• HEALTH TALK

      Dandelion (Photo - John Tann, flickr).

      Dandelion (Photo – John Tann, flickr).

      The Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale; Taraxacum platycarpum) is a weedy plant with a rosette of leaves radiating from its base. The stem is smooth and hollow and bears a solitary yellow head, consisting only of ray flowers, that produces a group of numerous tiny, tufted, single-seed fruits.

      By H. S. Nemr

      The perennial plant has a deep taproot and can reach 15 inches in height. The leaves may be nearly smooth-edged, toothed, or deeply cut; the toothed appearance gave rise to the plant’s name (dent-de-lion means “lion’s tooth” in French). Other common names for this herb include: Priest’s crown, Puffball, and Taraxacum. It grows wild in most parts of the world.

      Source and chemical components

      Dandelion leaves are one of nature’s richest green vegetable sources of beta-carotene, from which vitamin A is created. They are also a very good source of fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamine, and riboflavin. Sodium and vitamins C and D are also present.

      Dandelion root contains a variety of chemical components referred to as triterpenes. It also contains sterols, sugars, gum, resins, minerals, and vitamins. The bitter taste is due to the presence of sesquiterpene lactones.

      Dandelion illustration (Photo - commons.wikimedia.org).

      Dandelion illustration (Photo – commons.wikimedia.org).

      Therapeutic and reported folk uses

      The use of Dandelion was mentioned as early as the 10th century by Arab physicians, who used it for medicinal purposes. It has also been described in ancient Chinese texts. The plant is native to Europe and Asia but was naturalized in North America. It now grows widely as a weed in nearly all temperate climates. It is cultivated by some European growers, and more than 100 specialized varieties have been developed. The bitter greens are eaten raw in salads, used in wine making, or cooked like spinach. The root can be roasted and used to brew a coffee-like beverage said to lack the stimulant properties of coffee.

      The dandelion plant has long been used in herbal remedies for diabetes and disorders of the liver and as a laxative and tonic. Dandelion has been classified in traditional medicine as a mild laxative, a cholagogue (promotes the discharge of bile from the liver), a diaphoretic, an analgesic, a stimulant, a tonic, and a regulator of blood glucose. Root and leaves have been used for heartburn, bruises, chronic rheumatism, gout, diabetes, and eczema and other skin problems, as well as for cancers.

      Certain studies have shown that Dandelion root extract induces apoptosis (cell death) in human melanoma and leukemia cancer cells. Activity against induced rodent tumors has also been shown.

      The US FDA has not validated any of the therapeutic claims for Dandelion. Herbals and alternative therapies marketed for sale are not evaluated for safety, purity, and efficacy by the US FDA.

      Good source
      of fiber,
      potassium, iron,
      calcium, magnesium,
      phosphorus, thiamine,
      and riboflavin

      Dosage

      Dandelion herb/leaf is considered the above-ground parts of the plant, whereas dandelion root is the root and herb gathered while blooming. Both the fresh roots and leaves have been consumed in salads. Clinical trials on which to base dosing are limited.

      The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia recommends 3-times-daily administration of 0.5 to 2 g of dandelion root or 4 to 8 mL of root tincture, whereas the German Commission E Monographs recommends 3 to 4 g of dandelion root or 10 to 15 drops of root tincture twice a day, or 4 to 10 g of dandelion leaves or 2 to 5 mL of leaf tincture 3 times a day.

      Precautions and side effects

      Generally recognized as safe, avoid dosages above those consumed normally as part of food; safety and efficacy of such dosages are unproven.

      Interactions with other medications and disease conditions may occur due to Dandelion’s potassium, sodium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium content. It may increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you already take blood thinners such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), or clopidogrel (Plavix).Tell your doctor and pharmacist about any herbal therapy you are taking.

      Side effects include allergy and mild gastric discomfort.

      > H.S. Nemr is a graduate of BAU pharmacy school. He is currently a medication safety officer at Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare system.

      References

      1. Professional’s Handbook of Complementary Alternative Medicines, Springhouse, 2nd edition.
      2. Medline Plus, National institute of health http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus.
      3. Lexicomp’s Natural Products Database.

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