Dandelion is among the staples of modern herbalists, just as it was a staple among the Traditional Western Herbalists of a few centuries ago. The deeply-toothed, smooth-leafed species we know today as Taraxacum officinale, or just plain ol’ dandelion to most of us, is one of several species that have been used worldwide to cool and move stagnant or damp fiery energies.
In poetic terms, dandelion is one of the herbs we call on when the fire’s burned down and all that’s left are the coals smoldering and stuck amidst the debris of their own making…when it’s time to clear out the old and make room for new growth. In Ayurvedic medicine, it’s considered a sweet, pungent and cooling herb that’s good for clearing both excess and stagnant Pitta as well as clearing Ama. It’s particularly called for in conditions that include excess Kapha and insufficient Vata, such as for clearing lymph or swollen lymph glands. Ayurvedic practitioners particularly favor dandelion root for swellings and tumors centered around the heart, such as mammary cysts or tumors, breast sores, and stuck or suppressed lactation.
From a Traditional Chinese Herbal perspective, dandelion is draining and detoxifying. Pu Gong Ying, or Mongolian Dandelion (Taraxacum mongolicum), is the favored species, although Taraxacum officinale can be used interchangeably in Chinese formulas. As a detoxifier, dandelion is described as bitter, salty and sweet, cool and dry. Practitioners use it to help clear fire toxicosis, move Qi stagnation, and boost Yin deficiency. Specifically, dandelion can be included in formulas designed to clear out the debris from illness, often described as metabolic or microbial toxicosis. Symptoms include malaise, headaches, swollen glands, sore throat, boils, fever, muscle or joint pains, and rashes and can often occur after an illness has begun to recede or clear out. Dandelion helps to move liver and gallbladder Qi, particularly when it’s stagnated or when that system has become congested. It’s cooling and drying energies help to reduce swelling and clear excess dampness or water from the liver meridian. As a Yin-building herb, dandelion is called for when the deficiency is primarily in the liver or pancreas meridians, with symptoms such as low motivation, fatigue, trouble gaining weight, and frequent infections.
Traditional Western Herbalists from old Europe favored dandelion specifically for clearing deep, damp heat, particularly that which has receded into the body slowly. Dandelion reaches deeply into the system much like it reaches deeply into the earth to pull the heat and stagnant or stuck energies to the surface slowly but steadily. Symptoms such as a mapped or geographic tongue with a strongly red undertone, which means a tongue who’s coating (either white or with hues of yellow) is patchy with a strongly red color underneath, are a clear pointer toward dandelion’s cooling and drying energetics. This sign dovetails with the fire toxicosis for which Traditional Chinese Herbalists use dandelion. Use dandelion when heat has gotten stuck by thickened phlegm or fluids, and is smoldering at deeper levels within the body.
Dandelion’s tops were used more frequently by Traditional Western Herbalists than by Ayurvedic or Traditional Chinese Herbalists. Dandelion was imported and cultivated in North America in particular for use as a spring green. The minerals in dandelion tops, especially the potassium and sodium, support the kidneys while dandelion’s diuretic properties work to remove dampness from the body. For clearing out the debris from winter, dandelion was recognized as a potent and tasty bitter that’s easy to include in one’s diet through spring. While dandelion tops are drying and cooling like the root, they’re also more building and stabilizing, allowing the body to gently clear stagnant energies without overburdening the detoxification or digestive systems.
Modern herbalists go to dandelion for symptoms relating to the liver. They can be as varied as moodswings, skin conditions like rashes and boils, or digestive upsets. When the liver is overheated, it’s struggling to remove waste and toxins from the body. Too many toxins or not enough energy to process effectively results in the overheated condition, which in turn drains the rest of the body of energy as the toxins and wastes build up and the liver struggles to catch up. Dandelion helps the liver and gallbladder to produce the digestive enzymes necessary to both absorb new energies and nutrients and ultimately to move wastes from the system. Today, we often use dandelion tops and roots together as a supportive and gentle but highly effective detoxifier and liver support herb. Dandelion’s action works over time, so it’s generally used as a daily tonic or foodstuff for weeks or even months at a time.
That slow-acting aspect of dandelion is one that connects across all traditions; Herbalists from Asia through Europe and North America rely on dandelion to cool and dry the body slowly and steadily, much like the roots of a dandelion plant penetrate deeper and deeper into the soil, building strength and drawing nutrients up from the depths with a steady grace.
Although there isn’t one specific dandelion constitution, you may well find folks who fit either a strong Kapha or strong Pitta type benefit most often. They may well be tall, thin, and struggle to gain weight or stout, sluggish, and prone to weight gain while struggling with weight loss. The key components are an excess of fire or heat and an excess of dampness or phlegm.
Dandelion is not recommended for dry conditions. Folks with strong Vata energy, or that which is dry and cool, or those who are too dry and Yin will find dandelion exacerbates those conditions.