Burdock-Articum Lappa, Articum Minus
Also known as: Lappa, thorny burr, clothburr, fox's cloth, beggar's buttons, hardock, hareburr, burrburr, turkey burr, bardana, etc.
Parts used: roots (first year's growth), leaves, seeds, stalk
Meridians/Organs affected: circulatory, digestive, urinary, liver, kidney, lungs
Properties: alterative, diuretic, tonic, diaphoretic, stomachic, aperient, depurative, antiscorbutic, demulcent, nutritive, antispasmodic, immune-stimulant
Burdock is a member of the Sunflower family although it bears no resemblance to the yellow daisy like plant. It is a biennial that produces lovely heart shaped leaves in its first year. The leaves can get up to 12-20 inches long and sometimes 8-16 inches wide. Some will refer to the leaves as resembling an elephants ear as they are certainly large in nature. The second year stems appear that have thistle like flowers that are reddish purple in nature with small hooks that readily attach themselves to anything that happens by. There are a few different varieties of burdock but they can get anywhere from 6-9 feet tall. It blooms July to October and the root is most often used from its first year stage. As it is a taproot it grows strait down so a shovel and some work are required to get the finished product. It grows in rich moist soil and can often be found in fields, roadsides, waste places, public parks, vacant lots, borders of fresh water wetlands, ponds and streams, median strips, edges of woodlands, etc. It does best in partial to full sunlight. The plant is best harvested (at its most medicinal) between September and October from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The root should be gathered at the end of its first season before the leaves die back completely (otherwise you will not be able to find it) or in early June when it starts greening up. The seeds should be gathered as the plant matures in the fall of its second year and thereafter.
Burdock is a native of Europe and Asia but can be found in most places now with the exception of extreme mountain regions and desert areas. It was commonly used by the early hunter-gatherers for food and is still popular in Asian countries as food, often referred to as 'gobo'. Its flavor is said to be similar to artichokes, asparagus and celery depending on who you talk to.
Burdock was the inspiration for Velcro actually. One lovely day George de Mestral (Swiss inventor) was out with his dog and they had a run-in with this plant. Upon further study Mestral found the hooks on the plant and how they attached themselves to anything that happened upon it. He had an idea and thus Velcro was born.
John Parkinson (1567-1650) said it was helpful in regards to venomous bites. Culpeper said that burdock is "cooling and moderately drying, whereby good for old ulcers and sores.....the seeds being drunk in wine 40 days together doth wonderfully help the sciatica....." He also said the seed was beneficial for stone conditions and the root was good for "..consumption, stone and the lax." Eighteenth century treatments for syphilis and gonorrhea contained burdock, and in fact was used by Henry VIII for the former. His condition did improve although he was not cured of it. It was also mixed with wine for leprosy, epilepsy and hysteria. In the 1100's, Hildegard of Bingen had used it for those with cancer and to enhance the immune system. Interestingly enough in modern research it has been said to be beneficial for both cancer and HIV. In China burdock has been prized as a blood purifier for millennia. It is also a powerful liver tonic and useful for many issues involving liver dysfunction. It can also help to clear the skin of any infections or imbalances due to its blood purifying qualities. The root has been used to break down excess uric acid in the joints helping with a number of joint related issues. Native americans used it for sores and scurvy amongst other things. The Chinese have used it for a plethora of ailments including flu, abscesses, boils, measles and tonsillitis. It is also an important herb when dealing with Yang (heat producing) conditions. Extracts of the seeds have been shown to lower blood sugar levels and the boiled root has been shown to control bacterial infections, assist with heavy metal poisoning, reduce inflammation and treat skin maladies. The whole plant has sweat-inducing (more as a fresh herb) and laxative properties as well as being a mild diuretic. A conditioner made of the leaves or root and massaged into the scalp is said to be good for hair loss. The seeds have also been used in washes and poultices for bruises, insect and snake bites, smallpox and scarlet fever. The roots we boiled to make an antidote for food poisoning, especially from poison mushrooms. It has also been used for vertigo and high blood pressure.
Burdock was listed as a diaphoretic and a diuretic in the National Formulary from 1916-1947 and in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1831-1916. It was also included in Dioscoredes 'De Materia Medica'. It is both a food and a medicine. It is highly nutritive as it contains iron, zinc, B-Complex, thiamine, B6, B-12, C, A and bioflavonoids just to name a few. One will never starve with this plant nearby.
As with all of my posts I have included some links below. Please use them as you see fit. Happy, healthy herbal hunting!