In Praise of Dandelions
I studied as a student of Herbal Medicine in England back in the late 1980s. The course that I was on covered a vast array of herbs, from indigenous ones native to England and Europe, to many from the American continent.
But the plant that stood out most of all for me, and quickly became my favourite herb, was a common garden weed, namely, dandelion.
Dandelion: Taraxacum officinale
Parts used: Roots and leaves
The dandelion is also known in French as Pissenlit, and Dent-de-lion. The first name refers to the herb's remarkable ability to "mightily provoke the urine" as the 17th Century herbalist Nicholas Culpepper said, the French meaning being literally to "piss the bed" due to its diuretic nature. The second name is a reference to the shape of the dandelion's leaves, which are coarsely serrated, looking like the teeth of a lion.
Much maligned by gardeners and farmers alike, the dandelion plant is actually one of the best herbal remedies available for a host of ills. It has the remarkable ability to extract just about every kind of mineral from the soil, and so cultivators of the land hate it as it is known as a 'soil robber.' Because of this ability to suck up all the minerals found in the surrounding soil, dandelion root is rich in essential minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium and zinc. It is said to generally contain more iron than spinach.
The Doctrine of Signatures
For many centuries it was held that if a plant and its parts resembled any part of human anatomy, then the plant was useful for healing those bodily parts of disease. This theory is known as the Doctrine of Signatures. To people today, this may sound like a fanciful old wives tale, but in fact, many plants have been scientifically verified that they do indeed help those parts of the body which the plant resembles in some way, either by flower colour or by some peculiar bodily resemblance of parts of the plant to human anatomy.
Although it may not be proven in every case, (and there may at times only be fanciful resemblances) there is something in Nature which definitely alludes to the use of herbal remedies in this manner, and dandelion is no exception.
Many yellow-flowered plants have been considered to be useful for conditions of the liver and the gall bladder and for disorders where it is necessary to increase bile flow. The bile is yellow in colour, and dandelion is one of those herbal remedies that bears decidedly bright yellow flowers. It is no surprise to learn then, that dandelion finds most excellent use for all diseases of the liver. It is also of great value for the kidneys and also the rather yellow-coloured pancreas, assisting that organ in balancing blood sugar levels.
The Doctrine of Signatures really requires at least another article just for that subject alone, and in fact, a book could readily be compiled concerning this ancient medicinal teaching. For example, another indicator of this theory of 'signatures' is that of walnuts, which very closely resemble the brain, with all its convolutions, and science bears out that walnuts are indeed beneficial to that cerebral organ of thinking, logic and consciousness, largely due to the oils found in this nut.
The Remedial Virtues
I have been recommending dandelion as a healing herb for at least 30 years, and have found it to be of great use in a whole host of conditions. It is a tonic, especially for the organs mentioned above, and a blood purifier. It has the ability to pull toxins out of the liver and to assist the liver to function properly. It will help the liver to produce new cells, and therefore assists the liver in its function as a blood-cleanser.
If someone is prone to gall-bladder stones, or kidney stones and gravel, dandelion will slowly and gently dissolve these stones and flush them out in solute via the natural eliminations. It has the ability to help the pancreas in its functions of balancing blood sugar, as observed above, and can therefore be a useful remedy for managing diabetic conditions.
Dandelion can gently lower blood pressure if it is too high. Much of the latter action is due to the high potassium levels found in dandelion, as it helps to balance the ratio of potassium over sodium in the so-called sodium-potassium pump of the cell itself. It has often been considered to be superior to many of the diuretics produced artificially by pharmaceutical companies.
In addition, dandelion acts as an excellent laxative and tonic to the entire system. I have personally never found that it has any unpleasant side-effects, and the only caution taking it is that if you overdo it, you may get a little diarrhea, as it stimulates the peristaltic action of the bowel. But, for this very reason, dandelion is first-rate at helping the system to eliminate toxins, and therefore has a decidedly tonic and cleansing effect upon the bowel and the blood.
Because of dandelion's ability to eliminate toxins from the bloodstream, it has great benefit for anyone suffering from rheumatism and painful, swollen joints, such as in gout or any other condition causing oedema, or swelling of tissues. It reduces inflammation due to all of its tonic and detoxifying effects, and can help to break down crystallized deposits found in the joints and flush them out of the system.
Roots and Leaves
Every part of the dandelion plant has been used in herbal medicine, and also as a vegetable, using the young spring greens mixed in salads, and the flowers have been made into wine, such as the old country concoction dandelion and burdock wine, a sovereign remedial tonic wine, rarely seen these days.
In traditional herbal medicine, the principle medicinal parts used are the roots and leaves, particularly the root. The leaves have a good cleansing action and are nutritious, known as a 'bitter' herb due to the bitterness of the leaves. They increase the bile flow from the liver, and hence are an aid to digestion, and help the kidneys to eliminate toxins.
The roots however, are the main factor as a medicine proper, and contain a myriad of medicinal ingredients, including the principle ingredient called inulin. (Not to be confused with insulin, however, although the root does help the pancreas, as observed earlier.)
The main action of the root is on the liver itself, and this organ, next to the heart, is arguably the most important organ we have, and is certainly the major organ of digestion. The liver is the only organ that, if damaged or cut away, can regenerate itself and grow back. That's how important the liver is!
The root of dandelion makes an agreeable coffee substitute when the roots are dried and then roasted. Many of the medicinal benefits remain intact and can be enjoyed as a wholesome drink without the side-effects of stimulating caffeine, as found in coffee. Health stores have been selling dandelion coffee for many years now.
Dandelion as a Cancer Cure?
For the last 30 years, I have strongly suspected that in dandelion, we have one of Nature's best remedies for combating and alleviating cancer. I have been of that opinion very strongly because of the wonderful way in which dandelion helps the liver and kidneys to function better and to eliminate toxins from the blood. If we get rid of toxins in the system then disease cannot possibly thrive.
Recently, my intuitions on this marvellous plant received some genuine credence from a University of Windsor study which took place in Ontario, Canada.
This is a quote from their website at uwindsor.ca
"The Dandelion Root Project is aimed at showcasing scientific evidence for the safe and effective use of dandelion root extract and other natural health products for cancer therapy.
The Dandelion Root Project started in 2009 in a bid to investigate the anticancer effect of the root extract of dandelions against cancer cells in the lab (in cells and in animal models).
Since the commencement of this project, we have been able to successfully assess the effect of a simple water extract of dandelion root in various human cancer cell types, in the lab and we have observed its effectiveness against human T cell leukaemia, chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia, pancreatic and colon cancers, with no toxicity to non-cancer cells. Furthermore, these efficacy studies have been confirmed in animal models (mice) that have been transplanted with human colon cancer cells.
We also applied for Phase I clinical trials in 2012 for the use of DRE (Dandelion Root Extract) in hematological cancers and in November 2012, we obtained approval for the administration of DRE in human patients and currently, the dandelion root extract is under Phase 1 clinical trials for drug refractory blood cancers.
Studies to understand how dandelion root extract can identify differences between cancer cells and non-cancer cells are underway, while at the same time, the identification of the active components within the extract is ongoing. We are excitingly awaiting the results from these studies."
I think that this is very exciting information and I look forward to seeing a progressive step forward in using one of Nature's finest herbs for healing the whole person.
Taking Dandelion Remedy
There are several ways in which to take dandelion as a remedy, such as dandelion spring greens in salad mixes, or as a tea with leaves and roots, for example. However, in order to get the maximum extract out of the medicinal ingredients from dandelion root, it is necessary to either boil the dried root for at least 15 minutes or to take it as a liquid extract (carefully prepared by a herbalist) or as a tincture.
I find that the tincture works best of all and is the most convenient to take. Tinctures are made by steeping the plant components in alcohol and straining the liquid off. The alcohol acts as a natural preservative and also has the effect of drawing the medicinal ingredients right out of the plant parts. Therefore, the tincture is highly concentrated.
Most good health stores stock medicinal tinctures, and practicing herbalists certainly will have their own makes on hand. For convenience, I recommend going to your local health store and purchasing the excellent brands of dandelion tincture that are available for home use. A good tincture will normally come in a 60 ml bottle with a dropper and directions on the label. It should usually say on the bottle that it is made from the roots and leaves of the plant, although some may just be made from the root only.
Where I live, in Canada, I really like the Dandelion tincture made by St. Francis Herb Farm. Their tincture contains both root and leaves.
Normally, you would take Dandelion tincture three times per day, just following the directions on the label, with the drops being put into a glass of water. If you find that your bowel motions are too vigorous and too often, then try cutting the dosage down to twice or even once per day, and possibly using a lower count on the number of drops per dose, until the bowel is normal again.
If your stomach is sensitive to alcohol, pour some hot water from the kettle into a cup, drop in the required tincture drops and let it stand for fifteen minutes; most of the alcohol will evaporate off. Then top up with cold water and drink it down. It's that easy!
Dandelion is such a 'safe' herb that you can pretty much take it for as long as required, on and off, over the years. The wholistic physician, Dr. Andrew Weil believes, as I do, that you can take dandelion indefinitely over a long period of time. Please see his link for more information below.
It is important to always ensure that you consult with a medically trained professional concerning any health issues that you have, and ensure that you receive a proper diagnosis of any condition that may be troubling you.
In conclusion, along with a healthy diet of organic foods, exercise and practices such as meditation and yoga, dandelion can be a major factor in restoring your health and well-being. In my opinion, no home should be without a bottle of dandelion tincture, always ready and on hand!