(NaturalHealth365) Beloved by children for its cheerful yellow flowers that turn into silvery, delicate puffballs, not so beloved by gardeners and homeowners who seek weed-free lawns, the humble dandelion is nothing if not familiar.
Depending on where you live, there is a good chance you can see Taraxacum officinale – the dandelion’s scientific name – from your kitchen window, or glimpsed at it, on the roadside, from your car.
The surprising truth is that constituents found in dandelion leaves make the plant a nutritional powerhouse and herbal superhero that can simultaneously help boost your immune system, detoxify your liver, help regulate your blood pressure, rid your body of excess fluid, promote healthy digestion and help prevent age-related vision problems.
The therapeutic benefits of dandelion greens
For hundreds of years, native healers and herbalists in Asia, Europe and North America have relied on dandelion greens to treat a variety of ailments, including hepatitis, inflammation, digestive upsets and kidney and gallbladder disease.
Although well-controlled clinical studies on dandelion’s therapeutic effects on people are lacking, preliminary research on animals is promising. The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) reports that dandelion leaves have diuretic properties, meaning they can help flush excess fluid from the body, which in turn reduces blood pressure and helps alleviate liver problems. UMMC also credits dandelion with antioxidant effects.
Peer-reviewed medical information reveals a substance called taraxerol – which gives dandelion greens its anti-ulcer properties. Dandelion greens are also “effective” as a detoxifying herb that works on the liver and gallbladder to release waste. However, those with gallbladder disease should only use dandelion greens under the direction of their doctor.
The nutritional value of dandelion greens
Raised in the Mediterranean as a salad crop, dandelion greens are also a healthful, low-calorie food, high in fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and micronutrients.
Studies indicate that dandelion leaves have more beta-carotene, which your body uses to make vitamin A, than any other green vegetable on the planet. The leaves are also high in the natural fiber pectin, as well as iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamine, riboflavin and vitamin C and D.
The flavonoids lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin in dandelion greens work to protect your retina from UV rays, and may help prevent age-related macular degeneration. Finally, dandelion leaves contain a flavone called apigenin, which helps your body make superoxide dismutase, a potent natural antioxidant enzyme.
The best way to consume dandelion greens
You can use fresh, raw dandelion greens to add zip to sandwiches, or combine them with arugula, endive and romaine in a mixed salads. If you find their distinctive taste too bitter, blanch them for a minute in boiling water, cook until tender and serve them like spinach.
If dandelions grow in your region, you can gather the young, tender greens right from the source. Make sure the area is free of pesticides and waste from dogs or other animals; if you are in any doubt about identification, check with an expert herbalist or your local county extension office.
If you’re not positive of the safety of your dandelion source, look for fresh dandelion greens at the supermarket.
You can also purchase dandelion as a supplement, available at health food stores in the form of tablets, capsules, extracts and teas. UMMC states that a traditional dosage is 1 to 2 teaspoons of the powdered form, steeped in hot water to make a tea, then take up to three times a day.
Are there any considerations or cautions?
Dandelion greens are generally considered a safe food, but can trigger allergic reactions, especially if you are allergic to ragweed, chamomile and other members of the aster family. Skin irritation and heartburn have also been reported.
Herbs can interact with prescription drugs, vitamins and other supplements; before using dandelion greens, consult with your doctor.
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