Arctium lappa/minor – Sunflower Family
by Greg Tilford c.2010
Appearance: Burdock first appears as a rosette of large up to 12″ long heart-shaped leaves. During the second year the plant continues skyward; often reaching six to eight feet, while branching out to produce multitudes of thistle-like, light lavender to purple-flowered, seed-bearing burrs at the upper leaf axils and branch ends. Each burr contains several small black seeds, and is covered by reverse-hooked spines that enable them to stick to anything that brushes by. The entire plant is covered with tiny hairs that give the leaves and stems a tacky texture which can be compared to ultra-fine grit sandpaper (the gray kind). The light brown, carrot-like taproot may weigh two or three pounds and extend two or more feet below a second year plant. This sturdy taproot, combined with the annoying and extremely efficient reproductive qualities of the burrs, has earned Burdock a hated reputation as a farm and garden enemy.
Habitat & Range: Burdock is a Eurasian import that has made its home throughout most of North America. It prefers rich, deep, consistently moist soil, and is frequently found in profuse abundance along the margins of cultivated fields and at roadsides (particularly where human or livestock traffic can cooperate with the hitch-hiking burrs).
Cycle & Bloom Season: A biennial which blooms in mid to late summer.
Parts Used: The root.
Actions: Alterative, cholagogue, diuretic, nutritive.
Affinities: Liver, skin.
Preparation: Although all preparations of this herb are useful, the active constituents of this plant must be given in relatively large doses to be of therapeutic advantage. Since most animals don’t like eating it, a strong tincture of fresh or dried root will get the job done most effectively. Burdock root takes well to a glycerin menstruum, and its flavor is sweet and agreeable to most animals. Bear in mind that if you use fresh roots for the purpose of making a glycerite, water content in the vegetable is very high. Therefore, it is best to use one hundred percent, undiluted vegetable glycerin in your maceration. Fresh or dried burdock root can be decocted as well, to be poured over your animal’s food… be liberal with quantity–burdock is good food.
Specific Uses: We cannot emphasize the value of this herb enough in the long term care of companion animals. Burdock has an ancient and respected reputation as a nutritive liver tonic that helps to clean and build the blood. Just 2.5 ounces of fresh burdock root contains up to 61 mg of calcium, 77 mg of phosphorus, 1.4 mg of iron, 0.03 mg of thiamin and 0.05 mg of riboflavin. 1.
Burdock root is a specific treatment for chronic or acute psoriasis or eczema; it has a strong affinity toward the treatment of flaky, oily, or inflammatory skin disorders which can be traced back to liver deficiencies and/or a general overload of toxic substances in the body (usually the result of a poor diet). It is also useful in the holistic treatment of arthritis, rheumatoid disorders, inflammatory kidney and bladder disease, and virtually any other type of metabolic disorder that may be the result of poor waste elimination. Adding to all of this is a diuretic action that helps in the elimination of waste materials from the body. In simple terms, burdock helps clean the body, from inside out.
Burdock contains chemical constituents that have been shown to be effective in preventing disease which may result from environmental toxicity. Specifically, burdock helps to remove mutagen substances, such as pesticides and airborne pollutants, from the bloodstream before they cause harm to the body2. Animal studies have also indicated that burdock extract has free-radical scavenging qualities in the liver3, thus weeding out carcinogenic elements before cellular damage can occur.
Virtually every living creature is continually subjected to the harmful effects of human society… our companion animals are no exception. The liver is the organ which begins the cleansing process. And not only does it filter the blood, it contributes bile and numerous enzymes to the digestive tract that are essential to the breakdown and absorption of essential nutrients. By assisting liver function and prompting the efficient removal of systemic waste, introduced toxins, or allergens from the body, imbalances such as arthritis, kidney stones, bladder infections, or eczema can be avoided. By helping the liver at its job, we are also relieving pressure from secondary immune functions that need to remain unencumbered in their fight against viruses and other microbes which may have bypassed the liver. Furthermore, by helping the liver to work at optimum efficiency, less solid or toxic waste will reach the kidneys; a set of delicate organs that are vulnerable to the liver’s deficiencies.
Burdock is an excellent, long-term liver tonic, and it is gentle enough to use in cases of pre-existing liver of kidney disease. It is an excellent choice for animals that are suffering as a result of a poor diet. Just remember… diet is where the road to a long, healthy life begins… burdock will not replace a good, natural diet, but it can help tremendously in allowing the body to utilize the good nutrition it receives.
Availability: Fresh, organically-grown burdock root is available at many health food stores. Dried burdock root, and root tincture are available through most herb retailers. Seeds are available through specialty seed catalogs.
Propagation & Harvest: Provided you have deep, rich soil for tap roots that can penetrate the earth for three feet, burdock is easy to grow. Burdock likes moist (but not wet) soil, and it prefers to have at least a couple hours of shade each day. Sow the seeds as you would carrots,in early spring. The roots are ready after the leaves die back in fall of the first year. Second year roots can be used if dug in the spring, but remember that biennials die after their second year of growth… the roots will be losing potency as they approach their demise.
Burdock roots can be refrigerated for several weeks after harvest, or they can be chopped and dried, made into tincture, or decocted for immediate use.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: Dandelion root serves well as an alternative to burdock. For flaky or itchy skin problems, burdock combines well with licorice, red clover, dandelion, or yellow dock. As a liver aid in conditions associated with chronic constipation, burdock combines well with dandelion, chicory, turkey rhubarb, yellow dock, or Oregon grape. In cases of pre-existing liver damage that have resulted from chemical toxicity or vaccinosis, use burdock with milk thistle or licorice. As an adjunct to an immune-support formula, combine burdock with echinacea or astragalus.
Cautions & Comments: This is one of the safest herbs available to humans and animals. In essence, burdock is a “nutraceutical”, a food which lends medicinal attributes. No toxicity has been noted with this herb.
1. Chadha, Y.R. (ed. in Chief). 1985. The Wealth of India. New Delhi: Publications & Information Directorate, CSIR.
2. Morita, K., et al. 1985. “Chemical Nature of a Desmutagenic Factor from Burdock (Arctium lappa Linne).” Agric. Biol. Chem. 49: 925-32.
3. Lin CC; Lu JM; Yang JJ; Chuang SC; Ujiie T. “Anti-inflammatory and radical scavenge effects of Arctium lappa.” Graduate Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Kaohsiung Medical College, Taiwan. Am J Chin Med, 1996, 24:2, 127-37