Herb of the Month

DANDELION

Latin: Taraxacum Officinal

Family: Asteraceae

Folk Names: bitterwort, blowball, cankerwort, chicoria, consuelda, devil’s milkpail, heart-fever grass, milk witch, piss-en-lit, wet-a-bed, & wild endive (to name a few)

Energy and Flavors: Leaves are cool & bitter; Root is bitter, sweet and cool

Systems Affected: Liver, Spleen <stomach, Kidney & Bladder

Primary Biochemical Constituents: Taraxin, lactupicrine, tannin, Inulin, polysaccharides, carotene, & eudesmanolides, sterols, flavonoids, mucilage

Properties: Aterative, cholegogue, diuretic, stomachic, aperient, tonic

Traditional Use: Liver problems, urinary tract infections, skin eruptions, stomach pains, cancer, & as a nutritive

Dandelions are considered by most people to be a useless weed, however, it is an incredible beneficial herb. Every part of the plant has a use, from food, to medicine, to dye.  In fact the Ford Company is currently researching the possibility of creating sustainable tires out of sap from a type of Russian dandelion.   It is believed that dandelions are native to Greece and the Mediterranean regions of Asia Minor.  They now grow worldwide except in the desert and the tropics.   It is especially prolific around the northern temperate zones and can flourish from sea level to 18,000 feet (dandelions have been reported in the Himalaya’s.)  It is a perennial member of the Asteraceae family and is considered by botanists to be a dicot ( a plant that bears two leaves from its germinating seed.)  Dandelion grows where the soil is healthy- and is an indicator of the presence of potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium in the soil. They prefer loose, rich, well-drained, nitrogen-rich soil with neutral acidity.

Traditional Uses of Dandelion

Magical Uses: Rubbing oneself with dandelion juice was said to insure hospitality in any home.  It has been used to promote psychic powers, to call spirits, to send messages to a loved one, and it will bring favorable winds when buried in the northwest corner of a house.  It has also been used for wishing and fortune telling.

Early Traditions: The Islamic physician, Ibn sînå (A.D. 900-1037) proscribed dandelion root to stimulate bile production for those with liver problems. Nicolas Culpepper, an English herbalist of the seventeenth century, suggests dandelion for “every evil disposition of the body.”  It was eaten by many traditions both as a pot-herb and in salads as a spring tonic.  Dandelion wine and beer were common drinks by many cultures.  Dandelion Coffee was also made from the roasted roots. It does not negatively effect the nerves and digestive organs in the same way that coffee and tea do. It exercises a stimulating influence over the whole system, helping the liver and kidneys to do their work and keeping the bowels in a healthy condition, so that it offers great advantages to dyspeptics and does not cause wakefulness.

Native American Uses: The Digger Indians of Colorado and the Papago of the Southwest ate dandelions both raw and cooked.  The Iroquois boiled the leaves with fatty meats.  Medicinally, dandelion was used among many tribes.  The Mohegan’s drank a tea of the leaf for liver problems.  Kiowa women boiled the flowers with pennyroyal leaves to treat menstrual cramps. The Papago also used the flowers in a tea for menstrual cramps.  The Navajo used a decoction of the root after childbirth to hasten the delivery of the placenta.  The Iroquois used dandelion to treat jaundice, and the Fox Indians used the root to treat chest pains.  In New Mexico, the Tewa Indians used a poultice of the leaves to help heal broken bones, bruises, swellings, sores, and fractures.  The flowers were used by many for their yellow dye.

Chinese Medicine:  In China, the related species-Taraxicum mongolicum (pu-gong-ying) is used to clear heat and clear “fire poisons,” as well as to cure dampness. In TCM dandelion is often used to treat the Liver.  Tea made from the entire plant is used to treat “hot” disorders that manifest as excess heat in the Liver.  Hepatitis has been cured by ingesting  the root tea.  Dandelion root has also been used in TCM to treat hypoglycemia, high-blood pressure, and anemia.  The leaves are used as a diuretic.  The young leaves are a nutritive when eaten.   Dandelion has also been used to treat breast cancer. Today, it is added to an herbal formula to treat AIDS.

Ayurvedic Medicine: In Ayurveda, the dandelion is considered to purge “ama” which are accumulated waste and toxins in the body.  It nurtures Vata, and decreases Pitta and Kapha.  It is thought to be bitter, sweet, and cooling.

Clinical Trials and Scientific Findings

In clinical trials conducted at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada, scientists sought to determine the anti-cancer activity of dandelion root extract (DRE) against human leukemia, and to evaluate the specificity and mechanism of DRE-induced apoptosis. Cell death activity occurred quickly and continued even after the 24 hour application of the extract was removed.  The results of this study found that aqueous DRE effectively induced apoptosis in human leukemia cell and correlates with traditional wisdom of dandelion use for cancer treatments.

Another study conducted at the School of Life Sciences, at the University of Science and Technology of China tested the Inhibitory effect of aqueous dandelion extract on HIV-1 replication.  The general problems in current therapy include the constant emergence of drug-resistant HIV strains, adverse side effects and the unavailability of treatments in developing countries. Natural products from herbs with the abilities to inhibit HIV-1 life cycle at different stages, have served as excellent sources of new anti-HIV-1 drugs. This study aimed to investigate the anti-HIV-1 activity of aqueous dandelion extract.  The results of the experiments show that compared to control values obtained from cells infected without treatment, the level of HIV-1 replication and reverse transcriptase activity were decreased in a dose-dependent manner. The data suggest that dandelion extract has a potent inhibitory activity against HIV-1 replication and reverse transcriptase activity.

Resources 

Buhner, Steven Harrod. (1998) Sacred and Herbal Healing  Beers; The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation. Brewers Publications, Colorado

Mars, Bridgitte. (1999) Dandelion Medicine.  Schoolhouse Road, Vermont.

Tierra, Michael O.M.D.(1998) The Way of Herbs, Pocket Books, New York.

Ovadje PChatterjee SGriffin CTran CHamm CPandey S. (2010) Selective induction of apoptosis through activation of caspase-8 in human leukemia cells (Jurkat) by dandelion root extract; J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 Jan 7;133(1):86-91. Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, University of Windsor, Windsor, ON, Canada. retrieved from online source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed.

Schütz KCarle RSchieber A. (2006) Taraxacum–a review on its phytochemical and pharmacological profile; Institute of Food Technology, Section Plant Foodstuff Technology, Hohenheim University, August-von-Hartmann-Strasse 3, D-70599 Stuttgart, Germany.Taraxacum–a review on its phytochemical and pharmacological profile. retrieved from online source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed

Huamin Han, Wen He, Wei Wang and Bin Gao. (2011) Inhibitory effect of aqueous dandelion extract on HIV-1 replication and reverse transcriptase activity. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2011, 11:112. retrieved from online source: http://www.biomedcentral.com

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