breast lymph glands. (6)
Ways Dandelion Helps with Common Women’s Health Concerns:
• PMS (as part of wider treatment) (8)
• conditions associated with relative oestrogen excess like endometriosis (9), or estrogen-related fibroids (7)
• to protect the liver from the effects of hormone-based drugs like the birth control pill (9)
• various breast-related conditions (6)
Dandelion as Food
Dandelion is highly nutritive. The leaf and root contain vitamins A, B, C and D and the minerals potassium, iron and copper. The leaf also contains carotenoids, and the roots contain some phosphorous and zinc. (2) Since dandelion root aids general digestion, it also helps the body to assimilate these nutrients.
Fresh spring dandelion leaves are commonly steamed or cooked in a stir-fry with other greens and veggies. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice.
Cook with dandelion roots as you would use carrots in soups or stews.
Medicinal Dandelion Preparations
Dandelion Leaf Tea: Prepare as an infusion using 1-2 tsp. dried leaf/cup boiling H20. Infuse covered for 10-15 minutes. Strain. Use between 4-10g dried leaf per day.
Adults can drink ½ to 1 cup 3x/day.
Dandelion Root Tea: Prepare as a decoction using 2 tsp. dried root/cup of water. Bring to a slow, gentle boil using low heat and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes. Use between 2-8g dried root per day.
Drink dandelion root tea daily for several weeks to achieve the best liver tonic benefit!
Since dandelion leaves have a bitter taste, most people enjoy them blended with other herbs. My Stellaria Herbals Vitamin Tea contains a blend of vitamin and mineral-rich herbs, including dandelion leaf.
You can also use dandelion in the form of a tincture, which is an alcohol-based extract.
Dandelion Root Tincture: (1:5): 2.5-5ml 3x/day in water (5)
Dandelion Leaf Tincture: (1:5): 5-10ml 3x/day (5)
Where to Find Dandelions
Dandelions should be easy for you to find if it’s the right season. You can also buy the leaf and root dried from your local herb shop or herbalist. Make sure that you’ve identified the right plant and that you harvest from any area that hasn’t been sprayed or right along the roadside where dogs walk!
Topical Use for Warts
Dandelion stems contain a milky latex substance that can help you to get rid of a wart. Apply the fresh latex to the wart several times a day for several weeks until the wart disappears!
Wild Harvesting Tips
• ensure proper identification
• be sure to harvest from an area that has not been sprayed with pesticides, or is a polluted area
• harvest away from roadsides and walkways where dogs walk (and pee)
• follow ethical wild harvesting guidelines
• harvest leaves anytime, but the younger spring leaves are less bitter and more tender
• harvest roots in fall for highest inulin content
Medicinally, dandelion is often taken as a tincture (alcoholic extract), or as a tea. It is also used to make vitamin-rich vinegars, salves, flower-infused oil for breast massage, and of course roasted dandelion root coffee and dandelion flower wine!
• obstructed bile ducts due to gallstones, cancer of the bile duct or pancreas, or cholangitis
• obstructed intestines/intestinal spasms
• liver cancer
• unconjugated hyperbilirubinaemia
• acute or severe hepatocellular disease (cirrhosis, adverse drug reactions, viral hepatitis)
• if taking hypotensive drugs or other diuretics, or potassium-retaining drugs
• beneficial for angry or irritable people
• Amanda McQuade Crawford: “Regular use of dandelion allows both emotional and physical “static” to clear, perhaps by strengthening the organ that processes toxins and tensions”. (7)
• determination, adaptability; Glennie Kindred says dandelion flower essence “clears emotional stagnation, turning depression into expression and self-empowerment”.
• Anne McIntyre: “Dandelion suits people who have a tendency to cram far too much into their lives”, and who “over-plan and over-structure their lives, “…leaving little room for relaxation”. She states that it helps shift people from “human doings” to “human beings”. (11)
It is always important to seek appropriate medical care as needed, and to follow the standard protocols for when this is necessary. The use of herbs as described in this blog are not a substitute for medical care. If you have a medical condition or are taking medications, consult with your doctor or healthcare provider before using these herbs.
1.Chech, Richo. Making Plant Medicine. Horizon Herbs. 2000.
2.Fisher, Carole. Materia Medica of Western Herbs. Vitex Medica. 2009.
3. Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbs for Stress & Anxiety: How to Make and Use Herbal Remedies to Strengthen the Nervous System. Storey Publishing. 2014.
4. Green, James. The Male Herbal: The Definitive Health Care Book for Men and Boys. Second Edition. Crossing Press. 2007.
5. Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press. 2003.
6.Khalsa, Karta Purkh Singh, and Tierra, Michael. The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs. Lotus Press. 2008.
7.McQuade, Crawford Amanda. The Herbal Menopause Book: Herbs, Nutrition & Other Natural Therapies. The Crossing Press. 1996.
8. Mills, Simon and Bone, Kerry. Principles and Practive of Phytotherapy. Churchill Livingstone. 2000.
9.Trickey, Ruth. Women, Hormones & The Menstrual Cycle: Herbal and medical solutions from adolescence to menopause. Allen & Unwin. 1998.
11. McIntyre, Anne. The Complete Floral Healer: The healing power of flowers through herbalism, aromatherapy, homeopathy and flower essences. Gaia books Limited. 1996.
10. Dr. Nicky Baillie. International College of Herbal Medicine. NZ. Class Materia Medica notes 2012.
Do you have an herbal question for me? Send me a note through my contact page. I’m always looking for questions that I can answer in my blog—Herbal Q&A! Have fun bringing dandelion into your life!