Burdock (Arctium lappa) Monograph
Latin Name: Arctium lappa
Common name(s): Burdock
Botany: Burdock is a biennial herb with large, dark green leaves, tall stalks that can grow several feet high, and a plethora of characteristic round burrs, which often get caught in human clothing and animal fur.
Habitat: Native to Europe and Asia, Burdocks have been naturalized all over the world. They are considered weeds in many places, and favor disturbed soils.
History/Folklore: Herbalist Matthew Wood writes that Dioscorides knew Burdock as Arcteion, which means “Bear Plant” in Greek. Wood suggests that this hints at possible ancient shamanic uses. Dioscorides also spoke of using a decoction of the root and seeds for toothaches. 17th Century British herbalist Nicholas Culpeper seems to have had a preference for using the leaves, calling them “cooling, moderately drying,” and dispersing. The juice of the leaves taken in wine or honey is said to provoke urine and cure pain in the bladder. He also spoke of using the bruised leaves with egg white on burns, both to cool the heat and aid in healing. And finally, Culpeper used the seeds as a remedy for breaking up stones. In the late 19th century, the U.S. Eclectics began incorporating Burdock into their practice. A Buffalo, NY company (Foster, Milburn & Co.) began producing a “Burdock Blood Bitters” formula, which was advertised as a remedy for constipation, dyspepsia, headache, and blood disorders. Eclectic Dr. John King (1898) classified Burdock as an alterative, or “alterative diuretic,” and emphasized its actions on the kidneys. He writes, “The action of the seeds upon the urinary tract is direct, relieving irritation and increasing renal activity, assisting at the same time in eliminating morbid products … It is of marked value in catarrhal and aphthous ulcerations (canker sores) of the digestive tract.” He also points to it being beneficial for rheumatism, cough, bronchial irritation, and common skin diseases.
Parts used: root, seeds, leaves
Constituents: Inulin, mucilage, crystalline glucoside, resin, fixed and volatile oils, tannic acid.
Actions: Alterative, diuretic, diaphoretic, antiseptic, tonic, laxative, anti-inflammatory
Medicinal use: In addition to the historical uses mentioned above, Burdock is well known as a detoxifying herb that helps remove waste products from the blood, liver and kidneys. It’s bitter and cooling to the system. Burdock is often combined with Dandelion as an overall bitters tonic. As a blood purifier, Burdock helps promote kidney function and is generally tonic. Burdock seed clears fevers and heat conditions such as boils, styes, carbuncles, canker sores, and infections. Other conditions treated include fibromyalgia, tonsillitis, arthritis, sciatica, and lumbago.
Common preparation: tincture, tea
Contraindications: Overall, Burdock is a safe herb with few side effects. Two potential issues to watch out for are fluctuations in blood sugar levels, and interference with iron absorption.
Notes: The seeds have a similar numbing, nerve tingling taste as Echinacea does. Burdock root is a common vegetable in East Asian cuisine.
Chevallier, Andrew. Herbal Remedies. 2007, Metro Books, New York.
Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom. 1997, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.
Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs. 1990, Pocket Books, New York.