When you see those little yellow flowers crowding your front lawn, do you see a mess of weeds or a possible addition to the dinner salad? For some, dandelions are an overlooked powerhouse of health benefits, and are in no way a threat to lawn health. Dandelion enthusiasts argue that the idea of dandelions being a weed that destroys lawns is a myth thought up by lawn care companies. If you subscribe to a plant-based diet, you may already know about the benefits of dandelion — otherwise, you may be surprised to learn what those little flowers can do.
The entire dandelion flower can be consumed safely. Most often, enthusiasts boil it into a tea or mix it raw into other food. In the form of tea — like coffee, but without the caffeine — the dandelion root is roasted and then boiled into a drink that is stimulating, without fraying the nerves. Because it is also high in antioxidants, and limited evidence shows that it could reduce liver damage, dandelions show promise as a healthy addition to a conscious diet.
When Wendy Renshaw, an integrative nutrition health coach and founder of Leafy Kitchen, was recovering from a pulmonary embolism, she was looking for a natural, holistic way to recover. Even though she was eating healthy and exercising, she was still feeling lethargic and generally unwell. She recalled a drink her mother gave her while growing up in England and remembered that dandelion was a main ingredient. After some research, she found that the flower was great for the liver and stagnation, so she started incorporating dandelion herbal tea into her routine.
“[Dandelions] are a mild diuretic, an anti-inflammatory, and stimulate enzymes that break down fats," she said. "All of these functions help to rid the body of toxins being stored in the liver and help protect the liver, which has many important functions [and] is a filter for the body. If it is not maintained properly, it gets clogged and cannot function properly. We change the oil filter in our cars regularly, and yet we often neglect to take care our liver."
Renshaw was inspired by the positive changes she saw after adding dandelion to her diet, and now offers a curated dandelion detox program that she says will boost immunity, rid the body of toxins, and get rid of belly fat. Many detox programs include the herb for its ability to combat bloating and increase weight loss. Adding dandelion to a detoxing effort can only increase the likelihood of healthy results: Studies show that it has anticancer properties that fight colorectal cancer, leukemia, pancreatic cancer, and melanoma, though it’s important to note that more human studies are needed.
It may be too soon to describe dandelion as a panacea, but some people view a yard full of the flowers as a personal holistic pharmacy. One of those people is Joanne Matson, ayurvedic wellness counselor and founder of Canna-Veda, who believes that herbicides linked to cancer should not be used on dandelions, and that instead everyone should add the little flowers to their spring wellness routine.
“Dandelion has a wide array of uses and benefits, [as] the roots, leaves and flowers historically have been used in teas, tinctures, poultices and wine," she said. "The entire plant is edible and useful, as it contains valuable nutrients such as Vitamins A, B-vitamins, C and K, and the minerals magnesium, zinc, potassium, iron, calcium and choline. Dandelion is an excellent herb for supporting the body in the process of detoxification; historically, it has been used to support liver health, digestive disorders, skin issues, and hormonal imbalances.”
In addition to being a great dietary supplement, dandelion can also work in headache prevention and pain management because it is high in magnesium, which has been shown to reduce headache recurrence. The anti-inflammatory properties of the herb work to treat sore muscles and other ailments, and its natural energy-boosting benefits help with the fatigue that accompanies chronic pain.
It may be tempting to start gathering a possible feast from your yard, but before you do, beware of pesticides, pollutants, and weed-killers. Purchasing dandelion greens from the grocery store or farmer’s market is the safest approach, though it is best to introduce dandelions slowly into your diet. Because they are a mild laxative, it is recommended that a person start with the dandelion root tea (as opposed to consuming the greens). Once you become more familiar with the flower, the root can be roasted in a simple process and stored safely for up to a year.
If you choose to consume dandelion root, you should be aware that having a ragweed allergy could make you susceptible to an adverse reaction. It is also recommended to check with your healthcare provider or naturopath before adding it to your diet to ensure there won’t be any drug interactions, since dandelions can reduce the efficacy of antibiotics. While it is considered one of the least dangerous herbs to consume, anyone with an inflamed gallbladder, chronic kidney disease, or blocked bile ducts, or who's taking lithium and prescription diuretics should avoid it.
As with any new addition to a nutritional regimen, proceed with caution, but try looking at those “pesky” weeds in a different light. What was once viewed as an annoyance could really become a game changer for wellness. Renshaw created a recipe for a hearty Dandelion Spring Salad if you are looking for a way to incorporate the herb into your diet.