Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale. Digestive bitter | Cellular Chaperone | Nutrient Dense
Dandelions are everywhere!
And we are thankful for that. Weeds tend to show up where they are most needed, yet we don’t always recognize their generosity.
Case in point are dandelions. Dandelions are everywhere, in the cities, country, and every crack in the sidewalks and roadways in between. They show up in our lawns, gardens, and come knocking at our front doors.
Someone once told me that if you can’t beat them, eat them. Better than trying to beat dandelions, cultivate a love for them. Eat your weeds.
They bring so much medicine and nutrition to the table.
Dandelions are low growing perennials with a taproot that can grow to an inch thick over time. If some of the root is left in the ground when digging it out, the dandelion will handily grow back. The root’s main purpose, besides conducting water and minerals to the arial parts of the plants, is to store nutrients for early spring growth.
Oblong to spoon shaped leaves range from mildly to deeply toothed, usually 5 to 15 inches long. The leaves are hairless.
Contrary to popular belief, the dandelion “flower” is actually an inflorescence consisting of dozens of ray flowers – each petal is a flower on the broadened top of the hollow stem. One flower head per stem identifies it as a true dandelion.
Dandelion seeds, or achenes, are grayish brown, ribbed and spiny on the upper portion, and have white pappus hairs on top. These hairs allow the wind to take the seeds up in the air and away from the parent plants. Who hasn’t made a wish while blowing the dandelion seeds off of the stem? If you haven’t, please put that on your bucket list.
The stems, leaves, and roots will produce white latex when broken. Latex is part of the dandelion’s defense system. As the latex is extremely bitter, herbivores – including insects – are hesitant to devour dandelions after a quick bite or two.
Incidentally, the latex in dandelions is different in chemical composition than the rubber tree latex. It’s unlikely that those who have a latex allergy would be allergic to dandelions.
Dandelions thrive in soil rich in potassium and nitrogen. Their presence is a good indicator for growing other plants that need these nutrients. Dandelion roots can travel through the hardest packed clay and create more fertile soil by its ability to pull up nutrients from deep in the earth, collecting them in the leaves, which die back in the fall and deposit the minerals and organic matter to the topsoil. The decaying roots create tunnels which bring in earthworms and beneficial microbes along with aerating the soil to allow for rain to better penetrate. Dandelions are one of the best plant helpers to have in the garden!
Medicine of Dandelions
Dandelion is a primo liver healer and strengthener. We can live without our fingers, we can lose an arm and still keep going, but we can’t live without our liver! The liver performs more than 500 different metabolic and digestive functions each day, including bile production and processing of proteins and fats. Its main function is to filter and process nutrient laden venous blood that is delivered to it directly from the digestive organs. It is a recycling center for toxins, drugs, and alcohol.
Dandelion is a digestive bitter. It heals, nourishes, and balances the entire digestive tract, including the liver. Our entire digestive system comprises our mouth, esophagus, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, large and small intestines, and colon. The small intestine is where up to 80% of the body’s relaxing neurotransmitters are created, and 70% of immune activity occurs. By strengthening and nourishing the digestive tract, including the small intestine, dandelion helps a body have healthier nerve function and better immunity.
Dandelion helps the digestive system to obtain full nutrition from the foods we eat by increasing liver bile and pancreatic enzyme productions. It stimulates gallbladder contractions to release bile into the small intestine, increases hydrochloric acid production in the stomach and more complete metabolization of food. Dandelion heals and supports the mucous producing goblet cells which line the entire alimentary canal, increasing healthy protective mucous and relieving heartburn. Dandelion tones and nourishes the spleen, skin, nerves, kidneys, glands, urinary, circulatory, lymph, and gallbladder. Dandelions can aid in reduction of uric acid and reducing edema in the joints. Dandelions can be a good herbal aid for treating inflammatory diseases such as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical database shows 135 active chemicals in dandelions (1). Dandelion stimulates appetite and elimination of both gases and solids, which is helpful to those with mobility issues. That’s a lot of healing and nutrition from a plant that most people try to eradicate from their yard and garden.
What’s interesting to me is not just that plants do certain things – such as “dandelion is good for the liver” – but how are they doing these things? Why are they doing the things they do? This is what spurs me on to research constituents in plants. It has given me the ability to have a deeper understanding of the plants, make better choices when creating formulas and help to choose the correct menstrua for extracting and preserving each constituent or group of constituents. It has made me a better teacher and medicine maker.
While it would be awesome to take the time to talk about all of dandelions’ superpowers, we will focus on a few key medicinal and nutritional constituents. Let’s first talk about antioxidants, aka bioflavonoids and flavones. Antioxidants are a huge group of chemicals in plants that are capable of increasing bodily health by supporting strong immune function and cell formation, destroying cancer causing free radicals in the body that corrupt cellular information, can repair damaged proteins in cells, have anti-inflammatory properties, and depending on the flavonoid, can be antimicrobial.
Polyphenols, a type of antioxidant, give plants their bitter taste – part of their defense systems against insect invasion. How smart are plants! They can’t get away from intruders and predators, but they can synthesize chemicals that call in the predators of the predators, have tastes that rebuff, and poisons that kill. Polyphenols give plant cells stability, attract pollinators, and protect against UV light.
Polyphenols help to positively influence the health of the gut ecology. The intestinal microflora is a complex ecosystem containing over 400 bacterial species! Bacteria thrive in the gut with the addition of polyphenols, while “bad” bacteria are negatively impacted. What we eat directly influences the health of the structure of our gut and the demographics (the population and particular bacterial groups within it) of the bacteria in our intestines. Polyphenols are micronutrients that must be hydrolyzed (broken down with water) by intestinal enzymes or microflora. Can you see how polyphenols help to create a healthy environment to be metabolized and utilized for their many benefits???
Polyphenols improve function of the inner lining of blood vessels, and are anti-inflammatory.
They add bite to food and give plants colors such as red, blue, orange, yellow, and purple. They may offer protection against the development of cancers, neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, and diabetes.
The bitterness of polyphenols help to:
1. Curb sugar cravings and maintain healthy blood sugar levels
2. Soothe gas and bloating
3. Relieve heartburn, upset stomach, and nausea
4. Encourage digestive enzymes, bile and HCL production
5. Increase absorption of fat soluble vitamins A D E K
A ~ supports healthy teeth, skin, skeletal, and soft tissue. AKA retinol – produces pigments in retina. Good vision, esp. in low light>
D ~ encourages healthy immune system, helps to absorb calcium and promote bone growth and remodeling.
E ~ Protects body tissue from damage caused by free radicals, helps to slow down cellular aging.
K ~ regulates blood clotting and blood calcium level
To Note: Bitters are best taken in tincture form, 5-15 drops about 15-20 minutes before meals, ending by mid afternoon. As food stays in the stomach and small intestines for 4-8 hours or more, depending, it’s important to note that late evening meals can disrupt the circadian rhythm of the liver. At about 9pm, the liver changes its functions from digestion to maintenance, repair and other functions, including immune activity. If we stimulate our livers with heavy evening meals or by taking bitters past about 4 pm, it will be forced to deal with digestion, when it really needs to be doing other things. Ever notice that you wake up in the night after a heavy or late evening dinner or snack with a tummy ache or acid indigestion? That’s your digestive system telling you to watch what time you eat.
Other antioxidants in plants include tannins, glycosides, aglycones, flavanols, flavones, anthocyanins. Just as antioxidants are a critical part of plant defense systems, so they help to defend human cells from intruders as well.
Of the many antioxidants in dandelions, here are but a few with information about what they do in the human body.
Aesculetin, a natural lactone in the dandelion leaf, has analgesic properties as well as having fungicide, anti-mutagenic, antipyretic, and anti asthmatic affects. Aesculetin can help relax muscles. It is weakly basic, nearing neutral in ph, and is soluble in alcohol and acetic acid. Almost insoluble in boiling water.
Alpha-tocopherol in the leaf have anti-tumor benefits against bladder, prostrate, and stomach cancers. It is cardioprotective.
Ascorbic acid in the root is antibacterial, helps to slow down aging, is anti-inflammatory, antiviral, cardioprotective, vasodilator, and immunomodulator and stimulant.
Beta-carotene in leaf and flower is a powerhouse that is anti-cancer to colon, breast, central nervous system, lung, prostate, and stomach cancers. Beta-carotene helps with arthritis symptoms, acne, protects the gastric system, and promotes the formation of mucus. Mucus is that wonderful substance that protects and moves things along the respiratory, digestive, visual, auditory, and renal systems.
Caffeic acid in the entire plant chaperones and protects the DNA in cells from oxidative damage, repairs injured proteins in cells, has inhibitory effects on cancer mutation.
Oleanolic acid in the whole plant shows anti-tumor, anti-malarial, anti-allergic, antibacterial effects.
Chlorogenic acid in the whole plant acts as a diuretic and antiviral. It protects the liver, helps to suppress viral diseases causes by herpes, and aids in blocking histamine reactions. An anti-carcinogenic, chlorogenic acid counteracts the effects of a carcinogen and inhibits the development of cancer.
Isoquercitrin the flower is an anti-inflammatory antioxidant that is diuretic and aids in capillary angiogenesis. No metabolically active tissue in the body is more than a few hundred micrometers from a blood capillary, which is formed by the process of angiogenesis. Capillaries are needed in all tissues for diffusion exchange of nutrients and metabolites (2).
Luteolin in the flower – oh man – does so many things to promote health, stop the inflammatory process, stop the cancer process in early stages, tells cancer cells to self destruct (apoptosis), dilates the blood vessels to aid in bringing down blood pressure, destroy bacteria.
Quercitin in the flowers are analgesic, anti arthritic, antidepressant, anti-flu, anti-plaque, anti-tumor, diaphoretic, vasodilator, all the things!!!!
Tannins in the root are antibacterial and aid the expulsion of parasites from the intestines. Tannins have limited systemic absorption, which means its medicine is mostly limited to mucous membranes and skin. As tannins are taken in, they can bond with mucosal proteins to quell diarrhea and with blood proteins to decrease minor bleeding.
But wait! There’s more!
Dandelion roots contain inulin, which is a fructan made up of chains of fructose molecules that is not digested in the small intestine. Also known as fiber, inulin travels to the lower gut, where it functions as a prebiotic – food source for beneficial gut bacteria, making for a more healthy functioning digestive system. Inulin aids in the removal of waste and allows for more complete elimination. Yay team inulin! There’s nothing like a good poop to make a person feel good about themselves.
Dandelions contain taraxasterol, a phytosterol that has been shown to have cholesterol lowering and antimicrobial effects. Phytosterols inhibit metastasis and are chemoprotective – protecting healthy tissue from the toxic effects of anticancer drugs.
Taraxasterol interferes with cancer process- inhibit, delay, reverse carcinogenesis which is the initiation of cancer formation.
The taraxerol in dandelions is an anti-inflammatory triterpenoid. Triterpenes have strong antioxidant properties, prevent insulin resistance and normalize glucose and insulin levels. Taraxerol helps with wound healing. Anticancer activity.
Latex in the leaf, root, and stem is a complex, sticky mixture made of polymers and other substances dispersed in water. A polymer is a long molecule made of smaller molecules joined together. The components of latex include proteins, carbohydrates, oils, resins, and gums. It’s thought that the function of the material is to seal wounds and to protect the plant from insect attack and infection by microbes (3). Dandelion latex can be used for dissolving warts, although it takes time and commitment. The latex is applied once a day for a month with a piece of duct tape put over it after each application. One day, the duct tape comes off with the wart on it! How cool is that? The latex can also be applied to pimples to eliminate them.
Sesquiterpene lactones in dandelion root are directly cytotoxic to several types of cancer cells. An aqueous extract of fresh roots give the most power to the cancer killing punch.
Nutrients in Dandelions
Dandelions include a wealth of nutrients that are fuel for all of our body’s functions. My dad remembered his grandma sending him out to pick dandelion leaves every spring. She sautéed them up with onions and garlic in bacon fat. What a treat! She understood that food is medicine. The nutrients in dandelion leaves are plentiful, and the acidic nature of the bacon fat helped to aid the calcium and iron to be better assimilated by her family’s body cells. She didn’t know the science, but she knew her plants.
Nutrients and their superpowers
Calcium in the entire plant is responsible for muscle contraction and relaxation and anxiety relief, nerve impulse transmission, and proper functioning of the heart and kidneys. Calcium plays a part in a chain of events that coagulate blood after and injury. Incidentally, Vitamin D is required for optimal calcium absorption and the sun is the best source.
Magnesium leaf and root strengthens cell membranes, aids in the relaxation of cramping muscles, supports a healthy immune system. It helps to lift the spirits, calm down stress.
Potassium in the root and leaf regulates fluid balance, nerve signals, and stops muscle spasms. Potassium protects the heart.
I call calcium, magnesium, and potassium the trifecta to keep us calm and aid in recovery from muscle cramping.
Chromium in the root helps heal acne, slows the aging process, and stimulates insulin production.
Copper in the leaf and root eases arthritis, fatigue, and inhibits inflammatory markers.
Iron in the root is the mineral that attaches itself to a blood cell and attracts an oxygen molecule from the lungs. The blood cell then travels to the capillary beds where the oxygen molecule jumps off, enters a mitochondria in the nucleus of a cell and causes a reaction that violently breaks apart molecular chains to create energy. That’s called the Krebs Cycle, my friends. Mind blown!!!!
Mannitol in the root is a sugar alcohol that is a diuretic and helps to speed up the elimination of toxic substances. It’s important to note that drinking plenty of water when using any diuretic is critical to the health and function of the renal system. Mannitol is also a laxative, so that’s cool.
Niacin in the leaf helps relieve vertigo, hangovers, protects the cardiac system, and helps to prevent cancer. It seems to help to prevent dementia.
Phosphorus in the root and leaf stimulates the immune system, plays an important role in the formation and strength of bones and teeth. The body needs phosphorus to make proteins for growth, maintenance, and cellular and tissue repair. It is an essential component of cell membranes and is required by every cell in the body for normal function.
Selenium in the root helps to slow aging, make healthy hair, nails and teeth, less cardiovascular disease. Selenium gives our cell structure, prevent cellular damage, increases antioxidant capabilities, helps the body to resist disease, boosts immunity, regulates thyroid function, defends against heart disease. A trace mineral, we need only small amounts, however, it can be destroyed in food processing and high heat.
Thiamin in the root and leaf aids in the reduction of heartburn, protects the nerves, helps to prevent canker sores, relieve migraines and fatigue, and plays a role in treating lyme disease.
Zinc in the leaf stimulates the immune response, stimulates the production of insulin, helps relieve dandruff, plays a role in healthy gums. Zinc is required for the ability to smell and taste. It aids in wound healing, cell division and growth, and the breakdown of carbohydrates.
To make dandelion medicine, we need to understand its constituents. Minerals and vitamins extract well into apple cider vinegar and honey. Antioxidants are water soluble and many need to be processed fresh to preserve their effects. This means fresh plants in 80-100 proof alcohol and honey. I love making dandelion root elixir. An elixir is half honey and half alcohol. In the elixir and straight tincture, you’ll see a milky substance on the bottom of the jar. That’s the inulin and proof that you did a great job with the extraction!
Check out Plant Medicine Made Easy for step by step instructions.
Making herbal medicine is so much fun and looks great on the apothecary shelves. Jars of elixirs, tinctures, salves, herb infused vinegars and honeys. However, if those we wish to utilize the medicines won’t or can’t take alcohol tinctures, don’t like the taste of teas, or think that all herbal medicine is hippy voodoo, then all the jars on the shelves are just that. The goal is to get the medicine to the people in a way that they’ll be happy to take so that healing can occur!
Consider a whole plant dandelion infused vinegar as an ingredient in marinades, dipping sauces, salad dressings. Oxymel in fizzy water makes a tasty herbal shrub. Dandelion honey can be put into lemonades and teas.
There you have it! Aesculetin to Zinc….and there’s so much more to dandelion! The more time you spend with dandelions, grazing on their sun kissed leaves, holding a flower under your friend’s chin to see if they like butter, blowing the seeds out into the world as you make beautiful wishes, digging up the roots, the more you’ll learn about their magic and medicine. I’m excited for your adventures!
As always, I love you and leave you…Wild About Plants!