Ethnopharmacological relevance: Dandelion (Taraxacum spec) is a wild plant that has been used for centuries as a traditional medicine in the relief and treatment of several diseases. This use is due to the presence of sesquiterpenes, saponins, phenolic compounds, flavonoids, and sugars, among others, found in the organs of the plant.
Aim of the study: The aim of this work is to provide a current review of developments and trends in research on the Taraxacum genus, with a focus on traditional uses and pharmacological properties. This should shed light on the potential of this plant as an attractive commercial herbal medicine.
Materials and methods: Documents were collected, analyzed, and classified for information regarding medical, agronomic, genetic, and biological aspects of the Taraxacum species. This process was based on a thorough search of documents indexed by scientific search engines.
Results: Two important periods of research on Taraxacum have been identified: the first, between 1930 and 1950; and the second, from 1990 to today. During the former, agricultural and genetics research on this plant were, due to the shortage of natural rubber, the focus. In contrast, the main drive in Taraxacum research is now the recovery of bioactives and/or applications in medicine. Pharmacology is the main area in which these plants have been tested, thanks in part to its widely known traditional uses; however, there is less than enthusiastic interest in further human clinical trials. In other areas, Taraxacum sports an enormous list of compounds of industrial interest; and while it is true that only a small amount of these compounds is immediately available in Taraxacum organs and makes it relatively commercially unattractive, only scarce efforts have been made to improve yields. Compounding this issue, most studies of its growth and cultivation have been focused mainly on controlling it as a weed detrimental to certain industrial crops. To wit, in spite of all the research carried out, less than 1% of all the species identified so far (>2500) have been studied (including Taraxacum officinale, Taraxacum coreanum, Taraxacum mongolicum and Taraxacum platycarpum). This is a indication of the little knowledge that we have about this genus so far. Biotechnology (involving genetics, agriculture, and biology) is the most powerful means by which to take advantage of all the medicinal potential of Taraxacum. Great strides have been made in identifying metabolic pathways for synthesizing terpenes, one of the most important compound families in clinical applications. In order to improve yield and performance of the plant in the field, greenhouse cultivation is another aspect taken into account, deriving an increase in recovery of bioactives from Taraxacum organs. Even while considering that only a few species have been studied, their different biochemical and cultivation profiles indicate huge potential for qualitative improvements in composition through genetic engineering, thus directly impacting pharmacological properties.
Conclusions: Taraxacum is has been traditionally considered a natural remedy, well-inserted into popular knowledge, but with low commercial applicability. Only once the recovery of pure and highly reactive compounds can be pursued at (a qualitatively and quantitatively attractive) economical scale, human clinical trials would be of interest in order to prove their efficacy and safety, positioning Taraxacum as an important commercial source of natural drugs.
Keywords: Ailments; Ethnopharmacological; Phenolics; Sesquiterpenes; Taraxacum.
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