By Rachael Link, MS, RD
Dandelions have a reputation as both a granter of wishes and a dreaded weed and lawn nuisance. However, did you know that both dandelion root and dandelion greens are loaded with nutrients and boast a variety of benefits to your health — just like dandelion tea?
Dandelion is low in calories but high in fiber as well as vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin C. The root and greens have also been shown to have some pretty impressive health benefits and may even help reduce cancer growth, lower cholesterol and help you lose weight.
In addition to being rich in many vitamins and minerals, dandelion is also readily available, easy to add to your diet and full of flavor.
What Is Dandelion?
Dandelions, also known as Taraxacum officinale, are a type of flowering plant native to Europe, Asia and North America.
As a member of the daisy family of plants, dandelions are related to dahlias, thistle, ragweed, lettuce, artichokes and sunflowers.
Dandelions produce many small yellow flowers, called florets, which collectively form one flower head. Once it has finished flowering, the flower head dries out, the florets drop off and a seed head is formed. The seeds are then dispersed by the wind … or those looking to get a free wish.
Although dandelion is often overlooked as just a pesky weed, it can actually be a useful addition to both your kitchen and your medicine cabinet. Both the root and greens are packed with health-promoting properties and can be used to make everything from dandelion tea to super-nutritious salads.
Dandelion Root vs. Dandelion Greens
Both the root and the greens of the dandelion are high in nutrients and commonly used as both natural remedies and versatile ingredients.
Dandelion greens come from the leaves of the dandelion and can be steamed, sautéed or even eaten raw. They have an earthy, bitter taste that can complement a variety of dishes. Dandelion root, on the other hand, is often powdered and roasted for use as a coffee substitute or added raw to herbal teas.
Although used differently, both offer an array of impressive and diverse benefits to health.
Dandelion Root Benefits
1. May Kill Cancer Cells
Interestingly enough, several studies show dandelion root may be useful in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
A 2011 study out the University of Windsor in Canada treated skin cancer cells with dandelion root extract and found that it started killing off cancer cells within just 48 hours of treatment. (1) Another study in Oncotarget showed that dandelion root extract was able to kill 95 percent of colon cancer cells within two days. (2)
2. Reduces Cholesterol
High cholesterol is one of the major contributors to coronary heart disease. This waxy substance can build up in the blood vessels, causing arteries to become hardened and narrow and making it harder for blood to flow through.
Changing your diet is one of the easiest ways to prevent high cholesterol. Along with limiting your intake of ultra-processed foods, including more whole foods like fruits and vegetables can help lower cholesterol.
Dandelion root has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. In one study, rabbits were fed a high-cholesterol diet and supplemented with dandelion root. Dandelion led to a reduction in total cholesterol, triglycerides and bad LDL cholesterol as well as an increase in beneficial HDL cholesterol. (6)
When combined with regular physical activity and a healthy diet, including a serving of dandelion root in your day could help keep your heart healthy and ward off heart disease.
3. Rich in Antioxidants
Free radicals are compounds that form in your body as a result of things like stress, pollution and a poor diet. Over time, the accumulation of free radicals can lead to cell damage and chronic disease. Antioxidants can help neutralize free radicals and have been shown to reduce the risk of conditions like heart disease and cancer. (7)
Studies show that dandelion root is especially high in antioxidants, which may account for its many potent health benefits.
4. Supports Liver Health
From filtering toxins to metabolizing drugs, the liver is essential to many aspects of health. Dandelion root benefits your liver, helping protect it and keep it working effectively.
One study by the Department of Food and Nutrition at Chonnam National University in the Republic of Korea showed that dandelion root extract prevented damage to the liver caused by alcohol toxicity in both liver cells and mice. (8)
These protective effects are likely due to the amount of antioxidants found in dandelion root as well as its ability to prevent damage caused by free radicals.
5. Fights Bacteria
In addition to its many other health benefits, dandelion root also possesses antimicrobial properties that can help stop the growth of disease-causing bacteria. A study in Ireland published in Phytotherapy Research showed that dandelion root was especially effective against certain strains of bacteria that are responsible for staph infections and foodborne illness. (9)
Although more research is needed, dandelion root may be a useful natural method for fighting off bacterial infections.
Benefits of Dandelion Greens
1. Promote Eye Health
Dandelion greens are jam-packed with vitamin A, fulfilling 112 percent of the daily requirements in each cup. Vitamin A is an important nutrient when it comes to eye health. In fact, vitamin A deficiency can even lead to blindness in some cases.
One study in the Journal of the American Medical Association comprising 5,836 older adults showed that a higher intake of vitamin A was linked to a significantly lower risk of age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that causes vision loss. (10)
Including dandelion greens and other vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables in your diet can help keep your eyes healthy and promote better vision.
2. Decrease Water Weight
If you’re looking to reduce bloat and water retention, dandelion greens may be able to help. Thanks to their natural diuretic properties, dandelion greens can increase urination to prevent water build-up.
In a study out of the Department of Herbal Medicine at the Tai Sophia Institute in Maryland, consuming an extract of dandelion greens was shown to increase the frequency of urination in 17 participants. (11)
In addition to helping increase water weight loss, the diuretic properties may also help the liver remove toxins more efficiently and prevent urinary tract infections.
3. Aid in Weight Loss
Dandelion greens are extremely low in calories with just 25 calories in each cup. They also contain a good amount of fiber, which can help keep you feeling full. Including a few servings of dandelion greens in your diet may reduce hunger and promote satiety, which can help ease weight loss.
One study also found that dandelion greens could inhibit fat absorption in a similar way to some weight loss drugs. It works by blocking the activity of pancreatic lipase, an enzyme that breaks down fat molecules in the body. In the study, dandelion extract slashed pancreatic lipase activity by a whopping 86 percent, leading to a greater excretion of fat. (12)
Pair dandelion greens with regular exercise and a nutritious diet to optimize your results and lose weight fast.
4. Lower Triglycerides
Besides aiding in weight loss, inhibiting the activity of pancreatic lipase may also help lower triglyceride levels.
Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your bloodstream. Having high triglycerides in your blood is one of the risk factors for heart disease.
Dandelion greens have been shown to reduce the activity of pancreatic lipase, the enzyme that breaks triglycerides down into fatty acids. This leads to an increased excretion of triglycerides and a decrease in blood triglyceride levels.
5. Protect the Liver
Much like dandelion root, dandelion greens have been shown to have powerful liver-protecting properties.A 2010 animal study showed that dandelion green extract prevented oxidative damage and reduced both inflammation and damage to the liver in Sprague-Dawley rats. (13)
Dandelion Nutrition Facts
Dandelion is rich in many nutrients yet low in calories. It contains a good amount of fiber as well as vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin C.
One cup of chopped dandelion greens (55 grams) contains approximately: (15)
- 24.7 calories
- 5.1 grams carbohydrates
- 1.5 grams protein
- 0.4 gram fat
- 1.9 grams fiber
- 428 micrograms vitamin K (535 percent DV)
- 5,588 international units vitamin A (112 percent DV)
- 19.3 milligrams vitamin C (32 percent DV)
- 103 milligrams calcium (10 percent DV)
- 1.7 milligrams iron (9 percent DV)
- 1.9 milligrams vitamin E (9 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram manganese (9 percent DV)
Dandelion greens also contain a small amount of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and copper.
How to Find Dandelion Root and Dandelion Greens
Dandelions are abundant throughout backyards and grocery stores alike. While it is safe to pick dandelions from your own yard and use them, you should be sure to avoid areas where weed killer or pesticides have been sprayed and remember to wash thoroughly.
Younger plants tend to be less bitter as well as more tender. The greens from these plants can be incorporated into a delicious dandelion leaves salad or sautéed for a savory side dish.
You can also use the roots by digging a bit deeper and making sure to pull out all of the stems it may be attached to. Wash the roots well to make sure all dirt is removed and use it to make a tasty tea or soothing coffee substitute.
Dandelion root pills and liquid extract are also available at many pharmacies and health stores. If you decide to supplement with dandelion, make sure to look for a reputable brand with minimal added ingredients and fillers.
How to Use Dandelion
You can use both the leaves and root of the dandelion in a wide array of recipes, from sauces to soups and beyond.
Dandelion is good for sautéing and steaming as well as mixing into casseroles, cornbreads or quiches. It can also be used raw in place of other greens to add a bitter, earthy flavor to salads.
Meanwhile, dandelion root can be either steeped in water to make herbal dandelion root tea or even roasted and used as a substitute for coffee.
Here are a few dandelion recipes that you can try to get started:
- Caramelized Golden Beet, Kamut and Dandelion Salad
- Roasted Dandelion Root Chai
- Wild & Weedy Dandelion Soup
- Dandelion Root Bitters
- Dandelion Pesto
Dandelion has a rich history in its use as a medicinal plant. In fact, the origins of dandelion as a natural remedy can be traced all the way back to 659 B.C. in ancient China. It was also used in Arabic, Welsh and European medicine and was eaten raw or as a juice or tonic.
Traditional uses of the dandelion ranged from promoting better digestion to healing the liver. Some Native American tribes chewed on dandelion root to relieve pain while others steamed the leaves and applied topically to ease sore throats.
Today, dandelion is still used as a natural remedy for many conditions. However, it has also become a favorite ingredient in kitchens worldwide thanks to its wealth of nutrients, multitude of health benefits and delicious flavor.
Dandelion may cause an allergic reaction in some people when eaten or applied to the skin. If you have a sensitivity to other plants in the same family of plants, such as ragweed, daisies or thistle, you may also have a sensitivity to dandelion. If you experience symptoms like swelling, itching or redness, you should discontinue use immediately and talk to your health care provider.
Dandelion is high in vitamin K, which may impact blood clotting. If you’re taking Warfarin or another blood thinner, you need to maintain consistent vitamin K intake to prevent interfering with your medication.
Because dandelion acts as a natural diuretic, it may affect the excretion of lithium from the body and could lead to increases in lithium levels. Consult with your doctor if you are taking lithium to determine if dandelion is right for you.
It may also decrease absorption and effectiveness of certain antibiotics, including enoxacin, norfloxacin, trovafloxacin, ciprofloxacin, sparfloxacin and grepafloxacin.
For most, however, dandelion greens and dandelion root side effects are minimal, and dandelion can be a safe and healthy dietary addition.
- Despite being considered little more than a weed by many, dandelion packs in some impressive health benefits.
- Both the root and leaves of dandelion have been shown to protect the liver, lower cholesterol and triglycerides, fight bacteria, and keep your eyes healthy.
- Dandelion can be added to everything from salads to sauces and soups or used to brew a hot cup of coffee or tea.
- Next time, think twice about whipping out the weed killer when you notice the yellow flowers popping up in your yard and consider giving these nutritious plants a try instead.
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