You know those pretty yellow puff-tops that pop up on a meadow? The humble dandelion is much more than a weed that invades your backyard every spring. It has been used as a medicinal herb for centuries across many different cultures, as early as 900 AD. Its roots and leaves are dried and used to make dandelion tea, which contain vitamins A, C and D, and significant amounts of zinc, iron, magnesium and potassium. Rich in vitamins and minerals, the dandelion contains more beta-carotene than carrots per serving. Lowly weed no more: The dandelion packs a serious nutritious punch for a plant generally thought of as a nuisance.
What Is Dandelion Tea?
It assists in alleviating symptoms of many different ailments, including bloating, diabetes and liver dysfunction. There are two parts to the dandelion: the root and the leaf, and each has its own use. Both help regulate parts of the digestive system, but the root is best for liver problems while the leaf is best for ailments related to the kidneys. Choose your tea accordingly; however, before you begin to use dandelion tea medicinally, you may want to discuss it with your health care provider. While dandelion tea has been traditionally used in alternative medicine, the National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine, or NCCAM, says that dandelions leaves are also useful when consumed as salad greens and cooked greens. A new "superfood" drink that is getting some buzz is dandelion coffee, an herbal drink made from roasted dandelion root, which is said to taste like coffee but have the health benefits of dandelion tea.
Dandelion Tea Benefits
The compounds in the root "stimulate digestion, increase bile flow and can act as mild laxatives," says naturopath Dr. Robert Kachko, ND, LAc. This part of the dandelion works on regulating the liver and stimulating digestion. "Most conditions of the liver/gallbladder can have a use for dandelion root, but it should be prescribed by someone with training," cautions Kachko. The leaf is used to treat ailments of the kidneys; its chief function is as a diuretic. However, unlike prescription medication, it is high in potassium -- so it replenishes lost electrolytes immediately. In high enough doses, its effect is similar to that of common prescription diuretics like Lasix. "It also may reduce the occurrence of urinary tract infections in women," says Dr. Kachko. It should be noted that even though no link has been found between dandelion tea and the treatment of acne or eczema, a liver that's not functioning optimally may cause hormonal acne, so dandelion may help improve acne by helping the liver. A 2008 study conducted by the laboratory of biochemical and biomedical research at the department of chemistry at New Mexico Tech found that extract of dandelion root blocked the invasion of noninvasive breast cancer cells. It didn't, on the other hand, decrease the growth of these cells. This gives some indication that dandelion root may prove beneficial in preventing the metastasis -- or growth -- of breast cancer cells.
Dandelion Tea for Bloating
When used for help with bloating, dandelion tea has been shown have a significant effect on water content in the body because of its diuretic properties. In a 2009 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, after the first two doses of the tea, participants showed a significant increase in frequency of urination. Water weight, and subsequent bloat, went down. Further research is recommended to determine how effective this diuretic ability is.
Dandelion Tea for Liver Detox
When used as a detox for the liver, dandelion tea has been shown to be very effective. In a study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, dandelion tea was shown to dramatically increase a detoxifying enzyme of the control group of animals tested. More research still has to be done, but this study is a good example of how dandelion tea may actually have a real effect on liver function.
Dandelion Tea for Diabetes
According to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's Integrative Medicine Service, studies have shown dandelion to lower blood sugar levels overall. However, there have been no clinical trials that studied its effects in diabetic humans. In other words, there may be a direct connection, but it is still unconfirmed.
Warnings and Contraindications of the Tea
Dandelion tea is contraindicated with irritable conditions of the bowels or stomach (i.e. ulcers). It should be avoided in the case of bile duct obstruction, and it may enhance the toxicity of the prescription drug lithium. If you're pregnant and concerned that dandelion tea could cause problems, there is "insufficient reliable information available," says Dr. Kachko, so it's best to check with your doctor. The University of Maryland Medical Center advises that antacids, blood-thinning medications, Cipro, diabetes medication and anything else that is broken down in the liver may interact with dandelion tea. Taking oral preparations such as tea can cause mouth sores for anyone allergic to dandelion. A special note to people who are allergic to ragweed and related plants, like chamomile, chrysanthemums, daisies, feverfew marigold, ragweed, sunflower or yarrow: Dandelions may exacerbate your allergic reaction, so proceed with caution. Anyone allergic to iodine or latex also should also avoid dandelion preparations. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that an allergy to dandelion, as with many other herbs, could lead to a dangerous anaphylactic reaction.
Dosage and Preparation of Dandelion Tea
Talk to your doctor about dosage. It is possible to forage for dandelions in your own backyard, chop up the roots and steep as a regular tea. However, Dr. Kachko cautions, "They should be recommended by someone with sufficient herbal training, including training in herb-drug-nutrient interactions." A naturopath or other qualified doctor will be able to diagnose and treat your conditions properly, administering the correct dose of dandelion tea to give you relief without side effects.