Herb of the Month: Dandelion / Taraxacum officinale

As some of you may know, Alexandra moved to the East Coast earlier this year and is in the midst of a 9 month herbalism apprenticeship.  We're excited to share with you some of what she's learning with a new blog segment called 'Herb of the Month.'  Each month she'll post a monograph that goes in depth about a particular herb and its medicinal qualities.  For our first month, we bring you Dandelion!

Family - Asteraceae

Parts used - root, leaves, flowers, sap, seeds

 Energetic qualities - cooling, drying, tonifying

 Taste(s) - leaf: bitter, salty / root: bitter, sweet, earthy

 Tissue / organ affinities - liver and kidneys, urinary system

 Foundational / clinical actions - Leaf Properties: diuretic, alterative, nutritive, digestive stimulant / Root Properties: alterative, nutritive, choleretic, cholagogue, mild laxative

 Preparations - decoction, tincture, food, vinegar, infused oil

 Contraindications and cautions - be aware of over-dryness and pair with moistening herbs.  The diuretic qualities can be pronounced, and stimulate bladder function.

With spring in full bloom, I chose Dandelion as my herb of the month, both for its tonic and detoxifying qualities, as well as its abundance in my neighborhood.  In the last days of April, I collected enough flowers to start a tincture and was delighted to find fields of plentiful Dandelions.  Taraxacum officinale is a perennial herb that thrives in temperate climate zones.  It has a strong tap root, and spreads easily due to its aerodynamic seeds, making it a plentiful and readily available herb.  The bright yellow flowers open with the sun to attract pollinators, and close when the weather turns grey.

Dandelion assists poor digestion and water retention by supporting healthy liver, kidney and gallbladder function.  The leaves are a diuretic, the root is a mild laxative and the flowers are an exhilarant so it’s helpful in stimulating stagnant conditions.  Its cooling and drying actions also help to drain stagnation from the liver, which is prone to heat.  The bitter leaves are a powerful digestive bitter, and when eaten regularly before or with meals, they stimulate the production of stomach enzymes and bile, helping to maintain healthy digestion.

Dandelion is also extremely nourishing, containing vitamins A, B, C, D and phytonutrients such as iron, potassium, manganese, carotenes and calcium.  In addition, Dandelion is high in inulin, a prebiotic starch that feeds healthy gut bacteria, aiding in the restoration of healthy gut flora.  

Perhaps the most exciting thing about Dandelion is its versatility.  Since all parts of the plant contain beneficial properties, there are a multitude of nutrient dense forms this bright beauty can take.  The flowers, which are high in lutein, can be tossed into a salad or battered a fried into dandelion fritters.  The rich, milky root is a delicious substitute for coffee and also works well as a tincture.  The bitter leaves can be added to any meal as a nutritious green, blended into a pesto, or dried and used for tea.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg!  Scientific studies at the University of Windsor are looking at Dandelion for cancer treatment, and for many herbalists, this is already a go-to for supporting cancer patients.

I found dandelion to be very helpful while I was traveling abroad.  Eating most meals out, moving constantly, and staying in unfamiliar places can often lead to uncomfortable digestion.  Drinking a strong blend of gut-heal tea that was heavy on Dandelion leaves and root alleviated any issues and was a helpful grounding ritual while I was on the move.

Enjoy!

Alexandra

Sources
Herb Mentor, May 2016 Featured Herb: Dandelion by Rosalee de la Forêt
Herb Mentor, May 2008 Featured Herb: Dandelion by John Gallagher
University of Maryland Medical Center, Dandelion by Steven D. Ehrlich, NM