Herb Profile: Dandelion
A piece of every herbalist dies inside as they watch their neighbors mercilessly “weed” out their dandelions every spring. Ok, ok...maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. But only because of the plethora of health benefits each dandelion flower, leaf, and root holds within!
If you’ve read our previous herb profiles, you know by now how much we love our weeds and dandelion is no exception. Although the flower and leaf have loads of beneficial properties as well, we will only be talking about the juiciness in the root today. From gentle detoxification support to promoting digestion to nourishing and building up our liver: dandelion root can do whole a lot. Not to mention...when roasted it carries a distinct flavor akin to our old buddy coffee.
Time To Get Juicy
When your digestive system gets “turned on,” what does it say? Well...we’re still not exactly clear on what it translates to but it sure does make a lot of gurgling noises. Just like when you’re in the mood for sexy time and you feel all “juicy” inside, your digestive system feels the same when yummy food is on the table and you're getting ready to eat!
Or at least it should…
Here's what we mean. When we are chronically stressed or are dealing with a slew of digestive issues these juicy secretions may not come when we need them to. This is where dandelion root comes to the rescue. The bitter, so-called "sesquiterpene lactones" (a class of chemical compounds) in dandelion root help stimulate our digestive juices to get flowing so everything else can flow too.
BONUS: these bitter constituents are believed to offer both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects (Yarnell & Abascal, 2009; Ovadje et al., 2015).
Unlike regular coffee which is a well-known appetite suppressant, dandelion root acts as a mild appetite stimulant through all of its juicy action. Don’t worry: these effects are not SO intense that it will leave you snacking on chocolate or chips all day long...but it can help keep your blood sugar balanced by stimulating you enough to eat a solid breakfast with your morning cup of Rasa.
Ok, time to commence the poop talk (if you read our herb profile on chicory root you know this is a running theme for us! Pun intended :)). When dandelion root helps release all these beneficial digestive juices, naturally things are going to be encouraged to start moving along inside as well.
Although going “number 2” is a common activity we partake in every day, it’s actually one of our bodies main routes of detoxification. That’s right: every time you poop you are “detoxing!” So, naturally, if things get backed up in there, toxins can become reabsorbed into your bloodstream, which can cause certain symptoms to flare up. The mild laxative action of dandelion root is one of the ways it helps enact gentle detoxification.
For some, this might sound like an oxymoron. How can “gentle” and “detoxification” go together? Isn’t detoxification supposed to be intense, even uncomfortable, and involve purging in some way? Yes, detoxification can be a powerful and a somewhat difficult experience...but it can also be a gentle one! Take the poop example for instance. Typically our daily bowel movements are easy and (hopefully) a comfortable, mild way to detox. Thankfully dandelion root is one of those herbs that can help guide us on the path of gentle detoxification and does not require 14 days of drinking only "green juice".
What does this look like? Unlike other “detox” programs you might be familiar with where you experience extreme side effects at the beginning, dandelion root promotes detoxification without putting you out of commission. The distinctly bitter flavor of dandelion that we mentioned earlier, which helps get our juices flowing, is one of the main factors creating a detoxifying effect. The inherent detox focus in dandelion root is on our bodily fluids (including blood, urine, saliva... you know, all the juicy things), liver, and gallbladder.
Now the word “detox” has become quite the trendy health word lately. But our body naturally detoxes both metabolic and synthetic substances daily on its own whether we “consciously” choose to detox or not. Note that there are many different ways you can detox the body and many different types of toxins that can be detoxed. We’ll save all the nitty gritty details on this for another conversation as we could get lost in this topic for hours otherwise!
The kind of gentle detoxification that dandelion root promotes falls in line with more traditional perspectives on clearing toxicity from the body. Unlike the contemporary detox view that focuses on flushing, purging, and chelating without paying attention to energetics and the larger symptom picture in the body, traditional detox views focus on draining dampness, clearing toxic heat, promoting digestive fire, and releasing stuck liver Qi.
Dandelion root focuses on addressing these kinds of digestive deficiencies at the root of toxicosis in order to detox the body (Holmes, 1989). You might be wondering: how are these toxins actually exiting the body?
Dandelion root is a mild laxative so it’s method of “detox” is through your poop. The keyword here is mild. So you won’t be running to the bathroom with every cup of dandelion tea. You'll just receive a gentle detoxifying push on the liver to release its congestion and keep those unwanted toxins moving toward the bottom exit door.
Love Your Liver
After a late night out on the town, we often tout that our liver needs “a cleanse” and look for the closest juice bar. But what about all the other days when your liver is working 24 hours nonstop to process everything else going into your body? One property of dandelion root is that it helps to nourish, protect, and rebuild the liver so it can keep working its 500 + jobs in the body efficiently and effectively. Yes, doing a cleanse every once in a while is great, but really your liver appreciates the extra support every day.
How exactly does dandelion root work its magic on the liver? Its liver-protective effects are likely due to the high levels of antioxidants inside. One study revealed that the extract of dandelion root prevented alcohol toxicity-related liver damage in mice (You et al., 2010). Since dandelion is better known as an infamous weed in the West, and not a medicinal plant, not many formal studies on humans have been conducted and published to back up its health benefits.
From the stance of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), dandelion root nourishes and restores the liver through reducing inflammation. This, in turn, helps clear out a buildup of toxic heat symptoms which often expresses as a variety of chronic, recurrent infections (Holmes, 1989). When the liver is restored we can feel natural fatigue-relief, increased motivation and stamina, and a bolstered immune system. #loveyourliver needs to be the new hashtag of the year since this precious organ seems to do more for us than we've known!
These special liver supporting properties are unique to the root of dandelion in particular. Even traditional European herbal medicine used dandelion root to support liver function (Yarnell & Abascal, 2009). So really dandelion hasn’t always been the “obnoxious” yellow weed that many know it as today…
When NOT To Use Dandelion
Although dandelion root is a safe and commonly used herb, there are a couple situations you would not want to use it. If you have biliary obstructions or abscesses (aka something blocking your bile duct), dandelion root is not the herb for you. For those with nonobstructive gallstones, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider first before using it (Skenderi, 2003).
Since dandelion root plays such a big role in our liver function and overall detoxification, it could also interfere with how quickly certain medications are broken down and absorbed (including antibiotics). So heed caution and discuss using dandelion root with your healthcare provider first if you are using other medications.
Also, dandelion is another one of those herbs with sesquiterpenoid lactones which could cause allergic contact dermatitis for those of us who are hypersensitive to plants in the Asteraceae plant family.
Weed For The People
For what seems like simply a lawn nuisance to some, dandelion root obviously has some pretty incredible hidden health benefits we think the world is ready to know. Beyond this article, dandelion root has a whole plethora of other uses including supporting cancer states, balancing certain hormones, decongesting the lymph, strengthening connective tissue, allergy support, and feeding our probiotics as a prebiotic fiber, among others (Holmes, 1989; Yarnell & Abascal, 2009).
As we are exposed to more and more modern toxins and face new and confusing digestive disorders, it's time to utilize this weed for the people! In a world full of intensity, dandelion root is here to encourage us that gentle detoxification, digestive support, and loving your liver are all real and accessible things.
About the Author
Heather is a Certified Clinical Herbalist and Nutritionist, Medical Anthropologist, Writer, Whole-Body Wellness Coach, and Holistic Educator. Connect with her on her personal website www.heathersaba.com and Instagram (@heathersaba)
Holmes, P. (1989). The energetics of western herbs. Cotati, CA: Snow Lotus Press.
Ovadje, P., Roma, A., Steckle, M., Nicoletti, L., Arnason, J.T., & Pandey, S. (2015). Advances in the research and development of natural health products as main stream cancer therapeutics. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, (2015), 751348. doi: 10.1155/2015/751348.
Skenderi, G. (2003). Herbal vade mecum. Rutherford, NJ: Herbacy Press.
Tierra, M. (1988). Planetary herbology. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
Yarnell, E. & Abascal K. (2009). Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale and T. mongolicum). Integrative Medicine, 8(2), 34-38. Retrieved from http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbclip/378/review050496-378.html?ts=1523076947&signature=3079179c57d440a1a98ac0f9e1100e03.
You, Y. et al. (2010). In vitro and in vivo hepatoprotective effects of the aqueous extract from Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) root against alcohol-induced oxidative stress. Food Chemistry Toxicology, 48(6), 1632-7. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2010.03.037.