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As we continue our series on Superfoods in the Spotlight, now is perfect time to discuss one of the most underrated superfoods, the dandelion.
Here in southern Ontario in late May, you cannot go anywhere without seeing patches of yellow dandelions. While every part of the dandelion is in fact edible, they are not often regarded as a food, but rather as a nuisance. That is because this perennial plant is almost impossible to kill. A dandelion’s deep taproots and prolific seeds are to blame for its resilience. However, it is these qualities of being a landscaping nightmare, that also make it one of the most nutritious plants on the planet.
The word dandelion is derived the French word for “tooth of the lion” dente-de-lion. The name refers to the pointed leaves of the dandelion1. The scientific name for dandelion is Taraxacum which derives from the Greek words “disorder remedy.”
Dandelions grow all over the Northern Hemisphere and have been used as food and medicine throughout history. Dandelion was planted in medicinal gardens of monasteries. Famous Arabian physician Avicenna (980-1037 C.E.) referenced dandelion in his text and used it to regulate menstruation. Dandelion was used in Britain and France to prevent scurvy and as a diuretic. A Modern Herbal, published in Britain in 1931, discussed the use of dandelion leaves as a delicacy in salads, as well as roasting the root to make coffee. Dandelion was introduced to North America by colonists. Pioneers regarded it as a lifesaver and a Spring tonic. This is because it was on of the first edible greens to grow in Spring. The root was also favoured as a coffee substitute.
Modern science has now confirmed why dandelions were revered as such a healing food throughout history.
Here are 10 key health benefits of dandelion and why you should add dandelion roots, greens, buds and more to your diet:
1. Dandelion for Detox
Detoxification isn’t a diet or a fad word. It is something your body does 24/7 and therefore it is important that we are consuming foods every day to help our body with this task. One of the body’s primary detoxification organs is the liver. In simple terms, the liver processes and packages toxins in the body, and prepares them for excretion. They are then stored in the bile of the gall bladder.
Bile is also important for the digestion of fats. When we eat a meal and our gall bladder excretes this bile, it also excretes these toxins in the digestive tract, so they can be moved out of the bowels.
Dandelion root aids in the functioning of the liver and gall bladder in two ways. It has a choleretic effect, meaning it increases the production of bile, and a cholagogue effect, encouraging the release of bile1. Gall bladder attacks and gall stones can be quite painful and come on suddenly. Studies in animals on dandelions have shown that these conditions can prevent stagnant bile, as well as reduce inflammation in the gall bladder ducts. Another study in animals on dandelion root showed that it can improve the liver’s ability to clear toxins by 244%1. While the root of the dandelion was the main subject of these studies, the leaves also have similar (although slightly less potent) detoxification properties.
So consuming leaves in salad, as well as dandelion root tea, should become a daily detox habit.
Even if you were to live in the forest and only consume 100% organic food, you would still need to detoxify your body.
So, while everyone needs to focus on detoxification, it is particularly important if you:
- Are trying to lose weight: Toxins are often stored in fats cells, so if you are losing body fat, you may be releasing these toxins.
- Are post-partum: Growing a baby and giving birth can take quite a toll on the body, so it helps to give the body a bit of a cleansing boost post-partum. Dandelion is considered generally safe for breast feeding and it is a potential galactagogue, meaning it increases breast milk production.
- Are experiencing digestive pain, particularly when consuming fats: This could be a sign your gall bladder is a bit sluggish. However, you should always check with a doctor that you do not have any serious gall bladder issues, such as gallstones. Trying to flush out calcified (hard) gall stones with herbs could be potentially dangerous.
- Are feeling tired, sluggish and experiencing brain fog: These are all signs that your body could use some extra detoxification.
2. Dandelion for Gut Health
Bile is the body’s best natural laxative.
It is gentle and stimulates movement throughout the small and large intestine; meaning the entire gut gets a good cleaning.
However, it is not just dandelion’s ability to produce and stimulate bile that makes it so good for the digestive system.
We know that a large part of gut health is keeping the beneficial bacteria in our digestive tracts healthy too. Dandelion root is made up of a high concentration of inulin, an indigestible fiber which feeds the friendly bacteria in our digestive tract. Dandelion roots harvested in the fall are believed to have the highest amount of inulin – 40%.1
3. Dandelion for Cholesterol
The liver doesn’t just process toxins, such as alcohol and other drugs, it is also responsible for disposing off cholesterol once the body has finished with it. HDL, which is considered “good cholesterol”, is actually a protein marker which “carries” cholesterol back to liver once it is done. LDL, the “bad cholesterol”, marks cholesterol moving from the liver to the blood. The idea being that we want a balance of cholesterol coming to and from the liver, as high concentrations in the blood can be a sign of vascular inflammation.
Once the “old” cholesterol is processed by the liver, it is of course moved to the gall bladder. In fact, bile is composed mainly of cholesterol. However, if the gall bladder is sluggish, or if the bowels are moving slowly, this cholesterol may be reabsorbed into the blood stream rather than excreted through the bowels.
Consuming dandelion greens and roots for their bile-stimulating benefits can help to keep cholesterol down.
Inulin, found in the roots of dandelions, has also been shown to improve cholesterol levels and blood sugar. A study done on diabetic rats, who were given a water extract of dandelion, had significant improvement in cholesterol levels, as well as blood sugar levels1.
4. Dandelion for Immunity
In general, it seems that any plant able to protect itself from harmful disease, can also protect those who consume it.
Good examples of immune boosting plants are oregano, garlic, horseradish and, of course, dandelion.
Dandelion has been found to have both antibacterial and antiviral properties. A study conducted in 2014 demonstrated dandelion’s ability to limit the replication of the hepatitis B virus2.
While more research is required, dandelion is considered a generally safe herb, so a cup of tea when you’re feeling under the weather certainly couldn’t hurt.
5. Dandelion for Inflammation
The majority of chronic illnesses, such as migraines, fibromyalgia or arthritis, are really just chronic inflammation presenting itself in different areas of the body. Therefore, finding ways to reduce this inflammation is essential in helping those manage their chronic illnesses. A 2014, an in vitro study demonstrated that dandelions could inhibit the inflammatory response3. I personally use a dandelion-infused oil topically in the form of a salve to combat inflammation on my skin. Further research is necessary to learn more about the anti-inflammatory properties of dandelions.
We often recommend a dandelion root tea as part of our anti-inflammatory protocols. This is not only because it may help reduce inflammation, but also because it is an excellent replacement for other inflammatory beverages, such as coffee.
6. Dandelion for Nutrition Benefits
Dandelion greens are abundant in vital nutrients including iron, magnesium, calcium and vitamin A and K4.
They are also abundant in valuable antioxidants. This makes them an excellent food for bone health, eye health and cancer prevention.
Here is the nutrition information for 100g of raw dandelion greens:
|Nutrient||Amount||%DRV (Dietary Reference Value)|
|Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)||0.1mg||2%|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin)||0.8mg||5%|
|Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)||0.3mg||20%|
|Vitamin A||10161 IU||339%|
|Vitamin K||778.49 µg||649%|
7. Dandelion Availability: Local and Abundant
Dandelions grow easily without the use of pesticides. This makes them an ecological food choice. The best place to get dandelions is from your own backyard!
However, you want to exercise caution if you are going to harvest wild dandelions. Be sure to do your research on how to consume wild food safely. If you live near a busy road or have pets, you may not want to the dandelions that grow on your lawn.
A better spot is in your garden, you have to weed it anyway so why not eat those weeds. A garden is a more controlled area, so safer for consumption. As with any vegetable, be sure to wash it thoroughly. If you do not have a garden or cannot be bothered, you can also purchase dandelion greens from a grocery store or farmer’s market. Many salad blends such as “Spring Mix” will also have dandelion greens. The root can also be purchased from health food store or herbal dispensaries.
8. Dandelions for Versatility
The entire plant from root to flower of the dandelion is edible. Dandelions can be consumed almost all year round. However, different parts of the plant are better at different times.
The greens are most tender before the flowers bloom in early spring. This is the ideal time to consume them in salads.
The tiny buds of the flowers can be consumed as well. You can even preserve them in an apple cider vinegar and make “dandelion capers.”
In late spring and summer, the leaves can still be eaten but they are a lot more bitter, so I prefer to eat them cooked. The beautiful yellow flowers can also be eaten at this time.
In our family, we make dandelion jelly using dandelion flowers, coconut sugar, lemon juice and pectin. It has a similar taste to honey.
My kids enjoy picking the dandelion flowers and, of course, eating the jelly. Dandelion flowers can also be used in baking. You can make dandelion cookies, cupcakes, or scones. It’s a fun way to decorate baked goods without the use of food colouring.
In summer, I also enjoy making an iced tea out of the flowers with honey and lemons. Fall is the best time for roots. However, harvesting roots from unworked soil is nearly impossible, and you will be digging for hours! This year in our garden, I will actually be planting dandelion seeds, so I can easily pull up the root like a carrot in fall. The roots need to be soaked in water and then thoroughly scrubbed to remove any dirt. Then you can either dehydrate the root for a tea, or roast it in the oven as a coffee substitute.
The root is extremely water-rich, therefore it is best to chop it in smaller pieces to ensure it is completely dried. I made the mistake once of storing only partially dehydrated roots in a mason jar, only to find a couple weeks later it was full of mold. Of course, you can also just purchase dandelion root tea at the store. One of our favourites is the Teeccino Herbal brand, as a coffee substitute.
In summary, here is quick list of uses for dandelions:
- Salad, in a mix with other greens, or on its own
- Sauteed greens, I prefer to blanch then stir fry them in garlic and olive oil
- Dandelion capers
- Dandelion jelly
- Dandelion cookies
- Dandelion iced tea
- Dandelion coffee (roasted)
- Dandelion root tea (dehydrated)
Check out our Instagram for some of my favourite dandelion recipes, on @essentialbalanceholistic
9. Dandelions – Beating the Bitter
Much like the dandelion itself, bitter is an underrated flavour. Most of think we do not like the bitter flavour and yet the number one morning drink of choice is coffee, a very bitter bean. Likewise, chocolate in its raw form is also an extremely bitter food. A chocolate bar is quite sweet, however, if you’re like me and enjoy dark chocolate, you know it’s the perfect balance of bitter and sweet that gives dark chocolate its desired flavour.
The bitter flavour of a dandelion green can be balanced with other sweeter foods. I like to add a bit of maple syrup to salad dressing, or sauce, to accompany my raw or cooked greens. Eating younger leaves, or cooking the dandelion greens, will further dampen the bitter flavour.
As I have been eating dandelion greens for a long time now, I enjoy the flavour and even crave it. However, there are certain times when I prefer a more neutral green, such as spinach. When making a sauce or smoothie, I prefer the greens to blend with other flavours and not overpower the food.
To me, dandelion greens are the perfect side dish!
10. Dandelion Side Effects
While I would consider dandelion one of the more benign herbs, there are some precautions with dandelions. Dandelion’s diuretic and detoxification abilities means that it may interfere with the effectiveness of some medications. Always take dandelions away from other medications. Dandelions can also interfere with some medications, such as blood sugar drugs, anticoagulants, and antibiotics5.
It’s always best to double check with your doctor before taking any new herbal remedy. Any diuretic herb can cause an imbalance of electrolytes, if consumed in excess. Therefore, use caution when drinking dandelion tea, especially if you are exercising, or when it is hot outside, make sure you are drinking water as well. Allergic reactions are also possible, particularly if you have an allergy to ragweed. The safest way to consume dandelion is in the form of a food. If you are new to dandelion, but want to add it into your diet, start with a salad mix that includes dandelion greens and go from there.
Kirsten Colella, CNP, studied chemical engineering at the University of Toronto and afterwards graduated from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition with high honours. Kirsten, a Holistic Nutritionist and certified yoga teacher, has had a lifelong passion for holistic health and all it encompasses. As a mom of three, Kirsten enjoys making healthy food for and with her children. You can see Kirsten’s healthy recipes, including for leafy greens on Instagram @essentialbalanceholistic
- The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, Michael Murray N.D
- Nutrition facts for dandelion greens, recommended daily values and analysis
- Dandelion: Health Benefits and Side Effects