Dandelion in its natural habitat

  Taraxacum officinale                  Sunflower family

Appearance:  Its time for all good herbalists to put their egos aside…  Dandelion is actually confused with several other species of the Sunflower Family.  And although we may hate to admit it, many of us have been fooled into using one of the look-alikes.  The primary consideration to bear in mind when identifying Taraxacum officinale  or any of its hundreds of variations is this:  Dandelion has no branching characteristics, but instead grows in a rosette fashion, directly off of its taproot.  And dandelion never has spines on its midrib, as does Lactuca serriola (“Prickly Lettuce” – illus.), which otherwise looks very similar when young.  Although dandelion’s impostors likely  won’t  harm you, they won’t offer you dandelion’s benefits either!

Habitat & Range:  A native of Europe and Asia, dandelion has found its way onto every continent— except, maybe , Antarctica.

Cycle & Bloom Season:  A perennial that may bloom several times throughout the year.  In areas of severe winter climate, dandelion may appear only as a free-seeding annual.

Parts Used:  All parts of the plant are useful, for various applications.

Actions:  Diuretic, cholagogue, bitter, nutritive, anti-inflammatory, tonic, laxative.

Affinities:  Liver, gallbladder, gastrointestinal tract.

Preparation:  Water infusion (tea), decoction, tincture, fresh or dried leaves and flowers.

Specific Uses:  To begin an accurate assessment of Dandelion’s deep-reaching medicinal attributes, we must first put healing into a whole body perspective.  All higher organisms (including dogs, cats, birds, mice, lizards, goats and even humans) maintain vital body functions within tightly knit parameters of systemic cooperation.   A precise and balanced relationship between nutrition and elimination of waste is a critical part of this cooperation, and if a systemic excess or deficiency occurs that the body cannot correct through elimination, supplementation, or immune system intervention, it will try to compensate by shutting down a system or storing waste materials wherever it can.   In other words, a state of “dis-ease” results.

Enter Dandelion.

Dandelion is one of the most complete plant foods on Earth.  A one cup serving of fresh dandelion greens will provide as much as 2000 I.U.’s of vitamin A (1 1/2 times the RDA for an adult human), 20% protein (by content… that’s double of what spinach provides), vitamins C, K, D, and B complex; iron, manganese, phosphorus and many other trace minerals; and an especially rich source of potassium.  All of these vital nutrients are conveniently contained within a single source, in quantities that the body can fully absorb.   This means that  dandelion will gently supplement diet without overworking the liver and kidneys with excess vitamins and minerals (this is often signified by dark urine).

Supplementing your companion animal’s diet with dandelion leaf is as simple as drying the greens and crumbling them onto his food.  If that doesn’t work, or if you need to get nutrients into your animal more quickly, try making a leaf tea using organic, unsalted vegetable or meat broth in place of plain water.  Plan on feeding about a teaspoon of the dried herb for each 20 pounds of body weight daily.  Horses, llamas, sheep, goats, mules, and other large animals will often eat the greens directly out of their pasture…  If they don’t like it, try hand feeding or adding a little molasses.  If your animal is sensitive to changes in diet, then start him off with a little at a time.

In addition to providing your animal with many of the nutrients he needs, the leaves possess what herbalists call a “bitter tonic” principle.   The idea is to “warm up” digestive metabolism before the digestive system is forced to go to work— when a small amount of a bitter herb is taken into the mouth, the recipient immediately experiences a sudden increase of salivation.  Then, as the bitter herb reaches the stomach, bile and other digestive agents are then triggered into production.  The result:  more efficient digestion, reduced indigestion, better absorption of nutrients, and increased appetite.  Dandelion leaf is particularly useful in animals which have a chronic problem with indigestion.  If your animal has frequent gas and/or passes food that does not appear digested, get him to chew a fresh dandelion leaf while you reconsider his diet, or apply a few drops of dandelion tincture (an herbal glycerite is most palatable) onto his tongue.  It doesn’t matter if the animal doesn’t appear to swallow it; the bitter action is triggered in the mouth.

Dandelion is well known among herbalists as a safe but powerful diuretic and liver stimulant.     Congestive heart failure, pulmonary edema, arthritis, gall bladder disease, kidney stones— these are all imbalances resulting from the body’s inability to eliminate water and/or accumulated excesses.  In mainstream practices, drugs such as furosimide ( widely known under the brand name “Lasix) are often used to drain off excess fluid from the body and thus promote the elimination of accumulated waste materials. Pharmaceutical diuretics are fast-acting, easy to administer, and very effective, but while they do a great job at expelling fluid,  they tend not to discriminate between what the body needs to keep and what it needs to lose.   As a result, the body often loses too much potassium, a crucial heart and brain chemical,  through urination.   In this event, potassium must be supplemented throughout the therapy.   Dandelion leaf on the other hand, contains its own rich source of fully assimilable potassium; an attribute which helps to replace what would otherwise be lost through urination.

How effective is dandelion as a diuretic?  Many contemporary herbalists  claim that dandelion may be as effective as the aforementioned furosimide.   The big trade-offs though are ease of administration, getting enough of the tea into the animal to bring about desired effects, and the time it may take for dandelion to start working.  While furosimide can be administered in a little pill,  a dandelion therapy involves getting your animal to drink warm tea or take a tincture extract (again, the aforementioned broth method works nicely).  None of this is to encourage you to stop the diuretic therapy which has been prescribed by your veterinarian… if you wish to seek the dandelion alternative, see a holistic veterinarian first.

While dandelion’s leaves are very nutritive and diuretic, the root possesses its own usefulness as a safe, reliable liver tonic.  The liver is the primary filtering organ of the body; responsible for removing toxins and excesses from the blood for elimination via the kidneys.  The liver also plays critical roles in digestion through its production of bile, bilirubin, and various enzymes.  If  bile ducts in the liver or gall bladder become congested, blocked, or otherwise diseased to the point of dysfunction, the body will invariably suffer one or more toxicity related imbalances.  Such imbalances may be characterized by symptoms such as jaundice, rheumatoid conditions, eczema, dandruff, or chronic constipation.  And while dandelion leaf tea or tincture may do much toward relieving the symptoms of such conditions through a nutritive/diuretic action, the root will work closer to the underlying causes.

Dandelion root has a well validated ability to stimulate bile production and circulation throughout the liver.  In one study involving dogs (and please bear in mind that we strongly oppose animal testing), researchers observed a three to four times increase in bile production after administration of dandelion root1.  The gallbladder, which stores bile from the liver, is also stimulated; causing this small, hollow organ to contract and release bile into the digestive tract, thus aiding in digestion and acting as a gentle laxative to promote the elimination of solid waste.

One of the best things about dandelion root as a liver and gallbladder stimulant is its gentle nature.  Unlike many cholagogue herbs, dandelion does not further irritate an already inflammed condition.  In fact, in clinical studies using an over-the-counter preparation of the root, dandelion was shown to be effective in treating inflammatory diseases of the liver and gallbladder (including gallstones)2.

The flowers of dandelion are known by herbalists to be high in lecithin and to have weak but useful analgesic qualities.  The usefulness here stems from the fact that they don’t contain any salicylates; the alkaloid compounds found in aspirin which are toxic to cats and may be irritating to the stomach lining.  To use the flowers, infuse a generous handful in a cup of near-boiling water.  When the water has darkened as much as possible, it can be cooled and administered with a dropper… 30-40 drops per 20 pounds of body weight.  If this proves to be a nightmare for you and your animal, try drying the flowers and sprinkling them on his or her food.  You shouldn’t expect aspirin-like effectiveness; but it is a mild pain-killing option worth considering.

Dandelion is perhaps the first herb to consider when optimized digestion and waste elimination is a necessary part of an herbal therapy.   In holistic healing, the body, whether be it animal or human, should not be viewed as a collection of individual body systems, but as an intricately-balanced cooperation of relative components.  From this perspective it is easy to see how dandelion can serve a positive role in its effort to help the body at what it is designed to do— stay healthy.  The body cannot achieve this fundamental goal unless it is able to effectively utilize nutrients and eliminate its waste— and dandelion is here to help.

Don’t Miss out on a Single Episode of Natural Pets TV, with Greg Tilford!

Last year I had the pleasure of filming 11 episodes of Natural Pet TV with Robert Semrow of Pet World Insider.  The episodes are aired on the Roku entertainment network, as well as YouTube (and soon, Amazon Network).   Links to each episode appear below.  Enjoy!

Episode 1 – Holistic Wellness and Thinking:


Episode 2 – Preventing and Confronting Chronic Illness:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hbc6zG3FSmo

Episode 3 – The Roles of Herbs in Systemic Support


Episode 4 – Remedial and Maintenance Herbs


Episode 5 – The Kitchen Cupboard Apothecary


Episode 6 – Herb Safety and Pet Toxicology


Episode 7 – Immune System Support


Episode 8 – Senior Support


Episode 9 – Finding the best Supplements


Episode 10 – Senior Pet Care needs; Herbs and more


Episode 11 – Liver and Digestive Support


Amazing Olive Leaf!

©2017 Greg Tilford

Virtually any credible herbalist will tell you, “there are no silver bullets; no panaceas.”   This is absolutely true— nothing cures everything, and there is not a single herb, drug or medical treatment that will help every individual, every time.  There is however a few herbs that reach closer to being a “fix-all” than most others, their medicinal values just waiting to be discovered.   At the top of my list of discoveries is the humble but very powerful olive leaf (Olea europaea); an herb that can quite literally transform a non-believer of botanical medicine into a devout follower.

For thousands of years humankind has realized the remarkable values of olive trees.  Their delicious and nourishing fruit, the sacred and curative oil contained within the pits, and perhaps most important of all, the strength and resiliency of the trees themselves.  Compared to most other types trees and neighboring flora, olive trees are remarkably resistant to drought, blight and marauding insects — so much so that olive trees are often seen flourishing amongst a virtual boneyard of weaker neighbors.  It’s no wonder that early healers picked up this plant and began to use it in pursuit of their own wellness.  Holistic herbalists, like myself and our ancestors, know that a medicinal plant isn’t merely a botanical resource from which certain chemistries can be extracted and exploited, but an integral part of a much grander design.  One which includes and requires participation of all who feed upon the fruit of a tree,  or rest in the shade of its branches. Watch the birds as they feed upon berries to ultimately plant seeds for future generations.  Observe the deer as they feed upon foliage while at the same aerating the soil with their hooves, and scattering droppings to build rich compost.  Check out the bacteria and fungi that transform fallen fruit and leaves into food for other plants.   Herbalism isn’t about replacing pharmaceutical drugs with natural alternatives, it’s about an awareness that all life is connected and that we must not just consume, but participate in the natural systems of our living planet.

Humans of course, are difficult students. After all we are relatively new to all of this— we’ve only been around for a couple million years.  Plus, we are endowed with an amazing, super developed brain that, as part of its uniqueness, has forced us away from the instinctive behaviors of animals.   We don’t fit here, unless of course we learn to.

Olive leaf brings the lessons to us.  By all accounts, early healers saw the natural resilience of Olea europaea as an indication of its medicinal capacity, and began using it for sore throat, infections of the skin and many other ailments.

Perhaps the first formal medical review of the plant came in 1854, when fellow named Daniel Hanbury reported to a Pharmaceutical Journal that olive leaf had demonstrated an ability to cure severe cases of fever and malaria.  Hanbury published a simple formula:  “Boil a handful of the leaves in a quart of water down to half of its original volume.  Then administer the liquid in the amount of a wineglass every three or four hours until the fever is cured.”  In his article Hanbury reported that he had discovered the herb in 1843, when he used it to successfully treat sick Britons who were returning from Her Majesty’s tropical colonies.   Olive leaf soon became well known as a very effective febrifuge remedy, and was seen as much more effective than quinine in treatment of malaria.  In 1962 Italian researchers recorded that one of several active components of olive leaf, oleuropein, could reduce blood pressure in both humans and animals, and it was soon established that oleuropein is strongly antibacterial and antifungal as well; two traits that help explain it’s remarkable resistance against various plant-killing pathogens.

By the mid 1900’s multiple studies had been published about the amazing healing capabilities of olive leaf, and in 1969, Upjohn; a major pharmaceutical manufacturer, went to work at develop what they envisioned to be a powerful antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal drug.  To accomplish this they focused their studies on what was already regarded as the most active component of olive leaf,  oleuropein, along with calcium elenolate, another compound that showed strong activity against various viruses, bacteria and pathogenic fungi.  The findings of Upjohn’s in vitro (test tube) studies were astounding.  Virtually every microbe that was inoculated in their studies was killed by even the weakest extracts of the herb.  Olive leaf was shown to be effective against dozens of pathogenic microbes, ranging from rabies, HIV, influenza and even polio, to several of the most drug resistant strains of bacteria and fungi.  Best of all, olive leaf and its derivatives exhibited almost no risk of toxicity.  But despite Upjohn’s amazing findings, their plans of developing a new super drug were ruined when they learned that oleuropein and elenolate didn’t work so well when used in vivo (inside a living body) unless the rest of the plant’s chemistry remained as part of the formula. It turned out that like all herbs, the “entourage effect” of multiple chemical components, including among others, caffeic acid, verbascoside, luteolin 7-O-glucoside, rutin, apigenin 7-O-glucoside, luteolin 4’-O-glucoside, maslinic acid, hydroxutyrosol and oleocantha all contribute to the wonders of this amazing botanical.  Hence the old herbalist’s saying, ”The whole plant is greater than the sum of its parts.”  Knowing that it would be virtually impossible to develop a patentable drug from a whole plant that lives in easy access to billions of people worldwide, Upjohn abandoned their studies, leaving their amazing findings to herbalists like me, who will always regard olive leaf extract as my number one “go to” in virtually any case of viral, bacterial or fungal infection.  Unlike conventional pharmaceuticals, olive leaf extract is virtually harmless.  And unlike many conventional antibiotics which are quickly becoming useless against deadly forms of drug-resistant bacteria, olive leaf offers a complex mix of antimicrobial compounds that even the most stubborn bacteria will have a very difficult time finding a foothold against.

News & Education in the World of Natural Pet Care