Indefinitely Wild Series: What Is Burdock Root?
Burdock root is a medicinal herb and food that has powerful anti-tumor, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties. Burdock root is one of the top recommended herbal remedies for cancer due to the belief that it can stop cancer cells from metastasizing and it is one of the star ingredients of the famous natural cancer remedy known as Essiac tea.
It is also highly beneficial for colds, flu, sore throats, bronchial congestion, ulcers, gallstones, anemia, kidney stones, chicken pox, gout, measles, strep throat, urinary tract infections, bladder infections, hepatitis, and enlarged prostates. Burdock root is an essential blood purifier and detoxifying herb as it can neutralize and safely eliminate poisons and toxins from the body.
Burdock is one of the most important herbs for treating chronic skin problems such as acne, psoriasis, eczema, and shingles. It can also help to stimulate metabolism, re-grow hair, strengthen nails, and aid in edema and weight loss. Burdock root is an effective painkiller that can help alleviate symptoms of inflammation that affect auto-immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, bursitis, lupus, and diabetes.
Fresh burdock can be juiced with celery, kale, and apple or used in recipes similarly to carrots. It is often steamed or added to soups and stews. It has a subtly sweet and earthy flavor that works well with potatoes, mushrooms, and onions. Dried burdock root is often used as a medicinal tea.
Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons of dried burdock root and let steep for at least 10 minutes or more, sweeten with honey if desired. Burdock root can be readily found in a cream, salve, tincture, extract, and capsule form. Its potent healing abilities has made it a vital herb for your natural medicine cabinet.
Burdock Root contains a number of medicinal properties that have been used for hundreds of years. Traditionally herbalists all over the world use Burdock Root as a blood purifier. It is the root of the Burdock plant that is harvested for folk medicinal use. The roots are about an inch wide but up to three feet long and are best dug in July. They should be lifted with a beet lifter or a deep-running plow, due to the long taproot. As a rule, they are 12 inches or more in length and about 1 inch thick; sometimes, however, they extend 2 to 3 feet, making it necessary to dig by hand. They are fleshy, wrinkled, crowned with a tuft of whitish, soft, hairy leaf-stalks, grey-brown externally, whitish internally, with a somewhat thick bark, about a quarter of the diameter of the root, and softwood tissues, with a radiate structure.
Burdock has been used by herbalists worldwide to treat a variety of skin diseases such as abscesses, acne, carbuncles, psoriasis, and eczema. Burdock can be either taken alone or combined with other remedies, such as Yellow Dock and Sarsaparilla. The beneficial effects of this herb include increasing circulation to the skin, helping to detoxify the epidermal tissues. Burdock Root has been reported to destroy bacteria and fungus cultures. It is a popular detoxifying agent that produces a diuretic effect on the body which aids the filtering of impurities from the bloodstream. By promoting perspiration, Burdock Root eliminates toxins through the skin. By producing a detoxifying effect, Burdock Root aids blood circulation and produces a variety of positive side effects. As before mentioned, it contains inulin, a carbohydrate that strengthens the liver. The high concentration of inulin and mucilage aids in the soothing effects on the gastrointestinal tract. The high concentration of inulin is helpful for individuals that are afflicted with diabetes and hypoglycemia as it provides helpful sugar that does not provoke rapid insulin production. Inulin, which is very high in Burdock, is a resinoid or camphor-like hydrocarbon that is aromatic, stimulant, expectorant, tonic, stomachic, and antiseptic.
Burdock Root contains polyacetylenes that give the herb its antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is used as a mild laxative that aids in the elimination of uric acid or gout. It is classified as an alterative, diuretic and diaphoretic. It helps the kidneys to filter out impurities from the blood very quickly. It clears congestion in respiratory, lymphatic, urinary and circulatory systems. Burdock releases water retention, stimulates digestion, aids kidney, liver, and gallbladder function. It also functions as an aperient, depurative, and antiscorbutic.
Decoctions of Burdock have also been historically used for soothing the kidneys, relieving the lymphatic system, rheumatism, gout, GI tract disorders, stomach ailments, constipation, catarrh, fever, infection, fluid retention and skin problems. An article in Chemotherapyidentified the chemical arctigenin contained in Burdock as an “inhibitor of experimental tumor growth.”
Both European and Chinese herbalists have long considered burdock root’s “lightly warming, moistening effect an excellent tonic for the lungs and liver. It reportedly stimulates toxic waste through the skin and urine, improving digestion and is good for arthritis and rheumatism.
Burdock is an aid to circulation because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.
A recent study showed that Burdock blocked dangerous chemicals from causing damage to cells, suggesting the possibility that burdock may help decrease the risk of developing cancer from toxic chemicals.
Some other miscellaneous disorders Burdock Root is good for are:
Helpful to cellular regeneration
Useful for cleansing and treatment of Crohn’s disease and diverticulitis
Aids in alleviating distress related to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Useful for the treatment of recovery from Hepatitis
Burdock stimulates the appetite, so modern experts recommend it for anorexia nervosa
Burdock is used for most of the same needs as Yellow Dock (rumex Crispus) and is effective in treating gout and high cholesterol.
Based on many studies with animals exposed to toxic chemicals, the tea very effectively protects the body against cellular damage and abnormal growths. The tea also has powerful anti-inflammatory activity based on studies and reduces liver damage from toxic chemicals. As a mildly bitter-tasting herb, it increases saliva and bile secretion, which aids digestion and cleanses the liver. Burdock root tea can also be applied externally for treating skin conditions.
Despite Burdock’s reputation as a noxious weed, it is the source of several very palatable foods. Edible components of the Burdock plant are its roots, seeds, and its young stems. Young stalks are boiled to be eaten like asparagus, raw stems, and young leaves are eaten in salads. Both the root and leaves are used in herbal remedies, but most recipes call for the root which has a sweetish and mucilaginous taste. Fresh burdock root also has a distinct aroma. It has been used, after chopping and roasting, as a coffee substitute.
Originally cultivated in China for medicinal purposes, this unique root has become a sought-after specialty in Japan. Flavorful and crunchy, burdock is an excellent source of fiber, along with the vitamins and minerals. Its nutty taste is delicious sautéed in combination with carrots or just some soy sauce and a bit of sugar, or it can be deep-fried in a tempura batter. Avoid rinsing this brown-skinned vegetable until you’re ready to use it. In markets, it’s sold with the dirt still lingering on the roots because it is quick to wilt when washed. The white flesh immediately discolors once peeled. You’ll want to soak it in a mild vinegar solution until you’re ready to cook it to maintain the color.
You can harvest the large, deep, beige taproot from the basal rosette form (as soon as the flower stalk appears, the root becomes tough and woody) from early spring to late fall.
Scrub the root with a coarse copper scouring pad, but don’t peel it. Slice it razor-thin on a diagonal, oriental-style, or use the finest slicing disk of a food processor. Simmer 20 minutes or until tender. You may also sauté it, but add liquid and cook it in moist heat another 10 minutes afterward, or it may not get tender. You may also harvest the immature flower stalk in late Spring, before the flowers appear, while it’s still tender and very flexible. Peeled and parboiled for 1 minute to get rid of the bitterness, it tastes like artichoke hearts, and it will enhance any traditional recipe that calls for the heart of artichokes. Cook this another 5-10 minutes.
Its hearty flavor is a little like that of potatoes, although it’s related to artichokes. Mashed roots can also be formed into patties and fried. The white pith can be added to salads or simmered in syrup to make candy or soaked in vinegar to make pickles.
Kinpira Gobo Recipe
Beginners usually get into trouble when they sauté root (gobo in Japanese) instead of simmering or steaming it because sautéing makes it harder to make the root tender. The trick is to slice the root razor-thin and braise it after sautéing, as in this spicy Japanese side-dish.
2 tbs. dark (toasted) sesame oil
2 cups root, very thinly sliced
2 cups wild or commercial carrots, thinly sliced
2 tbs. fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled but not cut
1/2 cup redbud wine, mirin (Japanese rice wine), or white wine
1/4 cup whole sesame seeds
2 tbs. tamari soy sauce
1 tbs. chili paste or 1/2 tbs. cayenne hot pepper, or to taste
Sauté the carrots, ginger, and garlic in sesame oil 10 minutes, stirring often. Remove and discard the garlic as soon as it turns slightly brown. Meanwhile, toast sesame seeds in a frying pan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they pop and become slightly brown and fragrant. Remove the sesame seeds from frying pan and set aside. Add the remaining ingredients to the sautéed vegetables, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Add the sesame seeds. Serve hot as an appetizer, a condiment, or a side dish.
Makes 2-1/2 cups
Preparation Time: 35 minutes
Additional Information About Burdock Root:
Other: great burdock, gobo, goboshi
Arctium lappa L.1
Plant Family: Asteraceae
Burdock has been an important botanical in Western folk herbalism and traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, primarily valued for its cleansing and skin smoothing properties. The entire plant is edible and is a popular vegetable in Asia, particularly in Japan. More recently, burdock has been an ingredient in hair tonics and in cosmetics for mature skin.4,5
A biennial member of the Asteraceae family, with bright pink-red to purple thistle-like flowers on long stalks, and oblong to cordate, huge hairy leaves3,6 that is native to Europe and Asia, and now naturalized in North America and Austrailia.1 This plant can grow to a very robust height, reaching up to 9 feet,6 and its aromatic “carrot-like”7 taproots can grow as much as 3 feet deep into the ground (making them difficult to harvest).8 It is naturalized and abundant in northern U.S and Europe and is considered a weed in such areas.
The generic name arctium is derived from the Greek word for bear or arktos and the species name, lappa, is from the Latin word lappare which means “to seize.” The fruit (bur) looks rough and hairy resembling a big, fuzzy bear and will grab on to anything in the vicinity in order to spread its seed, hence the name.8,9 Its common name is derived from the French word bourre referring to a tangle of wool (often entangled with burs) and the German “dock” referring to large leaves.8 Various species, such as A. minus or A. tomentosum, may be used interchangeably.10 However, burdock is often confused with cocklebur or Xanthium spp. that has entirely different properties.7
CULTIVATION AND HARVESTING
Cultivated in China, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and in various countries in Europe.1
Seeds are picked in the fall and can be loosened from the chaff with a rolling pin. Harvesting the roots is no easy task yet can be done in the fall of the first year or spring of the second, preferably the former. According to the late herbalist Michael Moore “harvesting full flowered plants in the fall can be as much work as digging up a small tree”7
HISTORY AND FOLKLORE
Burdock is an all-purpose herbal that has been used continually for myriad purposes the last few thousand years in Asia and Europe, and more recently in North America. It is a food plant called gobo in Japanese and is a much consumed vegetable in Japan. The root may be eaten fresh or cooked and the young leaves can be cooked like any other vegetable.9 The stalks have a taste somewhat like asparagus and can be eaten raw in a salad, boiled, or candied with sugar.8
In traditional Chinese medicine, burdock fruit has been used continually for thousands of years. It is known to balance internal heat, is specifically helpful for supporting skin health, and is associated with lung and stomach meridians. It is considered energetically cold and having a slippery consistency that soothes mucous membranes. The root is also commonly cooked in order to change its energetic properties and specifically to make it easier to digest.2In European folk medicine, an infusion or decoction of the seeds was employed as a diuretic. It was helpful in enhancing health through supporting digestion, and as topical poultice.
-Culpepper in his Complete Herbal, written in 1653, says the following about Burdock:
It is so well known, even by the little boys, who pull off the burs to throw and stick upon each other, that I shall spare to write any description of it……The Burdock leaves are cooling and moderately drying. The leaves applied to the places troubled with the shrinking of the sinews or arteries, gives much ease. The juice of the leaves, or rather the roots themselves, given to drink with old wine, doth wonderfully help the biting of any serpents.11
Further, Culpepper, an avid astrologer in addition to being an herbalist, considered burdock to be a feminine plant, ruled by the planet Venus and took this into consideration when preparing his burdock elixirs.11 Traditionally the root was thought to carry magical power, particularly powers of protection and healing. It was believed that wearing a necklace that is made from the root, gathered during the waning moon, would protect the wearer from evil and negativity.12 In the Native American healing tradition, the plant was used by the Malecite, Micmac, Ojibwa, and Menominee for skin health. Further, the roots were dried by the Iroquois over a fire and stored for food for the following year.13 They also utilized the related A. minus in medicinal baths.
According to the William Cook, author of the Physio-medical Dispensatory in 1869, burdock “enters into a sort of family beer along with such agents as yellow dock, spikenard, elderflowers, and ginger” making a beneficial spring beverage. Herbalist Matthew Becker states that burdock is a “potent yet safe lymphatic decongestant.” Also, that as a subtle alterative it works best over time and demonstrates restorative properties due, in part, to its bitter tonic effects on the digestive system. It also contains inulin which feeds the healthy bacteria in the colon.14
Burdock is considered by many herbalists to be the best known medicinal for skin conditions (Hoffman, Moore). This herb is highly effective, gentle, and multipurpose. It promotes the flow of bile and also increases circulation to the skin. Further, it is a mild diuretic and lymphatic.15 Burdock is used widely as an alterative and blood purifier. The leaves can be made into a fresh poultice to soothe poison oak and poison ivy and a leaf decoction makes a therapeutic wash for the skin.3
FLAVOR NOTES AND ENERGETICS
Flavor: acrid bitter cold,2 sweet8
Diaphorhetic,10 mild diuretic, mild laxative, alterative,3,7,8,14,15,16 cholagogue3
USES AND PREPARATIONS
Dried root or seed as a cold infusion, decoction, tincture, or powdered and encapsulated. Fresh or cooked root and leaf as an edible vegetable Fresh root or seed as a tincture Fresh leaf as a poultice
Sesquiterpenes and sesquiterpene lactones, acetylenic compounds, phenolic acids, and up to 45% inulin,16 flavanoid glycosides, bitter glycosides, alkaloids,17 chromium, copper, iron, magnesium,18 Arctiin2
The inspiration for Velcro came from the burdock bur. The inventor, a Swiss electrical engineer named Georges de Mestral, was walking along one day in the mountains and saw burs sticking on his wool socks and his dog’s fur. He went home and examined the barbed, hook-like seeds that make up the fruit and thought he could replicate this “gripping” action in the laboratory. And so he did, and, in 1955, Velcro was patented and released to the world.19,20
Specific: No known precautions.
General: We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.
- United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Area Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Accessed athttp://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?8457 on June 20, 2014.
- Bensky, D., Gamble, A., & Kaptchuk, T. J. (1993). Chinese herbal medicine: materia medica.
- Lust, J. (2014). The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published. Courier Dover Publications.
- Knott A, Reuschlein K, Mielke H, Wensorra U, Mummert C, Koop U, Kausch M, Kolbe L, Peters N, Stäb F, Wenck H, Gallinat S. Natural Arctium lappa fruit extract improves the clinical signs of aging skin. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2008 Dec;7(4):281-9.
- Leung AY, Foster S, eds. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc; 1996.
- Foster, S. and J. A. Duke 2000. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
- Moore, M. (2003). Medicinal plants of the Mountain West (No. Ed. 2). Museum of New Mexico Press.
- Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. Accessed at http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/marigo16.html on June 20, 2014.
- Nature’s Pharmacy Deck: History and Uses of 50 Healing Plants. New York Botanical Gardens: New York; 2002.
- Stary, F. 1992. The Natural Guide to Medicinal Herbs and Plants. Ed. Dorset Press, NY, USA.
- Culpeper N. Culpeper’s complete herbal: a book of natural remedies for ancient ills. Accessed at: http://www.bibliomania.com/2/1/66/113/20971/1/frameset.html on June 23, 2014.
- Cunningham, S. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications; 2000.
- Moerman, D.E. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Accessed at http://herb.umd.umich.edu/ on June 23, 2014.
- Becker M. Materia Medica Intensive Seminar. Boulder, CO: North American Institute of Medical Herbalism, Inc; 2005.
- Bergner P. Immune – Lymphatics and antibiotics. From The Healing Power of Echinacea and Goldenseal 1997 in Medical Herbalism: Journal for the Clinical Practitioner. Accessed at http://medherb.com/Therapeutics/Immune_-_Lymphatics_and_antibiotics.htm on June 23, 2014.
- Mills S, Bone K. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone; 2000.
- Hoffmann, D. (1998). The Herbal Handbook: A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.
- Duke J. A. Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Accessed at http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/ on June 20, 2014.
- Accessed at http://www.velcro.com/About-Us/History.aspx#.U6hekfldWSo on June 23, 2014.
- Accessedhttp://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/archive/How_a_Swiss_invention_hooked_the_world.html?cid=5653568 on June 23, 2014.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.