Chapter 127 Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion)
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a member of the Compositae family and is closely related to chicory. Several origins have been attributed to the name Taraxacum, the most likely being from the Greek taraxo (“disorder,” “disturbance”), and akos (“remedy”), and akeomai (“I heal”) and from tharakhcharkon, possibly a derivative of a Persian-Arabic word for “edible” and the name by which the plant is referred to in a thirteenth-century Arabian botanical work.1
Taraxacum is known around the world by a variety of names. In English-speaking countries, dandelion (from the French dent-de-lion, referring to the plant’s lion’s tooth leaves) is its most common name. It is also known as wet-a-bed (after its diuretic action), lion’s tooth, fairy clock, priest’s crown, swine’s snout, blowball, milk gowan, wild endive, white endive, cankerwort, puffball, and Irish daisy.
Dandelion is a variable perennial growing to a height of 12 in. Its spatula-like leaves are deeply toothed, shiny, and hairless and are arranged in a ground-level rosette. The yellow flowers bloom for most of the year and are sensitive to light and weather—opening at daybreak and closing at nightfall, and opening in dry weather and closing in wet weather (a closed dandelion flower signals rain). When the flower matures, it closes up, the petals wither, and it forms into a puffball containing seeds that are dispersed by the breeze.
The rosette formation of grooved leaves channels rainwater into the center and down to a taproot, which is thick and dark brown, almost black on the outside. The root is cylindrical, tapering, and somewhat branched. It has a slight odor and sweetish taste. The inside of dried dandelion root is yellowish, very porous, and without pith. It is believed that the plant originated in Central Asia and spread throughout most of the world, preferring the cooler climates. Although Taraxacum is very adaptable, it prefers moist, nitrogen-rich soils at altitudes less than 6000 ft. Most species occur in the temperate zones of the northern hemisphere, with the greatest concentration in northwest Europe.
The portion of the plant that is most commonly used is the root; however, the leaves and whole plant can also be used. In addition to its medicinal use, dandelion is a nutritious food and beverage. Tender leaves are used raw in salads and sandwiches or lightly cooked as a vegetable. Tea is made from the leaves, coffee substitute from the roots, and wine and schnapps from the flowers.
Dandelion root’s calorie count is exceptionally low—a cup is only 25 calories—and its nutrient content is exceptionally high. In fact, dandelion root has greater nutritional value than many other vegetables. It is particularly high in vitamins and minerals, protein, choline, inulin, and pectin. Its carotenoid content is extremely high, as reflected by its having a higher vitamin A content (as beta-catotene) than carrots (dandelion has 14,000 IU of vitamin A per 100 grams, compared with 11,000 IU for carrots). Dandelion greens are an outstanding source of vitamin A and an excellent source of vitamin C, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and thiamine as well as calcium, copper, manganese, and iron.2
The primary therapeutic actions of dandelion are believed to be due to the bitter principle of taraxacin, various terpenoids, inulin, and its high concentration of nutrients, especially choline.3 Other constituents of dandelion that may contribute to its pharmacologic effects are resins, pectin, taraxanthin (a carotenoid pigment in the flowers), fatty acids, and flavonoids.
Later research has elicited several compounds that are likely to be clinically significant. Three flavonoid glycosides—luteolin 7-glucoside and two luteolin 7-diglucosides—have been isolated from dandelion flowers and leaves, together with free luteolin and chrysoeriol in the flower tissue. Three hydroxycinnamic acids—chicoric acid, monocaffeyltartaric acid, and chlorogenic acid—have been found throughout the plant, and the coumarins cichoriin and aesculin have been identified in leaf extracts. Chicoric acid and the related monocaffeyltartaric acid were found to be the major phenolic constituents in dandelion flowers, roots, leaves, and involucral bracts and also in the medicinal preparations tested.5
Although many individuals may consider the common dandelion an unwanted weed, herbalists all over the world have revered this valuable herb. Generally regarded as a liver remedy, dandelion has a long history of folk use throughout the world. In Europe, dandelion has been used in the treatment of the following conditions: