While it is considered a lawn weed and something to be eradicated by many people, herbalists appreciate the common dandelion for its usefulness. The root of the dandelion, in particular, is believed to have healing properties that have made it a worthwhile and valuable plant with a history as a medicinal herb for over 1,000 years.
The dandelion plant appears in spring as one of the first plants to emerge. The plant is made up of long, flat leaves that radiate from a central stem close to the ground. Each leaf is edged with deeply notched, tooth-like margins, hence the name dandelion, whch means "lion's tooth" in French.
The plant displays a bright yellow flower made up of a rosette of many small petals at the end of a thin stem. The root of the plant is a tap root that extends 4 to 10 inches into the ground. It is dark brown on the outside and creamy white within, and has many tiny root hairs. It is fleshy and, when broken, exudes a milky liquid that is bitter.
Arab physicians were the first to recognize the medicinal value of dandelion root in the 10th century. Then it was used as treatment for liver and gallbladder problems. The plant was eventually brought to Europe as a medicinal herb. Early colonists introduced the plant to North America and native Americans soon began using it as for its medicinal properties, as well. Dandelion root was one of the ingredients in the popular patent medicine remedy, Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, in the late 19th century. Today, dandelion root continues to be used as an herbal remedy.
Dandelion root is often used to promote liver detoxification and gallbladder health. It also acts as an appetite stimulant and digestive aid to reduce feelings of fullness, flatulence and constipation due to its mild laxative properties. Dandelion root is also used as a mild diuretic and is often taken to treat kidney problems. The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine mentions that there is no scientific evidence that dandelion is effective as a medical treatment, so do not take it without first consulting your physician.
While dandelion root is generally considered safe to take, it can cause stomach upset and diarrhea. Also some individuals may be allergic to the dandelion. Persons with infected or inflamed gallbladders or block bile ducts should not use dandelion root.
Dandelion root is available whole as a dried herb. It can also be purchased in ground or powdered loose, or in capsules or tablets. Extract of dandelion root is also available in liquid form. Dandelion root can also be found as an ingredient in combination with other medicinal herbs.