Botanical Name: Arctium lappa, A. minus, A. nemorosum
Common Names: Seircean suirich (Gaelic), Burdock, Beggar’s Buttons, Cocklebur, Hare Lock, Gobo Root
Family: Asteraceae (Daisy Family)
Parts Used: Root, Seed, Leaf
Roots more in Western medicine; seeds more in Asian medicine
Botany & Identification: A biennial native to temperate Europe & northern Asia. There are three species in the UK: Lesser Burdock (A. minus), Greater Burdock (A. lappa), and Wood Burdock (A.nemorosum) with lesser Burdock being the most common. Greater Burdock is mostly found in the Southern half of England & Wales. The Arctiums are downy, branched herbs with large oval-cordate leaves, red purple florets covered in involucre bracts with spreading hooked tips which form burrs and attach to clothes etc. Flowers from July to September.
Growing & Harvesting: A biennial – dig the roots at the end of the first year. Seeds are harvested just after the end of the second year. Roots are high in oils and can easily go rancid – they need to be dried with artificial heat and left out in open air. Harvest the seeds by putting them in a strong paper bag and hitting with a hammer to separate from the strong prickly burrs.
Edibility & Nutrition: Burdock root can be eaten raw or cooked & is often found in Asian supermarkets called Gobo Root. Roots are highly nutritious and contain numerous vitamins and minerals: vitamins A & C, calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, iodine, chromium, magnesium, silicon, cobalt, zinc, selenium, manganese, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin. Their high inulin content can make them difficult to digest; they can cause gas similar to eating Jerusalem Artichokes.
Constituents: Root: inulin, mucilage, pectin, polyacetylenes, volatile acids, sterols, tannins, bitters, aldehydes, quercitin, asparagin. Seed: fixed oils, bitter glycosides, flavonoids. Leaves: terpenoids, sterols, triterpenols, arctiol, mucilage, essential oil, tannin, inulin.
Qualities: Cooling, balancing dry & damp
Root: bitter, sweet, oily
Seed: Bitter, pungent, sweet, warm
Burdock root “increases secretions, feeds the tissues and cleanses the tissues” (Matthew Wood)
Burdock is an archetypal alterative herb, very useful in chronic conditions. Its main affinity is with the skin, but it also works through the kidneys & liver
The root is a detoxifying herb, having a cleansing effect on the body. The seed is more potent than the root, encouraging sweating and removal of fluids & waste through the kidneys & urine.
Best results are with the seed & root combined.
It is useful in conditions like cystitis, oedema (fluid retention), gravel, sore throats, chronic skin eruptions and chronic inflammatory conditions like gout & rheumatism
Regulates Oils in the Body
Burdock is an oily herb. It is called for whenever there is poor secretion of bile, indicated with dry stools, constipation, and poor emulsification of oils & fats like in dry, scaly conditions and dry skin. For best results combine with Milk Thistle & Fish Oils
Digestive, Metabolic & Prebiotic
It enhances digestion and liver function. It is a mild laxative and carminative, relieving wind & bloating.
The root is prebiotic, full of constituents which feed the good bacteria in the gut
It is also hypoglycaemic, and lowers blood sugar
Immune & Anti-Cancer
Burdock is both anti-microbial and immune balancing. As an Antibacterial & Antifungal it is useful in sore throats, swollen glands & tonsil infections.
Polysaccharides in the roots are anti-inflammatory and help to regulate the immune system which is useful in chronic allergies.
Contains burdock factor (B-factor): anti tumour and capable of reducing cell mutation.
Endocrine & Hormone Regulation
Steroid and sex hormones are fat based, so Burdock is also a supportive hormonal remedy
The root aids liver function and the breakdown of hormones so can help to regulate periods. It has a traditional use for uterine prolapse
History & Folklore:
Association with Harvest, Purification & Attachment
The burrs inspired the Swiss inventor George de Mestral to copy their hooks and loops to create velcro.
The name Arctium comes from arktos a bear, and lappa to seize – when you encoutner the burr of Burdock, they are as difficult to shake off as the grasp of a bear’s paw.
In Lughnasadh each year there is the harvest festival of the Burryman in South Queensferry, West Lothian (Scotland). A man is covered from head to toe in burrs and parades through the town receiving offerings of whiskey. The march of the Burryman is said to bring good luck to the town & to the harvest
Famously used for people with cancer for over 100 years – a staple ingredient in the Essiac formula in the 1920s.
Preparations & Dosages:
Burdock root juice, decoction & tincture are the best preparations internally.
A medicated oil can be used externally for hair and scalp conditions.
Dosage: decoction 6-12g per day
Tincture: root 1-4ml at 1:2 strength in 25% alcohol three times a day. Seed 2-3ml three times a day
Cautions & Contraindications:
Avoid in Pregnancy. Avoid with antidiabetic drugs & as it can potentiate their hypoglycaemic action. Burdock can be a strong herb which can cause ‘cleansing reactions’ like initial skin eruptions, headaches or tiredness. Start with a low dose and increase gradually.