Dandelion is one of those plants whose presence is unavoidable. Native to Europe and Asia, it is now well established throughout the temperate regions of the world, and can be found growing in lawns, fields, parks, parking lots, and along sidewalks. While some individuals consider dandelion of no greater dignity than that of a “weed,” all parts of the plant are edible and highly nutritious (that’s right, free food right in your own backyard).
The leaves and roots are great raw or cooked, and bitterness can be mitigated through proper harvesting and processing techniques. Yet what receives somewhat less attention, other than when discussing wine, is the most conspicuous part of the plant – the flower.
I enjoy dandelion flowers not just because they taste good, but additionally because they contain nutritional benefits in levels that oftentimes exceed those found in the roots and leaves.
Let’s take a look at some of these benefits (1).
Dandelion flowers have higher levels of polyphenols
Polyphenols are compounds synthesized by plants (as well as by animals) that play important biological roles in the life cycles of these organisms. Whenever we consume foods rich in polyphenols, such as dandelion, we receive benefits that may aid in the prevention of degenerative diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The aerial parts of dandelion, especially the flowers, contain approximately 115 times the polyphenol content than that found in the roots (9.9 ± 0.28 g polyphenols per 100 g dandelion flower extract vs. 0.086 ± 0.003 g polyphenols per 100 g dandelion root extract).
Dandelion flowers have greater antioxidant properties
Oxidation is a natural process in the human body that, if left unchecked, can result in conditions such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease (just to name a few). Antioxidants combat the process of oxidation, and can be produced internally as well as provided externally through the consumption of antioxidant-rich foods.
One highly reactive molecule involved in oxidation is the hydroxyl radical, which causes damage to DNA, membrane lipids, and tissues within the body. Compared to the roots, stems, and leaves of dandelion, an ethyl acetate and water extract of dandelion flowers have been shown to provide the most efficient inhibition of the hydroxyl radical, followed by an aqueous extract of the stems. The inhibition may be caused by the higher number of polyphenols found within the flowers, including the caffeic and chlorogenic acids, and the flavones luteolin and luteolin 7-O-glucoside.
Dandelion flowers are anti-inflammatory
Research has shown that dandelion flowers mitigate inflammation in rats who experience carrageenan-induced paw edema. A methanolic extract of the flower provides the most significant inhibition (95%), compared to the leaves (69%) and roots (51%).
Dandelion flowers may owe their anti-inflammatory effects to their polyphenols, in particular luteolin and luteolin 7-O-glucoside. Research suggests that these compounds may downregulate both inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2) – two enzymes involved in the inflammation process.
Dandelion flowers may act as chemopreventive agents
Angiogenesis is the process whereby new blood vessels are formed from the preexisting vascular system. While this is a normal part of the wound healing process, angiogenesis is also involved in tumor progression from the benign to malignant state.
Ethanolic extracts of dandelion flowers and leaves have been shown to possess anti-angiogenic activity, and this may result from the actions of flavonoid compounds such as luteolin. This suggests that the aerial components of dandelion may play an important complementary role in cancer treatment and prevention.
Dandelion flowers undoubtedly possess many more healing properties that await the discovery of future research. What we know at this point is that these reproductive structures are rich in polyphenols, they possess great antioxidant potential, they’re anti-inflammatory, and they may play a role in chemoprevention.
And while the title of this article may be a bit bold (I mean, how do you really define the term “healthiest?”), the reality is that the entire organism – Taraxacum officinale – is highly nutritious and medicinal. In addition to the benefits previously stated, research has suggested that dandelion possesses hepatoprotective, choleretic, and diuretic properties, and that the plant is a superior source of several vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber compared to other commonly eaten salad greens.
Which makes me wonder: Why isn’t dandelion recommended as the green of choice by nutrition experts, especially when it is so nutrient dense and readily available?
Thanks for reading, and as always … happy foraging!
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