BURDOCK - Arctium lappa
This plant is known by several common names— Greater Burdock, Burr, Lappa, Beggar’s Buttons, Gobo (Japanese name), ngau pong (Chinese name)— old name of Radix bardanae—
Lesser Burdock is Arctium minus
FAMILY: Compositae/Asteracea— the daisy or Aster family which also includes marigold, dandelion
PARTS COMMONLY USED: Mainly roots, but leaves and seeds also utilized
COLLECTION: Root collected in the Fall of the first year, or Spring of the following year when just beginning leaf growth —Leaves are collected in July or during the early Fall months in 1st or 2nd year. Seeds are collected when ripe in the Fall of the second year
DESCRIPTION & HABITAT: Bur comes from the French word bourre, from the Latin burra—a lock of wool such is often found entangled with it when sheep have passed by the plant, dock comes from it’s large leaves. Arktos is Greek for “bear”, and lappa means “to seize”. As the leaves closely resemble broad leafed Dock, it became known as the dock with burrs—Bur-dock. One usually does not forget this plant after an encounter with it’s seed pods (burrs). Burdock is originally a native plant from Northern China, becoming a European plant that made it’s way to the U.S. and flourished. It grows around 3-4 feet tall with large, wavy, dull, pale green leaves nearer the ground which can be a foot long, heart-shaped, and having a grey undersurface covered with fine hairs. A branched stem rises from a biennial root. The root is around 12 inches long, 1 inch thick, fleshy, wrinkled, grey-brown externally and whitish internally, and a thick bark. Flower heads are present during the summer and into the Fall, dark purple stamens and whitish styles. The involucer has small hooked appendages which will stick to anything it touches—primarily humans and animals! It grows freely in waste places, will grow in almost any soil. Easily cultivated. Biennial.
HISTORY: Recorded use has been dated back to the 14th Century during which time the leaves were used in a wine to treat leprosy. Since that time, it has been used in treatment of a variety of illnesses, and all parts of the plant used for one condition or another. A Swiss gentleman invented “Velcro” from analyzing the tiny burrs of the seeds, marveling at how they stuck to everything they touched! This plant is also mentioned in three of Shakespeare’s plays. The large leaves were used as masks in Greek drama to cover actor’s faces when they performed. Hildegard of Bingen wrote about it as a part of one of her elixirs used to treat “pre-cancer”. European countries then began testing it on tumors in laboratory studies, with their findings being reported as “inconclusive.” More often than not, it was viewed as an obnoxious weed. Early settlers introduced the plant to the U.S., and the Turtle Island People quickly adopted it in their own medicine making.
HISTORICAL USES: Leaves are used to strengthen the stomach and chronic indigestion. Externally they are used as a poultice for tumors, gout, bruises, inflammation. Seeds are used in tincture for skin disorders. Relaxant and demulcent with some tonic properties. Used in infusions for kidneys and conditions involving the nervous system. Root is anti-scorbutic, mucilaginous, demulcent making it useful externally for many skin disorders. Internally, it is considered one of the best “blood purifiers”, which makes it understandable why it is useful for skin problems. (Traditionally skin problems have been believed to arise from issues associated with the digestive tract—primarily the liver, which is one of the organs responsible for removing toxins from the body. The skin is also a back-up for this process.) It is also helpful for elevated uric acid levels (as in gout), and water retention (associated with kidney or heart problems). New growth on the plant in Spring is peeled and eaten raw, or cooked. The flower stalks are cut before the flower opens, stripped of their outer covering and boiled, with a flavor similar to asparagus. Also to be eaten raw, as in a salad.
The celery-like core of the flower stalk tastes like artichoke hearts!
CHINESE USES: called niu bang zi— Energy of root cold—flavor of seeds pungent, of root are sweet initially and bitter later—Affinity for lungs and stomach—Therapeutic effects; antiphlogistic, antitussive, diuretic, expectorant, laxative, alterative, relieves lymph congestion, antidote to toxins in bones (TCM: expels wind-dampness and wind-heat; clears internal heat) Indicated for lumbago, pneumonia and bronchitis, lung congestion, urethritis and syphilis, abscesses, boils, cankers, chicken pox in children, measles, smallpox, bladder stones (TCM: wind-heat injury; internal wind-damp; energy stagnation in waist and knees)
ORGANS/SYSTEMS AFFECTED—liver, kidney, skin
CONSIDERATIONS—Will promote perspiration in colds and fevers if taken in hot water. A tea made from the tops of the plant may help with pain. May stimulate lymphatic flow. Diabetics should monitor blood sugars regularly. Caution in those who have had their gallbladder removed.
Burdock has been used as a folk remedy for cancer all over the globe—Chile, China, India, Canada, Russia, and the U.S.
The only case of reported poisoning with Burdock was later found to be caused by contamination of the herb with Atropa belladonna (Deadly Nightshade)—which exerts an atropine-like response from the body.
Burdock was also an ingredient in the well known Hoxsey Formula.
Listed in the USP from 1831-1842 and 1851-1916 and in the National Formulary from 1916-1947.
SOME SCIENTIFIC STUDIES: treatment of urolithiasis, potential of inhibiting HIV, metabolism of it’s lignans in rat digestive tract, platelet activating factor (PAF) antagonism, effects of it’s dietary fiber on digestion, potential anti-tumor activity of extract, desmutagenic factor isolated
Diabetes: Burdock root contains chemicals which help the body to regulate the blood sugar and/or the release of insulin from the pancreas. It contains Inulin—not the same as insulin. It actually is a helpful type of “sugar” beneficial to diabetics and hypoglycemics because it does not trigger quick insulin production response from the pancreas. The content of this chemical in Arctium is very high—comparable to artichoke. Burdock also contains alanine, which helps maintain blood sugar levels. This root contains numerous other constituents (chemicals) which either directly or indirectly affect the blood sugar. Although Rene Caisse’s experience was that the tea reversed or reduced diabetes - decreasing the need for insulin—we do not recommend you stop taking any anti-diabetic medications. Monitor your blood sugar closely and discuss with your doctor how, or if, you should alter your insulin or medication requirements.
The inulin content of this plant also makes it a proven viable option in the case of eczema. Inulin appears to help correct the inflammatory mechanisms and response found in eczema. With it’s antibacterial actions, it seems a plant worthy of consideration for this dis-ease.
The bitter principles contained in this plant are stimulating for digestion—especially bile secretions. This action will help digestion and appetite.
This information is provided for educational purposes and to promote discussion only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat or claim cure for any disease or imbalance in the body.