Taraxacum officinale, a.k.a. Fairy Clock
Few plants can fill the herbalist’s heart with such joy as the common dandelion. Dandelion’s sunny yellow flowers open every morning with a familiarly radiant head on their own hollow stems. The stems ooze a caustic white latex milk when snapped that has been used to treat warts. The toothed green leaves grow in a rosette form on most lawns and byways. These leaves have a smooth texture that is pleasing in spring salads or with other cooked greens. The long fleshy taproot defies most gardener’s shovels, but the herbalist waits patiently for the first fall rains to loosen the soil of second-year roots for harvest.
Medicinal Properties Dandelion
All parts for the dandelion have a bitter bite. This taste comes from the flavonoids that give dandelion its well deserved “blood purifying” properties. These compounds work in the digestive system to increase the flow of urine. Unlike other diuretics, dandelion contains vast amounts of potassium that restore the mineral balance in the kidneys as toxins are flushed out.The high amount of vitamins, calcium, potassium and other trace minerals in Dandelion’s root balance the diuretic effects herbalists utilize when controlling a patient’s blood pressure. Healers also count on dandelion’s highly volatile and bitter constituents in the root to isolate toxins in the body and flush them from the system. It’s ironic that the poisons gardeners use to eradicate dandelions are the same toxins this plant offers to weed from our bodies.
Dandelion is in most liver tonics due to its oils, the bitter resins that stimulate the digestive system. The fiber in the whole plant is described as viscous because of its astonishing ability to absorb and transport toxins from the bowels out of the body, balance intestinal flora, and soothe the digestive tract in the process.
People have used the caustic latex from dandelion stems to burn off warts.
The essential oils within this common weed are documented as having both bacteriostatic and fungistatic properties to name a few. The intensity of these components means patients using prescription antibiotics would be wise to avoid dandelion until they have finished their treatment.
Conditions Helped By Dandelion
Detoxification is the word most people think of if they are familiar with dandelion’s herbal applications. There are few detox formulas on the market that don’t make use of this plant’s toxin elimination abilities. Dandelion is my best friend when recovering from illnesses. It revives me after flus and colds have taken their toll. People with liver conditions, skin conditions, changes in hormones such as menopause or adolescence and arthritis (including gout) can benefit greatly from dandelion.
Dandelion is also useful for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and unstable blood sugar levels. This plant is full of bitter constituents are not only excellent for stimulating the digestive system but offer anti-inflammatory benefits. Dandelion is also helpful as a lactation stimulator.
List of Dandelion’s Actions:
Leaf: Diuretic, bitter and choleric
Root: Bitter, Cholagogue and mild laxative
Medicinal Processing of Dandelion
Tincturing fresh dandelion in alcohol is the best way to preserve its medicinal values. Eighty to eighty-five percent of fresh dandelion is water, which carries with it some valuable constituents as it evaporates. Happily, making dandelion tincture is a fairly simple process.
Ideally, the root and leaves should be separated and processed in different batches. Roots are starchy and break down much slower than leaves, thus dandelion leaf tincture will be ready for use sooner than dandelion root tincture. After both tinctures are finished, they can be recombined for a whole dandelion tincture finished product.
Both root and leaf may be processed with a 1:1 plant weight to solvent weight ratio. Both root and leaf are also processed with about 50 percent water to 50 percent pure alcohol. The range is flexible with this plant so feel free to play around with what suits your needs best. Whiskey is a perfect alcohol with which to to process Dandelion since it is generally around 100 proof so it needs no watering down.
It is wise to collect and dry extra leaf and root to add to the tincture after the first straining to give the fresh tincture a boost. See Tinctures for information on the basic process and tips on making tinctures.
For general use, the entire plant may be collected in the spring. Since this is the time garden beds are prepared, simply collect the Dandelions that have strayed into your beds and set those aside for medicine or food (see The Practical Herbalist Recipes) instead of throwing them in the compost. If you want to make a stronger, more medicinal tincture of the root, use root that was collected in the fall shortly after the first frost when the inulin levels are higher.
Dandelion leaf may be hung to dry after cleaning. Dry Dandelion leaf should still be green and crumble when crushed.
Dandelion root should be scrubbed, chopped, and dried in an oven or a food dryer. The outer flesh of the dry Dandelion root will have a dark color when dried while the inner flesh will retain the creamy white color.
Especially for beginning herbalists, we recommend using dry Dandelion for making glycerites. The ratios of plant weight to glycerine and water weight is about 1:5. Mix 2/3 glycerine and 1/3 water with the weighed plant. If you plan to use fresh plant material, adjust the water-to-glycerine ratio to accommodate the water contained in the fresh plant. See Glycerites for more information on the basic process and tips for making glycerites.
Dandelion adds pizazz to apple cider vinegar. Since it’s so high in vitamins and minerals, how could any herbalist resist adding it to vinegar? Any part of the plant may be used depending on the action or flavor you desire. Both the leaf and root are bitters, which stimulate the digestive system, but the starchiness of the root lends a sweet, smoky taste to vinegars. The whole plant may be used, too. See Making Herbal Vinegars for information on the basic procedure and tips on making herbal vinegars.
Gardening and Gathering Dandelion
Dandelion roots grow deep, as just about any gardener can attest to. While that drives many folks crazy, it’s truly a blessing to our lawns and gardens. Dandelion roots burrow deep into the soil, breaking up compacted areas, which makes it easier for dandelion’s less tenacious companions to dig in as well. Dandelion draws up nutrients that have been washed deep into the soil, replenishing the upper layers so more shallow-rooted plants can use them. In addition, they create a micro-climate that draws earth worms, who help break-up compacted soil and spread those nutrients around.
These tough, healing plants are welcome in my garden. They’re hearty and easy to propagate from either root division or seed. Best of all, they take the place of less useful, less invasive plants who would otherwise take over the open spaces. When I need space for a new herbal friend, I kindly thank Dandelion for preparing the soil. Then, I harvest the whole dandelion plant and use it for food or medicine, depending on the season and my family’s needs, and get on with filling the freshly worked space.
If you’re still not sold on letting dandelion into your garden, you have some natural options for preventing them from growing in your space. First, you can pull them as soon as they begin to grow, which is a lot of work but can be effective if you’re quite thorough and can yield a great deal of good food and medicine for your larder. Second, you can decrease the acidity of your soil. Dandelions like to grow in slightly acid soil, so using lime to neutralize your garden and lawn soil can deter them from growing while supporting the growth of other landscaping plants like turf grass, which likes a pH of around 5.5 to 6.
Identifying and Gathering Dandelion
Dandelion, a member of the Asteracea (or Sunflower) family separates itself from the multitude of lookalikes by its smooth, toothed leaves, milky stem sap and fleshy taproot. This root, which can grow to up to one foot in length, is one source of this species’ strength. It’s a busy chemical factory, gathering nutrition from deep within the soil and absorbing pollutants.
Because dandelion is one of the detoxifying plants, it’s a good idea to gather dandelion away from high-traffic areas if you can. If you’re buying dried dandelion, look for leaf that’s crisp and bright to deep green and root that has bits of both white and dark brown.
Quick ID tips: Dandelion Leaf
Appearance: Basal lanceolate leaves with smooth texture and often notched sides. Stem is hollow with a single yellow flower at the end of each stalk. These stalks dry to a purple or brown color. The leaf should retain its green color with drying.
Taste: Bitter with traces of sweetness
Odor: Tangy, grassy scent
Quick ID tips: Dandelion Root
Appearance: Fleshy, milky taproot with dark brown exterior and cream colored interior. Dried root looks similar.
Taste: Bittersweet and starchy
Odor: Earthy scent with sharp, starchy overtones when fresh
Using Dandelion to Care for Animals
Like humans, animals can benefit from a bit of Dandelion in their diet.
Birds and caged animals (such as hamsters or bearded dragons) who have largely vegetarian diets do well with the nutrition offered by throwing a handful of dried dandelion leaves onto their food.
Dogs and cats, especially those who are older or have been through stressful times, can benefit from dandelion, too. Dandelion aids digestion and helps cleanse the liver and kidneys in canines and felines just as it does in humans. Mix powdered, dried dandelion tops and roots into your friend’s food or add dandelion glycerite or vinegar to your friend’s water.
Horses and other larger herbivores may eat dandelion all on their own, but if they don’t you can try adding molasses to a handful and feeding it to them as a treat.
Smaller barnyard animals, such as chickens, waterfowl, turkey and others, can benefit from the addition of dandelion to their diets, too. They may eat those dandelions they find in the yard. If not, try crumbling dried dandelion into their feed.
The amount to add is roughly a teaspoon of dried herb per 20 pounds of animal.
Here are some ideas for adding Dandelion to your animal’s diet:
- Mix dried dandelion tops and/or roots into feed.
- Mix fresh, chopped dandelion tops and/or roots into feed.
- Add dandelion glycerite or vinegar to water.
- Add dandelion tincture to water or mix it into feed.
- Add dandelion infusion to water or mix it into feed.
Household Formulas, and Non-medicinal Uses of Dandelion
Roasted dandelion roots make a surprisingly satisfying coffee substitute.
Dried dandelion is wonderful to use in glycerites or teas. It can also be powdered to throw in smoothies as a liver cleanser during fasts and to keep the body’s potassium levels up.
Dandelion vinegar is not only good for salads and soups but for adding to drinking water. Combining the kidney and liver supportive power of dandelion with apple cider vinegar’s reputation for increased health only makes sense.
Dandelion makes a healthful alternative to hops for bittering beer, especially for those who don’t need the estrogen-enhancing or sedative properties hops lend to the brew. I use roughly two ounces of dried dandelion tops or four ounces of fresh dandelion tops to achieve approximately 12 to 14 HBUs when bittering.
Some recipes include:
- Dandelion Porter, extract brewing
- Dandelion Porter, all-grain brewing
- Roasted Roots: A Coffee Substitute
Cautions for Using Dandelion
The bitter properties of dandelion signal those with ulcers to avoid its use. Ulcer pain is worsened in most cases with herbs that increase stomach acid. This holds true for patients suffering from bowel blockage and gallstones as well.
Due to dandelion’s bacteriostatic and fungistatic properties, patients using prescription antibiotics would be wise to avoid using dandelion until they have finished their treatment.
For more information see our History, Folklore, Myth and Magic page on Dandelion or buy The Practical Herbalist’s Herbal Folio: Dandelion: Herbal Medicine Rooted in Your Front Yard.