When you think of dandelions, you probably picture those pesky yellow flowers that grow on your lawn that you just can’t wait to get rid of. But as it turns out, dandelion is a revered medicinal herb that’s been used in historical traditions like Native American medicine and Traditional Chinese medicine. Modern science also tells us that dandelions are powerful liver healers and could even protect us from high blood sugar and chronic inflammation.
For one, dandelions may aid liver health and help prevent conditions like fatty liver disease, an excess of fat stored up in the liver. This can happen due to an overconsumption of alcohol, but in the case of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, causes can range from obesity to genetic predisposition.
When there is too much fat in the liver, the liver becomes overworked. Dandelion root may be able to relieve an overworked liver, and it has been called a “liver tonic” in traditional forms of medicine. Research suggests that this is probably because antioxidants in dandelion root both protect liver cells and help eliminate stored fat.
One study found that dandelion extract protected the liver tissue of mice exposed to toxic levels of acetaminophen (the painkiller in drugs like Tylenol). Other research showed that taking dandelion extract resulted in lower levels of excess fat in the liver.
Reducing excess fat in the liver and protecting the liver in general also makes dandelion a powerful herbal supplement if you have diabetes. One of the liver’s jobs is to regulate blood sugar, but too much fat in the liver makes it less responsive to insulin. That leads to excess sugar in the bloodstream, which can then lead to type 2 diabetes. Luckily, some studies have shown that dandelion may reduce blood sugar levels thanks to chicoric and chlorogenic acid — two chemical compounds in the herb. Some research shows that these compounds can improve insulin sensitivity.
If that weren’t enough to convince you that dandelions are much more than a garden weed, these tiny flowers may also reduce inflammation. Inflammation is a normal immune response your body has to harmful invaders that helps protect you from disease and infection. However, chronic inflammation is when the immune system is in a state of constant stress and response and begins attacking your perfectly healthy cells, leading to issues like fatigue, weight gain, and sickness. Compounds in dandelion have been found to reduce inflammatory markers in the body. One study also found that taking dandelion extract resulted in decreased lung inflammation in subjects with inflammatory lung disease.
If you’re ready to start using dandelion for its health benefits, there are a few things to note. You can harvest your own dandelions, but you’ll have to make sure that the area you’re gathering them from has not been treated with pesticides or herbicides. There’s much to be said about how to harvest and prepare them as a tea. Follow this helpful guide on DIY dandelion harvesting and tea making here at learningherbs.com. You can also purchase dandelion root tea online.
Another great way to harness the powers of dandelion is to buy them as a supplement. Dandelion supplements come in capsule form as well as herbal tinctures. Keep in mind, there are possible side effects of taking dandelion including increased urination (it’s a diuretic!) and it can interact with certain drugs like lithium. As always, get your doctor’s OK before trying any new supplement. For one we love, try this one from Nature’s Way ($6.59, Amazon).
All in all, dandelions are a natural way to keep your liver functioning optimally and keep your blood sugar levels low. They may also aid chronic inflammation, helping you to fight off disease and sickness. We hope you’ll make the most of what nature has to offer!
This article originally appeared on our sister site, First for Women.