|Medical Herbalism: Materia Medica and Pharmacy|
Taraxacum: Dandelion as a diuretic
by Paul Bergner
Medical Herbalism 3(1):5-6
Fatigue and muscle cramps, with potassium depletion, are common side effects of pharmaceutical diuretics. This may lead to heart arrhythmias in susceptible patients. Can dandelion leaf cause these problems?
How effective is dandelion as a diuretic? Effective enough to cause potassium depletion? One French name for dandelion translates as piss-in-the-bed, attesting to the traditionally-recognized diuretic effects of the herb. Dandelion leaf has been shown in animal experiments to be equivalent in activity to the conventional diuretic Lasix (furosemide) (Racz), but probably not in the doses normally given to humans.
What dose is necessary to achieve diuresis at the same level as conventional diuretics? Botanist Christopher Hobbs analyzed the data and suggests that the equivalent dose in humans would range from a half ounce to four ounces of the leaf per day, infused in from a pint to 3 liters of water (Hobbs). Getting a patient to ingest this amount of leaf would be a challenge at best. And it is most unlikely that an equivalent diuretic effect can be obtained with the equivalent of 40 drops of tincture a day. Whatever effects on blood pressure such low doses of the tincture may produce cannot be due to diuresis.
Is the high potassium content in dandelion enough to offset the potassium loss from diuresis? The authors of the animal study mentioned above state “the high potassium content of dried dandelion leaf—4.25% of dry weight ensures the substitution of the loss of potassium by constant addition” (Hobbs). This assertion seems borne out by Hobbs data. Patients on diuretic therapy customarily have to increase potassium intake by up to 4 grams a day to prevent deficiency symptoms. This is the same amount that is delivered by the higher range of Hobbs’ doses—3.5 ounces of leaf. It appears that the potassium content of fried dandelion leaf will replenish potassium lost through its diuretic effect. Dandelion root, on the other hand, has less than .5% potassium. This is somewhat higher than bananas, widely reputed to be high in potassium, but the dandelion root would have to be eaten in the same quantities as bananas to significantly affect potassium intake. –Paul Bergner
Hobbs C. Monograph on Taraxacum Officinale. Eclectic Institute, Portland, Oregon.
E. Racz G Solomon A Planta Medica. 26, p. 212 (1974).
2001 Paul Bergner