Any mention of dandelions may put you on guard because you’ve probably been defending your garden and lawn from them for years. They are, however, an old folk remedy used for numerous health conditions, especially those related to the liver, kidneys and digestive system. Far more than just a pesky weed, dandelion contains beneficial compounds that are good for you in moderation. Dandelion leaves and roots are used to make tea, extracts and powdered capsules.
Dandelion parts are commonly consumed in Europe and Asia, but not so much in the United States. For example, dandelion leaves are sometimes found in French, German and Chinese mixed-green salads. In addition, dandelion roots are roasted and used to make a coffee-like beverage in many parts of the world. Both the leaves and roots are dried, crushed and also used to make herbal teas. Dandelion tea has a bitter taste that takes some getting used to, so you may consider adding a little honey to make it more palatable. To brew dandelion tea, pour a cup of hot water over 1 or 2 tablespoons of dried dandelion leaves or roots and let steep for at least 15 minutes. Avoid using boiling water because some of the beneficial compounds in dandelion are destroyed with high heat.
The dandelion plant, scientifically known as Taraxacum officinale, contains compounds that act as antioxidants, diuretics, mild anti-inflammatories and immune system boosters. Antioxidants destroy free radicals, which are harmful to most tissues, especially the liver and arteries. Diuretics increase the rate of urination and help to flush excess fluid from the body. The main medicinal substances in dandelions are called terpenoids, triterpenes and luteolins. Dandelions are also an excellent source of beta-carotene, which your body uses to make vitamin A, and a good source of vitamin C and many minerals.
Traditionally, dandelion tea is most commonly recommended for liver detoxification, as the liver is the main organ that removes toxins from your blood. Some compounds in dandelion protect the liver from harmful toxins and free radicals, whereas others help to reduce inflammation, boost healing and stimulate the production of bile. As a consequence, dandelion tea is sometimes used to combat liver diseases, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis, although no human research or clinical studies currently support such a practice. Liver disease is a significant cause of death, so always consult your doctor if you suspect a liver problem, and don’t rely solely on any herbal remedy.
Potential Kidney and Digestive Benefits
The diuretic abilities of dandelion tea help your kidneys flush excess fluid from your body, which may be helpful if you have edema in your lower legs or around your abdomen. Losing that excess fluid will also help with weight loss and may slightly reduce blood pressure, but be cautious and don’t cause yourself to become dehydrated. Furthermore, the bile-stimulating abilities of dandelion help to promote fat digestion and metabolism. However, if you have gallstones, increased bile production may lead to gallbladder congestion and complications, so consult your doctor before consuming any dandelion products.
- Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Reference: Evidence-based Clinical Reviews; Catherine E. Ulbricht and Ethan M. Basch
- PDR for Herbal Medicines; PDR Medical Staff
- Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine; Simon Mills and Kerry Bone
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.