In traditional medicine burdock is used for a variety of conditions and symptoms. Scientific investigation has revealed many of the underlying phytochemical (phyto-plant) compounds responsible for the positive effects.
When preparing burdock for herbal medicine the leaves, stems, flowers, seeds and primarily the roots are used. Burdock is also used as a food in many Asian cultures.
Other names burdock is known by include: Arctium, Bardana’s, Bardane’s, Beggar’s Buttons, Clotbur, Cocklebur, Cockle Buttons, Fox’s Clote, Gobo, Glouteron, Happy Major, Hardock, Harebur, Herbe aux Teigneux, Lappa, Love Leaves, Niu Bang Zi, Orelha-de-gigante, Personata, Philanthropium, Rhubarbe du Diable, Thorny Burr.
Burdock is in the family Asteraceae. Many plants in this family classification have powerful phytochemicals and are used in traditional medicines. Some of the more commonly known burdock cousins include chamomile, yarrow, chicory, thistle and echinacea. Many flowering plants are also in this family including dahlia, marigold, aster, dandelion and zinnia.
There are six named subspecies of Burdock.
- Arctium lappa L. – greater burdock – used in essiac tea
- Arctioum minus Bernh, – lesser burdock
- Arctium x mixtum Nyman – burdock
- Arctium x nothum (Ruhmer) J. Weiss – burdock
- Arctium tomentosum Mill. – woolly burdock
- Arctium vulgare (Hill) Evens – woodland burdock
All subspecies have active medicinal properties. The most commonly used is the greater burdock.
Burdock is a biennial plant reaching maturity in the second year. A mature burdock plant can grow to nearly six foot in height. The leaves extend from the ground level with a central flower bearing stem. The leaves are described as “cordate-ovate” which means they are oval with a heart like shape. The stem of the leaf is attached into the cleft of the heart. The leaves are maximally two inches long and one and one half inches wide. Smaller leaves accumulate higher up on the stem below the flow or developing bud.
The stems can appear reddish or a moderately deep green. When immature the stems are covered in tiny white soft hairs. These are lost as the plant matures growing into a smooth stem with horizontal veins.
The flowers bud in mid-June and start to bloom at the beginning of August. When open the magenta flower appears to poking out of a cluster of tight modified leaves called bracts. Then finished blooming the flowers wither and dry turning brown. These form burrs which are easily caught on animals passing by or are released in wind as a mechanism of seed dispersal. The seeds(or fruits) are at the base of the hook tipped burrs.
The root is long and slender. They grow up to two feet in length. Greyish brown on the outside they have whitish interiors. They are fleshy and wrinkled. At maturity may weigh up to two pounds.
In the wild burdock is found in central Europe, Southeast Asia and North America. Preferred conditions are partial sunlight, moderate moisture and fertile well drained soil. It is tolerant to extremes and will survive with little water and in sandy soil.
Native Americans used the entire burdock plant throughout the year. They boiled the stalks with honey and make a candy that stored through winter.
It was widely documented through the medieval ages. In addition to the common uses it was a popular treatment for syphilis. It is mentioned as early as 1265 in combination with dandelion. Burdock and Dandelion still remains a popular drink.
In Asia burdock has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 3000 years. It was written about by Li Shizhen in the Bencao gangmu, the Compendium of Materia Medica during the Ming dynasty.
Burdock root is available fresh or dried. Decoctions from root, leaves and seed are available as are fluid extracts and tinctures made with alcohol. Burdock oil is available. Dried burdock leaves for tea can be purchased. Seeds are available for propagation.
Recommended Adult Doses
Capsules 1-2 gm. 3 x day
Dried Root: Boil 2-6 gm. in 150 ml (5 oz.) water. Strain and cool. Drink 3 x day or use liquid as a compress or poultice for skin infection or wound.
Tincture: (1:5 oil:alcohol) 30-60 drops daily. It can also be used as a compress.
Fluid Extract: (1:1 with water) 30-60 drops twice daily
Tea: Boil 2-6 gm. in 500 ml (16 oz.) water to make two cups three times daily
A list of known uses:
- Diuretic (increases urination)
- Skin care and conditions including acne, eczema and psoriasis
- Treat bacterial skin infections (boils, abscesses)
- Treat sore throat and cold
- Hair and scalp conditioning (hair growth)
- Depurative (purifying blood)
- Immune Stimulation
- Promotes hepatic function
- Promotes weight loss
- Lowers blood sugars
- Improves lipid profiles
- Reduces heart disease and stroke
- Anti-inflammatory treats gout.
- Decreases platelet stickiness (decreases blood viscosity)
- Anti-tussive (cough suppressant)
- Treats stomach upset and pain (irritable bowel syndrome)
- Antipyretic: (lowers fever)
- Anti-cancer properties with proven scientific study in certain cancers.
- Treats fungal infection
- Stimulates uterine contractions
- Treats kidney stones
- Treats gallstones
There are very few side effects. Handling the leaves can cause Allergic Contact Dermatitis in some genetically inclined people.
Because it can stimulate uterine contractions it is not recommended for use during pregnancy.
In large amounts the tannin content can cause gastrointestinal distress.
May interfere with cytochrome P-450 degradation of Coumadin. Should be used with caution in people on blood thinners.
Cross allergy possible with chrysanthemums, daises or rag weed.
Active Compounds Found in Burdock Root
Each part of the burdock plant contains different concentrations of phytochemicals and is used for different conditions. The roots are the primary source of food and medicinal product.
It will be helpful to define some biochemistry terms.
Terpenes/terpenoids/isoprenoids- Organic molecules that are building blocks for all biosynthetic compounds. They are a major component by themselves in essential oils used in flavorings, colorings and perfumes. Vitamin A is an example of a terpenoid.
Phytosterol/Phytoestrogen- “Phyto” means plant and “sterol” refers to steroid. These are plant derived steroid based molecules that will affect inflammatory and sex hormone activities. They form a chemical base for many bioactive compounds used in signaling, immune response and cell reproduction (cancer).
Polyphenols- a group of compounds comprised of repeating phenol rings. Used by plants for many functions including as an insect repellent, signaling function within plant development, controls growth hormones and provides UV protection to plant. In humans the substance resveratrol thought to be the protective cardiovascular substance in red wine and is used for their astringent properties.
Ligands- In biochemistry a lignand (ligand) is a compound that attaches to another biomolecule to form a complex that provides a purpose that neither could perform individually. Heme is a lignand with myoglobin forming a functional compound that delivers oxygen to muscle.
Phytochemicals Identified in Burdock
Inulin: (C6H10O5)n A polysaccharide (sugar) in the family of fructans (chains of fructose sugars). Plants use inulin to store energy. Plants that use inulin do not store energy as starch. Found in roots
- Inulin is a prebiotic bifidus factor that maintains the normal intestinal flora.
- Balances glycemic index in diabetics providing better glucose control.
- Has been shown to help weight loss.
- Has antioxidant properties.
- Antihypertensive (lowers blood pressure)
Polyacetylenes: Any of a class of organic compounds containing an acetylene (-C≡C-) repeat units, especially any that occur naturally in some composite plants.
- Antibacterial actions particularly used topically on the skin. Can heal acne and boils.
- Antifungal actions against ringworm, jock itch, foot and toenail fungal infections
Tannin: C76H52O46 A polyphenolic compound with many hydroxyl groups. Polyphenols contain a phenol ring and subgroups include phenolic acids, flavonoids, stilbenes and lignans. Found in roots.
Mucilage: A viscous sticky substance comprised of polar glycoprotein and exopolysaccharide. In plants involved in water storage, food storage, seed germination, and membrane protection. Found in roots.
- Demulcent agent providing protection for mucous membranes.
- Relieves gastrointestinal distress by coating action.
Arctigenin: C12H24O7 A lignand found in roots, leaves and seeds.
- Anti-viral (has been used in mouse trials treating Japanese Encephalitis)
Actiin: C27H34O11 A lignand found in roots, leaves and seeds.
- Anti-cancer (Antiproliferative)
Iron: Iron is a natural element required for many reactions in the body. Two of the most important are the synthesis of hemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen in the body and myoglobin and essential component of muscle.
- Prevents anemia
- Provides building blocks for muscle and nerve repair.
- Essential co-enzyme in many biochemical reactions necessary for life.
Lactone: Sesquiterpene lactones are a class of terpenoids. These compounds play an important role in essential oils and have many bioactive properties. Actions may be responsible from chemotaxis (cell signaling) ability.
- Anti-protozoan (malaria)
- Anti-cancer (cell lysis)
- Immune stimulation
- Can cause poison ivy type rash on skin (in genetically susceptible)
Resin: (Pitch) A hydrocarbon secretion either solid or semisolid.
- Skin healing
- Colic, gastrointestinal distress
- Anti-helminthic (intestinal worms)
Essential oils: Burdock oil or “bur oil” is very concentrated essential fatty acids (including rare long chain) and phytosterols.
- Energy source from the fatty acids.
- Skin repair and care.
- Improved lipid profile resulting in lower heart disease and stroke.
- Lowers cancer risks, specifically lung, stomach, breast and ovarian cancers.
lappaols F: C40H42O12 Lignands that inhibit NO production. Found in seeds.
- Improves lipid profile resulting in improved cardiovascular disease
- Decreases platelet stickiness (thins blood)
- Anti-diabetic lowers blood sugars
- Antimicrobial (bacteria, virus and yeast)
- Lowers blood pressure by calcium channel inhibition
Neoarctin: A lignand found in fruits.
- Antihypertensive (calcium channel blocker)
Trachelogenin: C21H24O7 A lignand found in the fruits.
- Antihypertensive (calcium channel blocker)
Chlorogenic acid: C16H18O9 An ester formed between caffeic acid and l-quinic acid. It is an important intermediary in ligand synthesis. Ligands (Lignands) are responsible for many bioactive processes. Found in root skin and leaves.
- All Lignand properties
Vitamin A: A group of unsaturated hydrocarbons required for growth and development of the immune system and most important sight. Includes beta-carotene, retinol, retinoic acid, retinal, and several pro-vitamin A carotenoids.
- Improves immune status
- Helps eyesight (retina in particular)
Vitamin B1: (Thiamine) Required for normal nerve function.
- Eye health (prevents optic neuropathy)
- Nervous system health
- Memory functions
Vitamin B2: (Riboflavin) Has its major role in intercellular energy processes. It is what supplies the orange-red color from B vitamin supplements.
- Headache treatment (particularly migraine}
- Anti-cancer (particularly ovarian)
- Helps muscle pain
- Helps vision
Vitamin C: (l-Ascorbic acid, ascorbate) A proenzyme in crucial biochemical reactions, significantly collagen production.
- Prevents scurvy
- Essential for would healing Antioxidant (powerful)
Flavonoids: Nonketone polyphenol compounds.
- Antimicrobial (bacteria, virus and fungi)
- Anti-cancer works as “response modifier”
Fukinone: A sesquiterpene ketone terpene.
Taraxosterol: A phytosteroid. A pentacyclic triterpenoid.
- Improved lipid profile preventing cardiovascular disease.
Amino Acids: Aspartic acid and Arginine.
- Aspartic acid is important in the Krebs’s cycle generating energy from glucose.
- Enhances memory.
- Arginine is required by the nervous system.
- Increases healing times connective tissue (bone and muscle)
- Increases healing time skin
Course Fiber: Vegetable fiber bulk
- Bowel regularity
- Weight loss
In this one plant nature provides at least 27 benefits to human health and there are likely more. It grows about everywhere even in poor soil. The roots are flavorful and are used in traditional Asian cooking. Scientific study supports a majority of the purported health benefits. Study continues aggressively into cancer applications.
So I ask you, have you had your burdock today? Why not