The dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), also known as lion’s tooth or blowball, is a widespread medicinal plant in our country. Its growth is spontaneous, and those unfamiliar with the plant often consider it a weed due to its remarkable ability to invade uncultivated fields, hill and mountain meadows, roadsides, and ditches. However, given its beneficial properties, it’s challenging to label this plant as a weed. Its therapeutic characteristics have been known and utilized since ancient times, making it exceptional not only for herbal remedies but also in cooking. It’s a flavorful plant that can be used in various preparations.
Let’s explore its virtues and discover the different uses in detail.
The dandelion plant and its numerous synonyms
The dandelion, scientifically known as Taraxacum officinale, is a perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the Asteraceae (or Compositae) family.
Its health benefits are well-known, and it can be considered one of the oldest and most useful natural remedies for humans. In popular culture, it has been attributed several synonyms, emphasizing its close connection to humans. Each of these synonyms carries a particular meaning. The most well-known one is lion’s tooth, due to the toothed shape of its leaves.
It is also called blowball, referring to its unique ball-shaped inflorescences blown by the wind.
The most curious synonym is undoubtedly piss-a-bed, highlighting its exceptional diuretic properties.
The official name, on the other hand, comes from the Greek composition tarakè = disorder and àkos = remedy, underlining this plant’s ability to restore order to a disordered organism.
Characteristics of the dandelion
The dandelion is a spontaneous plant that grows everywhere up to two thousand meters in altitude. It prefers a temperate climate, although it does not have particular requirements for sunlight exposure or soil. Being very common in the wild, and therefore easy to collect, its cultivation is not widely practiced. Considering the elongation of the stems that bear the flowers, it can have a height ranging from 10 to 40 cm.
The root and leaves
The root is large, branching, brown, and rough, and it is the part of the dandelion rich in healing properties.
Directly from the root, the leaf apparatus develops from the ground.
This apparatus consists of a rosette of basal leaves with very short stems that arise from the ground.
The leaves are simple, light green in color, have a toothed margin, and are oblong and lanceolate. They are the part used in cooking because of their richness in vitamins and characteristic bitter taste.
From the rosette of leaves, several stems emerge, with a smooth surface, hollow consistency, and no branches. At the apex, there is a flower head from which the flowers arise.
Dandelion flowering starts from the beginning of spring and lasts until autumn. The flowers are yellow and very showy. They are hermaphroditic and have a particular form called ligulate, meaning the corolla has a tubular lower part from which an extension of petals, called ligule, extends. The type of pollination is dual, predominantly entomophilous, thanks to the action of pollinating insects, but also anemophilous, which occurs thanks to the wind. Dandelions have great value for bees and honey production. The plant provides these precious insects with both pollen and nectar. From the flower, an achene, the so-called pappus, develops, which is a tuft of soft white hairs. These hairs detach in the wind, favoring seed dispersal, contributing to the plant’s hardiness and widespread distribution.
Composition of the dandelion
The dandelion has many different nutritional elements. It is particularly rich in vitamins, especially vitamins A, C, and E.
It also has a high content of minerals such as potassium (440 mg per 100 g), iron (3.2 mg), calcium (316 mg), and sodium (76 mg). Additionally, it is rich in proteins, making it ideal for those following a vegetarian diet. These are the classic constituents that we consider from a nutritional point of view.
From a therapeutic perspective, this plant’s composition is interesting due to the presence of bitter substances with specific pharmacological actions.
The main one is known by the generic name of taraxacin, a bitter principle with choleretic, cholagogic, and cholagogue effects. Other components include cinnamic acid, monocaffeoyltartaric acid, chlorogenic acid, hydroxycinnamic acids, chicoric acid, and inulin.
All these elements combine to generate the beneficial properties of the dandelion, which, in scientific terms, are referred to as taraxacotherapy.
Therapeutic properties of the dandelion plant
First of all, it’s essential to know that both the dandelion root and the fresh leaves, which are edible, are used.
These components are valued for their precious diuretic and purifying properties. They are also used for liver and gallbladder problems, biliary lithiasis, jaundice, dyspepsia with flatulence, and constipation. They are an excellent natural remedy for excess cholesterol in the blood, chronic rheumatism, high uric acid, cystitis, diabetes, edema, and water retention.
A crucial recommendation for collecting: always avoid plants on the roadside. They are susceptible to contamination from car exhaust gases, so it’s better to search for wild plants in more interior areas. In any case, always wash the plant parts thoroughly before using them. During this process, we recommend adding some baking soda.
Now, let’s explore how dandelion can be used to prepare natural remedies at home.
The simplest way to use dandelion is to eat its fresh leaves in a tasty spring salad.
In popular tradition, young freshly picked leaves have always been used in spring cleansing and as a diuretic. The taste is bitter, but still pleasant. Various dressings can be used, and as with all salads made with leaves, you can give free rein to your imagination.
Here’s a recipe for a typical Piedmontese salad, ideal for Easter Monday:
- 400 g of young dandelion leaves
- 3 hard-boiled eggs
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 4 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons of mustard
- Salt and black pepper to taste
Other possible preparations for the leaves are blanching, soups, stews, and omelets.
Dandelion Roots in the Kitchen
Dried dandelion roots can be used as an excellent coffee substitute.
When used fresh, the root juice can be consumed as an effective vitamin tonic and anti-scorbutic. This can be easily prepared using a kitchen centrifuge. Alternatively, it can be purchased ready-made in herbal shops or online.
Dandelion Infusion and Herbal Tea
The preparation of a dandelion infusion is straightforward. Simply steep 15 grams of chopped fresh leaves in 1 liter of water for 15-20 minutes. Then strain and take the infusion in small doses throughout the day. The action is diuretic, mainly due to the high potassium content. It helps rid the body of waste substances and is, therefore, beneficial for liver disorders.
If you prefer to prepare an herbal tea, you can easily find it online or at herbal shops.
Dandelion Root Decoction
The dandelion decoction is prepared using the root. You can boil 75 grams of the root in 1 liter of water for 45 minutes. Then strain, let it cool, and drink it away from meals during the day.
The decoction is an effective aid against intestinal constipation and chronic colitis. It can also be used externally in the form of poultices. Finally, it is an effective natural remedy for acne and eczema.
Dandelion in Herbal Medicine
As you may have guessed, dandelion is a plant that lends itself to numerous uses, both in cooking and herbal medicine. Other interesting preparations to explore are the mother tincture and concentrated drops. Always follow the instructions on the product label for these preparations.
- Clin Med (Lond) – “Adverse effects of herbal medicines: an overview of systematic reviews.” – This review article provides an overview of the moderately severe adverse effects noted for 15 herbal medicines, including Taraxacum officinale. It offers insights into the potential risks associated with herbal medicine usage.
- EXCLI J – “Plants with potential use on obesity and its complications.” – This review explores the anti-obesity potential of various plants, including Taraxacum officinale. It discusses the mechanisms of action and potential applications in obesity treatment.
- Molecules – “The Impact of Soil pH on Heavy Metals Uptake and Photosynthesis Efficiency in Melissa officinalis, Taraxacum officinalis, Ocimum basilicum.” – This study investigates the impact of soil pH on heavy metals uptake and photosynthesis efficiency in several plants, including Taraxacum officinalis. It provides insights into the environmental factors affecting plant growth and development.
- ReserchGate – “Reduction of oral pathogens and oxidative damage in the CAL 27 cell line by Rosmarinus officinalis L. and Taraxacum officinale Web. Extracts” – This article, published in June 2023, explores the effects of Taraxacum officinale extracts on oral pathogens and oxidative damage in a specific cell line.