Dandelion is a sunny, subtle, yet incredibly healing plant used for thousands of years in China and mentioned in traditional Arabian medicine in the tenth century C.E. It has been used for centuries, in traditional medicine practices all over the world, as a restorative tonic, edible food, and in herbal wines and beers. The root is a favorite amongst traditional herbalists as it supports the healthy functioning of the liver, kidneys, spleen, and gallbladder9-13 and is considered to be a reliable detoxifying agent. The powdered and roasted root has been enjoyed as a coffee substitute and the roots and leaves are both used in brewing dandelion wines, beer, and in digestive bitter cordials and liqueurs.
Medicinal use of dandelion was first recorded in writing in the Tang Materia Medica (659 B.C.E.),6 and then later noted by Arab physicians in the 10th century. In the 13th century, it was mentioned in Welsh medicine, and has been used all over the world since. The root was enjoyed by pharmacists in Europe as a fresh juice (said to be less bitter tasting) and referred to by its pharmaceutical name Succus Taraxaci. Young dandelion leaves were traditionally eaten frequently in Europe, particularly France.2 In folk medicine all over Europe it was considered a reliable tonic which supported the digestive and urinary systems.3
In the United States, various Native American tribes considered dandelion to be a prized edible, a gastrointestinal aid, a cleansing alterative, and a helpful healing poultice or compress. The Bella Coola from Canada made a decoction of the roots to assuage stomach pain; the Algonquian ate the leaves for their alterative properties and also used them externally as a poultice.7 Additionally, the Aleut steamed leaves and applied them topically to sore throats. The Cherokee believed the root to be an alterative as well and made a tea of the plant (leaves and flowers) to calm the nerves. Further, they chewed the root to allay tooth pain.8 It is interesting to note that dandelion was used for pain relief by the Iroquois as well. They made a tea of the whole plant administering it for this purpose and also considered it be an alterative tonic.7 In the southwestern U.S., in Spanish speaking communities practicing herbalism, dandelion called ‘chicoria’ or ‘diente de leon’ was also considered a reliable blood purifier.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it is referred to as ‘Xin Xiu Ben Cao’ or ‘Pu Gong Ying’ and considered to be energetically sweet, drying, and cooling. According to TCM, dandelion clears heat from the liver and has a beneficial effect on the stomach and lungs. It can uplift the mood and promote lactation.
The root was listed as official in the United States National Formulary, in the pharmacopeias of Austria and the Czech Republic, in the Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia, and the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia amongst others.5 It is an herb that is highly effective in strengthening and supporting the liver. It helps to balance the menstrual cycle as well. Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar strongly suggests this herb for bloating, pre-menstrual irritation, and for breast tenderness and says that it is “invaluable to women going through menopause.”11 The leaf can alleviate bloating by removing excess fluid from the system.10 The leaf contains potassium,12 which is often lost through frequent urination. Dandelion root’s benefit to the digestive tract is twofold as it contains inulin.6,12,14 (which may support healthy bacteria in the intestines), and is also a bitter digestive tonic which tones the digestive system and stimulates the appetite. It calms heat and also hot emotions, and is thus helpful in those that are irritated or nervous.14
The young dandelion greens (rather than the older ones which become too bitter) are wonderful in salads. These leaves can also be steamed like spinach (although they take a little longer to cook than spinach) and spiced with salt, pepper, and butter. Other savory spices such as nutmeg, garlic, onion or lemon peel can be added as well.
USES AND PREPARATIONS: Dried root or leaf as tea or tincture, powdered dried root encapsulated, or powdered and roasted and made into a coffee substitute beverage.
Fresh leaf as an edible food or tincture