Dandelion: bane or boon? – War on Cancer – Brief Article

Ralph W. Moss

Now that the warm weather is upon us, so too are the dandelions. They are the bane of the gardener, but a boon to those who trust in herbal medicine.

Dandelion’s botanical name is Taraxacum, from the Greek words for disorder (taraxos) and remedy (akos). Its common name is derived from the French “dent de lion,” meaning “tooth of the lion,” referring to its sharply indented leaves. More graphic is the French term “pis-en-lit,” which means “urinate-in-bed.” This is a reference to dandelion’s use as a diuretic. Gerard in her herbal (1597) said that dandelion “doth withal cleanse and open by reason of its bitterness.”

This March, Korean researchers showed that dandelion extracts significantly reduced the blood sugar level in diabetic rats and might be a useful tool against that disease (Clin Chim Acta 2002;317:109-17). This was known to Appalachian herbalists decades, maybe centuries, ago.

The level of superoxide dismutase (SOD) was significantly increased in the liver, while other enzymes were normalized. In the same mice, dandelion extracts lowered total cholesterol and triglyceride, while increasing HDL.

Dandelion also has anticancer effects, at least in the laboratory. Using dandelion extract, scientists were able to prevent skin cancer in mice. These results suggest that dandelion “could be a valuable chemopreventive agent” (Biol Pharm Bull 1999;22:606-10).

Chinese researchers have shown that dandelion can restore the three major types of immune functions: cell-mediated, humoral, and non-specific immunity. Dandelion also inhibits a harmful natural substance, TNF-alpha, that is involved in the wasting syndrome of cancer (cachexia). It has anti-inflammatory effects, particularly in the central nervous system.

However, would-be dandelion gatherers need to take care. The leaf is classified by the American Herbal Products Association as class 1, meaning it can be safely consumed when used appropriately. But the root is contraindicated in blockages of the bile duct, acute inflammation of the gallbladder and intestinal blockages. In addition, be on the lookout for any stomach upset (unlikely to occur, but always possible with any bitter herb).

In addition, you need to secure a safe supply. This plant tends to grow in waste places, and can absorb harmful minerals, chemicals and pollutants in its vicinity. Do not emulate the Italian women of yore, who used to gather dandelion greens on the side of the highways of New York City. Those dandelions were probably contaminated with automobile exhausts. Seek out a supply from an area that is uncontaminated by herbicides or industrial pollution.

The root, fresh and dried, and the young tops are used medicinally. But the most powerful part is the juice of the root. Roasted roots are used to form “dandelion coffee.” Roots are thoroughly cleaned, then dried in a low temperature oven, then slightly roasted till they are the color of coffee. Finally, they are ground and ready for use. It is sometimes mixed with coffee or chocolate.

COPYRIGHT 2002 The Townsend Letter Group

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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