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Dandelion - A “Weed” Worth Cultivating

dandelion

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is so common, it's often dismissed as a pesky weed, but that would be gross defamation of character. This plant (whose name comes from the French for "lion's tooth" because of its jagged leaves), has been used therapeutically for centuries to treat infections and kidney disease, increase bile flow, correct liver problems, improve appetite, digestion and general health.

Now modern science has discovered that extracts of dandelion - leaves, flowers and roots - contain bioactive compounds with potential anti-cancer properties. In lab research with mice these extracts can kill leukemia, melanoma and pancreatic cancer cells without harm to healthy cells and human clinical trials are currently exploring the use of extracts to treat blood-related cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma.

Caveats

There are a few instances for caution. For diabetics, dandelion can help lower blood sugar, but for patients already taking blood sugar modulators, taking both could result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), a dangerous condition. Best to consult a doctor whenever adding dandelion along with medications.

Some people may be more sensitive to dandelion, especially the greens. So if you add the greens to your diet, start with a small amount and monitor your body's reaction. In general, it'is important to check with a doctor before taking this or any herb, especially in large amounts or if taking any other medicine or supplement or if pregnant or nursing. Though dandelion is generally considered safe, those allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigold, chamomile, yarrow, daisies, or iodine may not be able to consume it.

If you gather dandelion from wild sources (like the backyard), make sure that the area has not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides and that it does not come from a place where pets may have eliminated.

Health Benefits of Dandelion

Nutritional profile. Dandelion greens are high in fiber and a good source of nutrients, including Vitamins C and B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron (crucial for generating red blood cells), potassium (to regulate heart rate and blood pressure), manganese, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, copper. The greens provide 535% of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin K, an important plant-based source to strengthen bones, as well as help in fighting Alzheimer's disease by limiting neuron damage in the brain. Greens also supply 112% of the minimum daily requirement of Vitamin A, an antioxidant carotenoid, which is especially good for the skin, mucus membranes and vision. Various flavonoids in the greens protect retina health, as well as guard against lung and mouth cancers.

Cancer. Dandelions are high in antioxidants which help reduce free radicals (major cancer-causing agents). Mildly laxative and supportive of liver function, dandelion helps detoxify the body which further protects against tumors and various cancers. Luteolin, an antioxidant, binds to cancers cells, rendering them ineffective and unable to reproduce.
At the University of Windsor in Ontario, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has shown that dandelion root extract can cause human melanoma cells to essentially kill themselves without leading to any type of toxicity. In fact, their initial study saw cancer cells disintegrating within 48 hours, while healthy cells remained unaffected. Studies have confirmed similar effects most notably with prostate, melanoma and pancreatic cancer, and more research is underway.

Weight Loss. Dandelions are diuretic in nature, thus promoting urination and loss of "water weight," which can contain as much as 4% fat. Like most leafy greens, dandelions are low in calories and sugars, but with the added bonus of lots of nutrients, so the body is not starved.

Bones. Dandelions are rich in calcium, essential for the growth and strength of bones, as well as antioxidants like Vitamin C and Luteolin, which protect bones from age-related damage, including bone frailty and decreased density.

Liver problems. Dandelions support liver function in many ways, Besides antioxidants which keep the organ working optimally and protect it from aging, other components help treat hemorrhaging in the liver, maintain proper bile flow, while also stimulating normal operation and promoting digestion. Proper digestion reduces constipation, which in turn lowers the risk of more serious gastrointestinal issues.

Diabetes. The juice or extracts of dandelion can aid diabetic patients by stimulating insulin production from the pancreas, thus keeping blood sugar levels low. The plant's diuretic properties help remove excess sugar from the body, while protecting the kidneys from sugar deposits. The juice is slightly bitter tasting which, as all bitter substances do, helps lower sugar blood levels. With consistent lower blood sugar and a more consistent insulin release, there is less danger of spikes and plunges for diabetics.

Urinary disorders. Again, dandelion's strong diuretic properties help remove toxic substances from the kidney or urinary tract. The plants disinfectant properties also inhibit microbial growth in the system.

Skin care. Dandelion sap, also known as dandelion milk, is used in treating skin disease caused by microbial and fungal infections. Be careful using this sap to avoid contact with the eyes, as it is strongly germicidal, insecticidal and fungicidal. The sap can be effective on itches, ringworm, eczema and other skin conditions without risk of side effects or the hormonal imbalances common with pharmaceutical treatments.

Gall Bladder. As with the liver, dandelion improves general gall bladder function and regulates various secretions from both organs, while protecting against negative effects of oxidants and infections.

Constipation. High dietary fiber in dandelion and other components are beneficial for digestion and intestinal health. As a mild laxative, it is often prescribed for children who are experiencing constipation and is soothing on the stomach. It is also used to stimulate appetite, especially following trauma or surgery.

Anemia. Because of its relatively good levels of iron, vitamins and protein, dandelion is effective in helping to normalize anemic conditions.

High blood pressure. Again, the diuretic qualities of dandelion juice provide an effective way to lower blood pressure, which is the same action of most pharmaceuticals for this condition. The high potassium content of dandelion also lowers blood pressure by replacing sodium.

How to take dandelion

There are numerous ways to enjoy the many benefits of unsprayed, preferably organic dandelion. The greens, of course, make an excellent salad or a good recipe substitute for kale or collards. If you're new to dandelion, start with a little to be sure your body is not overly sensitive or allergic. If you consume the greens regularly, there may be a diuretic effect, so be sure to stay hydrated.

The flowers make a tasty addition to a salad, and can be used to make wine.

The dried leaves of the plant are generally used for tea. The main effect will be diuretic to help reduce swelling or bloating from excess water retained in the tissues. So use medicinally and don't overdo. The taste is not great, so overdoing shouldn't be a problem.

Traditionally, the roots have been roasted and made into a powder as a coffee substitute. Though the brew doesn't taste like real coffee, it has a full-bodied, pleasant flavor and is rich in nutrients. An excellent commercial brand is Dandy Blend.

Dandelion is available in extract form. Take a few drops in water. There are also supplements and, no doubt there will be a lot more as the research on this herb continues to report more positive results.

A bonus benefit of dandelion

In pursuit of the so-called perfect green lawn, many people use weed killer to eliminate dandelions. This is a missed opportunity, as well as harmful to the environment and humans who play on the lawn. The fact is dandelions are extremely beneficial to soil health. Their roots bring nutrients from the deep dirt to the top of the soil. They also attract bees and other beneficial insects, like ladybugs. For those with fruit trees or vines, dandelions release ethylene gas that facilitates the ripening process.

Natures knows what it's doing. Enjoy your dandelions!

Sources:
Dandelion - University of Maryland Medical Center
"What are the health benefits of dandelion?" - Global Healing Center
"Dandelion " A Backyard Herb with Many Benefits" " Wellnessmama
"The Cancer fighting medicine that's growing in your yard" - The Truth About Cancer
The Dandelion Root Project for Cancer Therapy -  University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada

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