Common name: Burdock
Other names: Great burdock, burr
Latin name: Arctium lappa
Affinities: Digestive system, immune system, integumentary system
Actions: Alterative, diuretic, bitter
Specific indications: Dry scaly skin, inflamed joints or skin, constipation, poor complexion with acne or boils
Diseases: Psoriasis(3), eczema(3), rheumatism(3), cystitis(3), acne(3), constipation(3), dandruff(3)
Parts used: Roots
Energetics: Cooling, moistening
Characteristics: Burdock is a common weed that grows freely throughout much of the world’s temperate regions (Winston and Kuhn, 2000). It is a biennial plant with large leaves that grow from 3 to 9 inches tall. It has pinkish purple flowers that develop into a tiny burr that contains the seeds. The name burdock is a combination of ‘bur’ for its notable burrs, and ‘dock’, an Old English name for plant (Castleman, 2001).
History: The 12th century medieval German abbess and herbalist Hildegard of Bingen used burdock to treat cancerous tumours (Castleman, 2001). The 17th century English herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper also used various parts of burdock, and wrote of it in his herbal, ‘A drachm of the roots, taken with pine-kernels, helpeth them that spit foul, mattery, and bloody phlegm’ (Culpeper, 1814). America’s 19th century physicians, the Eclectics, used burdock extensively, and in King’s American Dispensatory it was written, ‘The root is alterative, aperient, diuretic, and sudorific. A decoction of it has been used in rheumatic, gouty, venereal, leprous, and other disorders, and is preferred by some to that of sarsaparilla.’ (Felter and Lloyd, 1898). In this text, they also recommended burdock for skin diseases and particularly for psoriasis.
Current applications: David Hoffman in his text, Holistic Herbal, states that burdock root may be of use in dry scaly skin conditions, psoriasis, eczema, rheumatism, and cystitis (Hoffman, 1988). He mentions burdock will move the body to a state of integration and health, removing such indicators of systemic imbalance such as skin problems and dandruff. He also mentions, burdock root combines well with yellow dock, and red clover. Thomas Bartram viewed (burdock root) as one of the most powerful and reliable blood tonics (Bartram, 2013).
Matthew Wood mentions burdock root is well suited to dry or atrophic conditions where there is a need to increase secretions, tissue feeding, and tissue cleansing (Wood, 2011). In his text, The Earthwise Herbal Volume 1, specific indications for burdock root include; dry scaly skin conditions, constipation, arthritis, acne, boils, and psoriasis.
Science: Ex vivo studies have identified a compound called arctigenin in burdock roots that displays anti-inflammatory properties (Tsai et al., 2011; Zhao et al., 2009). Another study found that ethanolic extract of burdock roots displays anti-oxidant and anti-tumour activities (Predes et al., 2011). Other studies in animal models suggest that burdock root may help protect against liver damage (Lin et al., 2000) and reduce body weight (Kuo et al., 2012). No well controlled human studies were identified.
Safety: High, but avoid use during pregnancy.
Dosage: 5-60 drops 2-3 times daily.
Research on models
Anti-inflammatory: In two ex vivo studies the authors identified anti-inflammatory activity of a lignin molecule extracted from burdock called arctigenin (Tsai et al., 2011; Zhao et al., 2009). Inhibition of iNOS, IL-2, and IFN inflammatory pathways in human was noted in both studies.
Anti-oxidant & anti-tumour: In one ex vivo study the authors found that ethanolic extracts from burdock root exhibit both anti-oxidant activity and anti-tumour activity against human cancer cells (Predes et al., 2011).
Hepatoprotective: In a study using mice the authors discovered the root of burdock inhibited carbon tetrachloride induced liver damage (Lin et al., 2000).
Reduction of body weight: In another study, the authors found that burdock root treatment significantly reduced body weight in rats (Kuo et al., 2012). Three active compounds were identified that could be responsible; α-linolenic acid, methyl α-linolenate, and methyl oleate.
Bartram, Thomas. Bartram’s encyclopedia of herbal medicine. Hachette UK, 2013.
Culpeper, Nicholas. “Culpeper’s complete herbal.” (1814).
Felter, Harvey and Lloyd, John. King’s American Dispensatory, 1898.
Hoffman, David. Holistic herbal. Element Books, 1988.
Kuhn, Merrily A., and David Winston. Herbal therapy and supplements: a scientific and traditional approach. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.
Kuo, Daih-Huang, et al. “Body weight management effect of burdock (Arctium lappa L.) root is associated with the activation of AMP-activated protein kinase in human HepG2 cells.” Food chemistry 134.3 (2012): 1320-1326.
Lin, Song-chow, et al. “Hepatoprotective effects of Arctium lappa on carbon tetrachloride-and acetaminophen-induced liver damage.” The American journal of Chinese medicine 28.02 (2000): 163-173.
Predes, Fabricia S., et al. “Antioxidative and in vitro antiproliferative activity of Arctium lappa root extracts.” BMC complementary and alternative medicine 11.1 (2011): 25.
Tsai, Wei-Jern, et al. “Arctigenin from Arctium lappa inhibits interleukin-2 and interferon gene expression in primary human T lymphocytes.” Chinese medicine 6.1 (2011): 12.
Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal, Volume I: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books, 2011.
Zhao, Feng, Lu Wang, and Ke Liu. “In vitro anti-inflammatory effects of arctigenin, a lignan from Arctium lappa L., through inhibition on iNOS pathway.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 122.3 (2009): 457-462.