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Medicinal Plants of the SW: Dandelion


Taraxacum officinale

Taxonomy: Magnoliophyta, Magnoliopsida (dicot), Compositae

Common names: dandelion, lion's teeth, blowball, pee in bed

 By Alice Nevarez, Andrea Medina, Jermaine Carter (Summer 2000)

Taraxacum officinale, most commonly regarded as dandelion. It is mainly considered a weed, known to be a nuisance to well manicured lawns, although herbalists consider the plant one of the most nutrient-rich in the plant kingdom. Dandelion's name, which is derived partly from the Latin dens leonis, meaning "lion's teeth", is based on the appearance of its flowers. This member of the Sunflower family probably naturalized from Europe, is now common to many parts of the world. Dandelion grows wild in moist sites, including lawns, meadows, and overgrazed areas.

Dandelion, a perennial herb, is characterized by its bloom of bright yellow petal-like ray flowers. Heads are solitary, while the hollow stem is erect having basal leaves, that are usually deeply notched and lobed like a saw (Whitson, 1992).

 Upon maturation, a seed-filled puffball develops; which are parachute-like hairs at its apex designed to drift in the wind.  



Propagation of dandelion is partly or wholly parthenogenetic, which means reproduction occurs and develops from an unfertilized seed (egg). It is also propagated from seed in spring. The plant has a short rhizome, and turns into a thick taproot. In a sense, the short rhizome of dandelion growing with other grasses should be less difficult to harvest.


Dandelion should be collected during various seasons: 1. dried leaves harvested before the flowering season; 2. the dried root, preferably the root of 2 year-old plants in fall; 3. the dried aerial part with the rhizome harvested before the flowering season; 4. the whole fresh plant. The medicinal potency of dandelions growing in mountainous areas is stronger due to seasonal changes.

image by Alice Nevarez

 Medicinal Uses:

Dandelion is extremely versatile, as the whole plant can be used for medicinal purposes as well as for culinary uses. All parts of the plant have a mild stimulating effect on the liver, and aid congestion. It has diuretic and detoxifying properties. Dandelion root encourages steady elimination of toxins. It is considered a safe diuretic, increasing both the water and waste products in the urine; hence the name "pee in bed". A fresh tincture is made of early spring roots for this purpose. The root also has therapeutic benefits for various ailments; such as constipation, skin problems (acne, eczema, and psoriasis). Dandelion also treats arthritic conditions, which include osteoarthritis and gout. In addition the root has had success in treating bronchitis and upper respiratory infections.

 Dandelion leaves are unique as a diuretic, unlike conventional diuretics (which cause a loss of potassium) the leaves contain high levels of potassium (which cause a gain rather than a loss of potassium) in the body. Leaves also stimulate digestive function by increasing saliva production and promoting both stomach acid and digestive enzyme production. Dandelion leaves are also used to prevent gallstones.

 People who have used the plant:

Dandelion is official and used in patent medicines.\
image by Alice Nevarez

 Non-medicinal Uses :

For culinary uses, leaves are boiled and consumed like spinach. Raw leaves are added to salads, for its bitter taste. The roots of dandelion are used as a vegetable and as a coffee substitute, in which the roots are usually oven roasted then ground, although many people prefer the real stuff. Flowers are used to make wine. Dandelion as a whole contains a richer source of vitamin A than carrots.

 Active Ingredients
The active compound in dandelion remains a mystery. Taraxacin is known to increase gastric juices and salivation.

Chevallier MNMH, Andrew. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Dorling Kindersley, London, 1996
Fleming, Thomas ed. PDR for Herbal Medicines 1st ed. Medical Economics Company, Montvale, NJ, 1998
Kearny, T.H., and Peebles R.H., etal. Arizona Flora. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1960
Mabey, Richard. The New Age Herbalist. Simon and Schuster Inc, New York, NY, 1988
Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the West. Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, NM, 1979
Pierce, Andrea. The American Pharmaceutical Association, Practical Guide to Natural Medicines. William Morrow and Company, Inc, New York, NY, 1999
Whitson, Tom D. ed. Weeds of the West. The Western Society of Weed Science in Cooperation with the Western United States Land Grant Universities Cooperative Extension service, Jackson, WY, 1992 revised
The Holistic Channel, July 1999
Favorite Desert Wildflowers, July 11, 2000


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Updated February 13, 2008

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