Dandelion

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Taraxacum officinale (Weber)

 

Synonyms: Taraxacum dens-lionis (Desf.), Leontodon taraxacum (L.), pise-en-lit, pee-the-bed, lion's tooth, fairy clock, blowball, cankerwort, priest's crown, puffball, swine snout, white endive, wild endive

Order: Compositae

Description: Taraxacum is a native of western Europe where it grows in meadows, fields and fallow land. It originated in Central Asia, but now grows almost anywhere in the world, preferring moist conditions. It has a rosette of characteristic 'lion's tooth' leaves, from the centre of which arises the hollow stem bearing the yellow capitulate flowerhead made up of 200 or more ligulate bisexual florets. These give way to the familiar 'fairy clock'. The long taproot arises from a short rhizome. All the underground parts are covered with a dark brown bark, but are almost white inside and, like the stem, produce a bitter-tasting white milky sap.

Parts used: leaves and root

Collection: the leaves are collected before flowering in May. The root is unearthed in autumn for a high inulin content, or in spring for a high bitter content. The root should be collected no later than the second year.  

Constituents: Leaf: bitter glycosides, carotenoids (including lutein and violaxanthin), terpenoids, choline, potassium salts, iron and other minerals, Vitamins, A, B, C, D (the vitamin A content is higher than that of carrots). Root: bitter glycosides (taraxacin), tannins, triterpenes (including taraxol and taraxsterol), phytosterols, volatile oil, choline, asparagine, carbohydrates (including inulin, up to 40% in autumn, 2% in spring; sugars), pectin, phenolic acids, vitamins, potassium.

Actions: Leaf: gentle diuretic, choleretic. Root: Bitter, mild laxative, digestive and hepatic tonic, cholagogue, diuretic, antirheumatic

Indications: Leaf: oedema, oliguria. Root: cholecystitis, gall-stones, jaundice, atonic dyspepsia with constipation

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Taraxacum leaf is a very potent diuretic and is an excellent remedy for water retention and oedema, particularly when it is of cardiac origin, or hepatogenous oedema (ascites). Its action comparable to the drug Frusemide. The usual effect of a drug which stimulates kidney function is a loss of potassium from the body, which aggravates any existing cardiovascular problem. A high level of potassium is particularly desirable when digitalis heart drugs are being prescribed, because if potassium levels fall, the drugs will produce irritability of the heart muscle. Luckily, Taraxacum is one of the best natural sources of potassium and therefore is a perfectly balanced and safe diuretic. Taraxacum leaf may be applied to urinary disorders in general, especially where worsened by the presence of oliguria. It also has similar actions to the root, but to a lesser extent. 

Taraxacum root is a gentle liver tonic and may be used to treat inflammation and congestion of the liver and gall bladder. It can be applied to gallstones, cholecystitis, hepatic and post-hepatic jaundice, congestive dyspepsia with constipation and other toxic conditions such as chronic joint and skin inflammations.  The root contains bitter substances which are beneficial to the digestive process and also have an aperient effect. The sesquiterpene lactones may produce the choleretic action. The active principle is taraxacin, which is found in the whole herb, particularly the root, and stimulates bile secretion. The white sap may be applied directly to warts.

Combinations: Taraxacum may be combined with Berberis and/or Chelone in gall bladder disease, with Chamaemelum in anorexia and stomach complaints and with Agropyron or Achillea for water retention.

Caution: Taraxacum is contraindicated where there is occlusion of the bile ducts or gall bladder empyema.

 

Preparation and Dosage: (thrice daily)

Leaf: GSL, Schedule 2

Dried herb: 4-10g or by infusion

Liquid Extract: 1:1 in 25% alcohol, 4-10ml

Tincture: 1:5 in 25% alcohol, 2-5ml

Juice from fresh leaf: 5-20ml, twice daily

Root: GSL, Schedule 1

Dried root: 3-5g or by infusion or decoction

Liquid Extract (B.P.C. 1949) 1:1 in 30% alcohol, 2-8ml

Tincture: 1:5 in 45% alcohol, 5-10ml

Fresh Juice: (B.P.C. 1949) 4-8ml

Additional Comments: Dandelion was first mentioned in Chinese herbals as late as the 7th century, and in Europe it first appears in the Ortus Sanitatis of 1485. It was used by the Arabian physicians of the 10th and 11th centuries. It's common name was apparently invented by a 15th century surgeon, who compared the shape of the leaves to a lion's tooth, or dens lionis. In the West, the root and leaves are distinct remedies, but the Chinese use the whole plant, which they call pu gong ying; it is used as a galactagogue. A second oriental species, T.mongolicum, is used by the Chinese as a diuretic and liver stimulant, and to treat mastitis. Both are believed to clear heat and toxins from the blood and are also used for boils and abscesses. Dandelion leaves may be used as a salad vegetable, particularly in spring. The root, when roasted, can be used as a coffee substitute, and the flowers are often used to make wine.

 

Bibliography

BHMA 1983 British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, BHMA, Bournemouth.

Bradley, P.R. (ed.) 1992 British Herbal Compendium, Volume 1, BHMA, Bournemouth.

Grieve, M. 1931 A Modern Herbal, (ed. C.F. Leyel 1985), London.

Hoffmann, D. 1990 The New Holistic Herbal, Second Edition, Element, Shaftesbury.

Lust, J. 1990 The Herb Book, Bantam, London.

Mabey, R. (ed.) 1991 The Complete New Herbal, Penguin, London.

Mills, S.Y. 1993 The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine, Penguin, London (First published in 1991 as Out of the Earth, Arkana)

Mills, S.Y. 1993 The A-Z of Modern Herbalism, Diamond Books, London.

Ody, P. 1993 The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Polunin, M. and Robbins, C. 1992 The Natural Pharmacy, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Weiss, R.F. 1991 Herbal Medicine, Beaconsfield Arcanum, Beaconsfield.

Wren, R.C. 1988 Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations, C.W.Daniel, Saffron Walden.

 

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Christine Haughton, MA MNIMH MCPP FRSPH

Wold Farm, West Heslerton, Malton, North Yorkshire YO17 8RY, UK

Last updated 27th November 2014     ęPurple Sage Botanicals