8 REAL Benefits of Dandelion Greens – A Science-Backed Look at This Traditional Green!
June 23, 2020
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That weed you keep pulling out of the flower bed? Don’t throw it! The benefits of dandelion greens are as impressive as its ability to grow almost anywhere. Here’s what makes this humble herb a trending superfood.
Dandelion “Taraxacum Officinale” has been featured in traditional medicine and diets since ancient times… Really!
Our ancestors used the plant around the world to treat illness, as a food source, and in some amazing recipes. But, people still do today, and it’s seeing a resurgence!
Today we’ll be focusing on just one part: dandelion greens!
These are the leaves, although the entire plant is edible and has health benefits. As the leaves are most versatile, plentiful, and easy-to-use, it’s worth knowing their benefits and how you can make use of this wonderful weed!
Plus, I’ll be sharing some quick tips at the end on how to forage your own.
Let’s see just why so many people love this herb across the world.
Detoxes and Purifies
You’ll here of many “detox foods” and fad “detox diets”, but when it comes down to it, some things truly stand out.
Much like birch tea, dandelion tea is a traditional cleansing beverage.
Old Western herbalists began to recognise its use back in the 15th century.
In traditional Chinese medicine, all parts of the plant (pu gong ying) are used as a diuretic and liver stimulant.
The liver’s primary role is to cleanse the blood, and the diuretic use of dandelion helps to flush out the system’s toxins.
Fun fact: Its diuretic effects are so well-known so as to have earned it comical names like “pee-a-bed”, “mess-a-bed”, and “pis-en-lit” in France! Ew, right? (I learned this from the great ‘A Country Herbal’ by Lesley Gordon)
P.S. These benefits make dandelion a “cholagogue” – a term worth knowing for other herbs.
Also, being a natural source of potassium aids in offsetting any excess potassium loss – which naturally occurs with diuresis.
Further Benefits for The Liver
In addition to stimulating healthy liver function and encouraging detoxification, research also shows dandelion to protect the liver from damage.
This is in part due to its powerful antioxidants, which scavenge free radicals and prevent cell oxidation.
One study shows interesting results: paracetamol-induced hepatotoxicity (liver toxicity) resulted in lower signs of liver damage and a reduced toxic effect, when dandelion leaf extract was administered in mice.
This supports its use as a liver-loving herb by demonstrating its potential to actually prevent damage to the organ! (^)
Stimulates Digestion and Supports Weight Loss
There are multiple ways in which the benefits of dandelion greens carry across into weight loss.
If you’re looking to support a healthy weight, leafy greens can be an excellent way to get in important nutrients and filling fibre.
Depending on how you use dandelion greens, they can add significant volume to meals with very little calories. For example, lightly steaming them with some salt and pepper could be a whole serving of greens!
The fibre helps to keep you feeling full and satisfied, as well, and regulates healthy digestion. Both of these are key in weight loss efforts.
In addition, dandelion is classified as a ‘bitter herb’.
The benefits of this are:
- Healthy bowel movements and reduced gas and bloating (more efficient and comfortable digestion)
- Improved protein absorption (further increases satiety, encourages a healthy metabolism, and has a higher ‘thermic effect’ (meaning protein burns more calories to absorb and use))
- Improved mineral and fat-soluble vitamin absorption (which play essential roles in regulating metabolism, hormones, and overall health)
Don’t worry if you don’t enjoy bitter flavours – there are many ways to cook with dandelion greens. (Read our quick and easy guide: ‘How to Cook with Dandelion Greens’).
Plus, it’s in our best interest to re-adapt to some bitterness in our diets and reap the benefits our ancestors did – (article by healthyhildegard), which I know from experience opens some very enjoyable and complex flavours.
Eating dandelion may encourage healthy ageing, and is in fact practiced by some of the longest-lived people in the world.
Healthy, long-lived older populations and centenarians are common in specific places around the world. Some of these we call ‘Blue Zones’. The Blue Zones include Ikaria, Sardinia, and Okinawa, to name a few, and their traditional diets have been the subject of much study!
Case Study: Ikaria – Story Time
The Ikarians (of the small Greek island) are an example of a culture who still enjoy dandelion greens. As a wild green, it’s an easy and plentiful food source that can be cooked, brewed, or enjoyed raw.
See ‘How to Cook with Dandelion Greens’ here!
Like other wild, bitter greens, dandelions are a potent source of antioxidants. The bitterness is a good sign of these antioxidants.
P.S. Other wild greens that we’ve (largely) forgotten in the modern diet include:
- Grape Leaves
- Garden Cress
- Wild Fennel
- Wild Spinach
The Ikarians still enjoy many of these, which is useful for understanding just how important traditional, real, wild greens are…
For most of us, dandelions are one of the most plentiful, easy-to-identify greens available, and they’re easy to pick!
How Do Dandelion Greens Combat Ageing?
By increasing glutathione (GSH) production, sulphur-rich greens like dandelion help to boost the immune system both directly and indirectly.
Glutathione is a small protein which is vital in immune system function – especially for the liver. However, it naturally declines with age, meaning our bodies aren’t as well-equipped to fight free radicals and protect our cells.
Glutathione combats ageing in several ways:
- Supporting the function of other antioxidants – including vitamin C, which we also find in dandelion, and which can further boost GSH (^)
- Directly eliminating free radicals (^)
- Attenuating inflammation (^)
- Improving immune system response to free radicals and viruses (^)
Other anti-ageing benefits of dandelion greens also come from its potent levels of antioxidants like terpenes, and include protecting cells from UV damage, and providing essential vitamins and minerals. (^)(^)(^)
Do you know what else becomes harder to produce as we age? Collagen! However, dandelion’s chicoric acid helps to prevent the oxidation (essentially breaking down) of collagen in cells. (^)
This helps to preserve skin, joint, organ, and skeletal health, to name a few benefits.
P.S. Collagen is vital for our entire body, and is hard to get from quality dietary sources. Fortunately, we have bone broth – a liquid gold serum of anti-ageing. I make my own, here are the benefits and how to make it.
Anti-virus Benefits of Dandelion
Remember how it is used in traditional Chinese medicine? Well, a 2011 Beijing study discovered that dandelion can directly inhibit flu infection and virus replication in human cells.
Not only that, but the researchers demonstrated the same effects on HIV-1 and AIDS. (^)
Both of these studies found no significant negative or toxic effects on the cells, and used extracts of the entire plant.
Therefore, dandelion – including the greens – shows potential as a safe and effective way of keeping viruses and disease at bay, which is evermore important as we age!
How about “some dandelion a day keeps the doctor away”?
So, we know that dandelions are a potent source of antioxidants like terpenes, bitter glycosides, flavonoids, and other phenolic compounds.
These eliminate harmful “free radicals”, which prevents inflammation and cell damage.
However, other anti-inflammatory nutrients are also abundant in dandelion greens – and in fact the entire plant. We’ll look at them more in-depth soon.
What studies show, is that this wonderful weed has therapeutic potential to reduce inflammation in different ways.
A 2015 meta-analysis from India’s Uttaranchal College of Science and Technology looked at the herb to analyse its use in Ayurveda.
By using extracts from the stem, flower, and root, they found potent anti-inflammatory components, with the most effective coming from the stem (^).
This is great for us using dandelion greens, as the leaves have the stems through the middle!
One study using ethanol extracts of the dried plant also demonstrated decreased expression of COX-2 (an enzyme which produces inflammation mediators). This is in fact the same action that NSAID’s like Ibuprofen exhibit to help control inflammatory symptoms like pain (^).
Another found dandelion leaf’s chicoric acid and luteolin to have further anti-inflammatory (and antioxidative) effects (^).
And another even suggests dandelion’s medicinal properties to be beneficial in the prevention of vascular inflammation and atherosclerosis (^).
… Which brings us right to another one of the great benefits of dandelion greens!
Protects Heart Health
Yep! Dandelion may make your heart race when it invades your flowers, but you can put it to use to keep your heart healthy!
We just learned that is could prevent atherosclerosis and inflammation in blood vessels.
Nextly, we turn to a Korean study, in which rabbits were fed normal diets, or those including dandelion leaf or root.
The study found the heart-healthy benefits of dandelion greens (leaves) and roots to include:
- An increase in beneficial HDL cholesterol;
- A reduction in LDL cholesterol;
- A reduction in plasma triglycerides;
- A reduction in lipid oxidation (a majorly damaging process, which we know occurs in many unhealthy oils and fats).
All in all, the researchers concluded that this oriental (and non-toxic) medicine could therefore protect us from atherosclerosis and reduce risk factors of coronary heart disease (^).
NOTE: The 2010 study mentions dietary cholesterol as a risk factor for these conditions. However, since then, more and more research confirms that in humans, this is rarely so.
May Fight Cancer
For some time now, dandelion has been considered by some as a cancer-fighting warrior of herbs.
There are even examples of dandelion cure testimonials and stories, such as John DiCarlio’s story.
At the same time, research is still limited. Whilst it shows encouraging potential, more clinical trials and studies are still needed yet to reach a solid conclusion.
What the Studies Say…
In fact, it’s the very chemical that gives dandelion greens that natural bitter flavour we spoke about earlier – a good sign!
Additionally, a 2008 study examined the effects of dandelion leaf, root, and mature flower aqueous extracts on breast and prostate cancer cells.
The findings published in the International Journal of Oncology presented that dandelion leaf effectively prevented breast cancer growth and blocked the prostate cancer cells from invading type 1 Collagen.
This was an in vitro study – not conducted in actual human cases. This means that it could have potential in human treatment, but warrants clinical trials.
Now we look at dandelion polysaccharide (carbohydrate chains) in a 2020 Chinese study. Researchers from Xinxiang analysed recent research, and also conducted in vitro and in vivo research on mice.
The natural polysaccharide extracted from dandelion prevented the new formation of liver cancer cells in both outcomes.
What this publication lacks, however, is natural growth of the cells, as they were used on mice. Therefore, we cannot ascertain that the effects would be the same in human patients, so more research is needed again.
Overall, the potential is there. We need for human trials to be conducted, however. (Conclusion also reached by Victoria University of Melbourne, Australia).
As studies increase, hopefully the benefits of dandelion greens will be better understood and applied in potentially life-saving treatments.
Aids Blood Clotting
This actually relates to our next point, as well, about how nutrient rich dandelion greens really are.
One of the impressive benefits of dandelion greens is its high vitamin K content.
In 100g of fresh, raw greens, there is about 770mcg of vitamin K – that’s almost 1000% of the USDA recommended Daily Value.
Comparatively, just one ounce (28g) has about 218mcg, or 272%, according to nutritiondata.self.
This helps us effectively clot blood, because dandelion offer us vitamin K1 (or “phylloquinone”) – the plant form of vitamin K (^).
When you get a paper cut or a nosebleed, it’s vitamin K1 that stops it from becoming dangerous by helping us to stop the bleeding.
Note: If you are on anti-coagulation drugs like warfarin, it is vital to consult with your healthcare professional before taking any medicinal dose of K1. However, dandelions are no more “risky” than other healthy greens.
Vitamin K1 vs K2? (Yes, It Matters)
Vitamin K1 differs from K2 (which we get from animal sources), and both are important for different aspects of health.
The sources of vitamin K1 are leafy greens, also including brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, chard, and broccoli.
Understandably, deficiency is uncommon.
Vitamin K1 is not as bioavailable as K2, and doesn’t exhibit the same benefits. This “bioavailability” refers to our body’s ability to absorb and use the nutrient.
As K1 is a fat-soluble vitamin, we need fat to absorb it effectively.
For this reason, it’s important sometimes to enjoy leafy greens with some source of dietary fat, like a healthy olive oil dressing, some grass-fed butter, or even some cheese (which would also give us vitamin K2).
On the other hand, ‘Vitamin K2’ refers to a group of related chemicals (“menaquinones”), which don’t aid blood clotting, and are more easily absorbed (but still fat-soluble).
- Aid calcium absorption and direction (so it goes to the right places, like bones);
- Support heart, bone, and brain health.
Example sources include fermented foods (like my deliciously easy homemade pickle recipe), pastured egg yolks, organ meats, and grass-fed dairy.
Deficiency is fairly common in the Western world, even though we do convert some dietary K1 into K2 (^).
In an NPR interview with best-selling book author Jo Robinson of ‘Eating on The Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health’ (Buy Here), (and in the book itself), the famous journalist mentions dandelion greens to have eight times more antioxidants than spinach!
And if that’s not enough, she goes on to reveal that they have five times more Vitamin K and E, three times as much Vitamin A, and twice the Calcium.
Like vitamin K, vitamins A and E are also fat-soluble.
In its plant forms, vitamin A refers to a group of carotenoids – antioxidants which we can convert to the active form (which we would find in animal sources), though not efficiently.
Additionally, dandelion greens are a good source of potassium and manganese, which work to regulate hormone production, balance fluids, aid bone development, reduce inflammation, and support muscle contractions and nerve signals.
Quick Foraging Tips
So you’re convinced… I knew you would be!
Dandelion greens are awesome, and you want some.
Well, just get out there and get picking, right? Yep, but here are some things to keep in mind…
P.S. Click here for a complete, one-stop guide by fellow writer Colleen from GrowForageCookFerment (hi!).
For now, here are the aforepromised quick tips:
- Look for the bright flowers – they should be yellow, and distinct when open.
- The leaves should be smooth and lobed (often pointy) – not hairy.
- Don’t mistake it for catsear (although both are safe) – catsear has:
- Thinner, solid stems, whereas dandelion’s are hollow;
- Generally smaller flowers;
- More lacy seed heads;
- Hairy / furry leaves;
- Branched stems (with flowers), whereas dandelions will only have one flower on each straight, single stem.
- Forage away from paths and roadsides – this prevents picking polluted plants or those that dogs may have “marked their scent” on!
- Always wash the plants before use.
All in all, getting a daily serving of greens is brilliant – but we all know that already.
Dandelions have been used for centuries in Asia for medicinal purposes, and later in Europe. In fact, all parts of the plant are edible and have different benefits, and today we’ve looked at the leaves in particular!
Today, some of the world’s healthiest people still enjoy them regularly – and it’s no wonder why.
The benefits of dandelion greens especially include:
- Detoxifying the body
- Boosting liver function and protection
- Supporting healthy digestion and weight loss
- Combating the effects of ageing
- Reducing inflammation
- Protecting the heart
- Potentially fighting cancer (including with its abundancy of nutrients)
- Aiding blood clotting
- Being a rich source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Plus, it’s incredibly easy to find and forage.
For some ways to use this amazing leafy “weed” – which is also practically a superfood – take a look at our post: ‘How to Cook with Dandelion Greens: A “Weed” Superfood!’.
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Dandelion greens are truly special. Show this nearly-forgotten herb some love! And, as usual…
Until next time, stay healthy
Frequently Asked Questions:
Three words: yes, but beware… Yes, dandelions are safe for most, and extremely healthy. But beware, some people react allergically, mostly those allergic to latex or related ragweed plants, daisies, marigold, and chrysanthemums. Symptoms can be mild or severe, depending on your sensitivity and exposure. If you have related allergies, avoid dandelion, and consider getting a safe skin-patch test and speaking to a practitioner about immunotherapy. Little is known about its safety whilst breastfeeding – safety first, avoid it if this applies to you.
You can absolutely eat raw dandelion greens! Providing you’re not allergic (see above), eating them raw is an excellent way to add variety to salads, snacks, and table meals. The taste is naturally bitter, which isn’t most palatable for many Westerners, but you’ll quickly get used to it and happily reap the benefits of dandelion greens.
Whilst not being a primary benefit of dandelion greens, the leaves are indeed good for the kidneys. The diuretic properties help to stimulate kidney function, and the abundance of antioxidants helps to protect the kidneys (just as the rest of the body).
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