Dandelion, that weed that so many people find annoying when it crops up in their lawns, has actually been reverenced in the past, and used as an herbal treatment for a variety of conditions. In addition to its use as an herbal remedy, it also shows up in herb or baby leaf salad mixes. The small immature leaves are picked and provide excellent flavor and a bit of sharpness when you add it to salads, soups, or stews.
Taraxacum officinale is dandelion’s scientific name, and the herb has been traced to Northern Europe, where the Celts may have introduced the plant to the Romans. Since then, this plant has spread and is grown throughout much of the world, if not intentionally, then unintentionally. Dandelion seeds, present on the puff of the plant after it flowers easily carry elsewhere, attach to clothing, animals and the like, and become an aggressive species once they find decent soil.
In foods, dandelion is a superior leaf vegetable. It has high levels of potassium, and vitamins A and C. It may also be a natural weight loss food, and some laboratory studies of rats show it boosts the body’s metabolism so that calories are burned more quickly. Another aspect of the herb is that may correspond to weight loss due to its diuretic properties. It does appear to help people excrete a higher volume of urine, which could help in the loss of water weight and reduce water retention.
Dandelion has also been used to treat anemia, gout, and urinary tract infections. It may be a natural blood thinner, and tinctures of it may be used on warts. Some also suggest tinctures or supplements with ground dandelions may reduce herpes simplex outbreaks, but this claim has not been scientifically verified.
Though dandelion is considered relatively benign with few risks of side effects, each commercial preparation of it may differ. There is some concern that the plant may be mildly carcinogenic (cancer-causing) when taken in large amounts. Further, people who have significant issues with water retention should see a doctor prior to trying any preparations containing dandelions, since water retention can suggest more serious medical conditions like kidney or heart failure.
People who take blood thinners, also called anti-coagulants, should discuss the risks and benefits of using this herb as a food source or nutritional supplement, and should not use it unless under a doctor’s guidance. Since dandelion naturally thins the blood, combined with prescription blood thinners or aspirin, danger of serious bleeding from small injuries exists.
The health benefits of dandelions may be best tried by growing some of your own and using it in food. You should not harvest the plant from parks, schools or urban areas, since it may have been treated with pesticides. Instead, devote a pesticide free area in your backyard to growing a plant or two. Do recognize, if dandelions don’t already live in your garden, they will probably never leave once you’ve introduced them.