Labeled by many as an aggressive weed, burdock is a fascinating plant that contributed to the invention of Velcro. The cleansing and healing benefits of burdock root prove this plant to be much more than an unwanted weed.
Herbalists value burdock largely for its natural cleansing and detoxifying properties. It has been used for everything from treating skin problems to cleansing and cooling the liver.
Here's more about this tenacious plant and its health benefits.
What Is Burdock Root?
Burdock (Arctium lappa) belongs to the Asteraceae along with plants like daisies and sunflowers. Unlike daisies or sunflowers, burdock is very aggressive and often unwanted in the garden.
It has very large, hairy leaves, thistle-like flowers and can grow very tall (up to nine feet). The common name of "burdock" comes in part from the burs of the plant which will attach themselves to just about anything.
In fact, these burs were the inspiration behind Velcro. A Swiss engineer began to study the burs after returning from a walk with many of them stuck to his clothing.
Eventually, he was able to reproduce the effect by creating two strips of fabric: one with thousands of loops and the other with thousands of hooks. The new invention was named Velcro. (1)
Medicinally, the whole burdock plant is edible but the root is most often used for its health benefits.
Burdock has a long carrot-like taproot that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine and western herbal medicine. It can be harvested fresh from the ground or bought dried.
Here are the key benefits of burdock root and how to use it.
You may have never thought about whether your blood needs purified or not, but the bloodstream can become loaded with toxins just like other parts of the body.
Burdock root has traditionally been considered a blood purifier and is still used for this purpose by herbalists today. (2)
It can remove toxins from the bloodstream and also improves circulation, which in turn improves the appearance of skin. (3)
Healing for Skin
Burdock root is perhaps most used in herbal medicine because of its benefits for the skin. It is considered one of the best herbs for the skin and can be used internally or externally.
Burdock's ability to purify the blood is one reason it's so beneficial for skin.
Toxins in the body and in the bloodstream can contribute to skin problems like eczema and psoriasis. Taking burdock root as a tea or tincture will help clear out those toxins. (3)
Burdock root is also considered a cooling herb and helps to cool "hot," inflammatory skin conditions like acne. It can be taken internally for this purpose or use externally as a wash.
Burdock also has a high antioxidant content which benefits skin and improves signs of aging (including wrinkles). (4)
Burdock root has often been used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine to help with cold symptoms and other throat or respiratory ailments. (5)
Along with cooling properties, burdock root also has compounds that soothe mucous membranes making it beneficial for coughs and sore throats. It also calms inflammation related to coughing and throat pain. (2)(6)
Burdock root is also a diaphoretic, which means that it induces sweating. Diaphoretic herbs, including burdock, are used by herbalists to sweat out a fever. (7)
To soothe coughs and sore throats, burdock is best taken as a tea so that it can come into contact with the inflamed mucous membranes.
Try it in this herbal Respiratory Relief Tea blend.
Along with being a blood purifier, burdock root also has many benefits for cleansing the liver and supporting liver health.
Burdock stimulates bile production and helps to flush out toxins in the liver.
Due to its cooling effect, herbalist Rosemary Gladstar recommends burdock root especially for those who often get heated (red face, flushed skin, hot temper). (Rosemary Gladstar. Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide, pg. 109)
Because a healthy liver brings balance to the body by eliminating excess hormones, burdock root is often added to herbal formulas for PMS and other conditions caused by hormone imbalance.
The lymphatic system is basically the inner drainage system of the body and a very important part of the immune system.
A healthy lymphatic system helps move toxins out of the body as well as carrying lymph (infection-fighting white blood cells) throughout the body. (7) When it becomes congested, swollen lymph nodes will occur.
Burdock root is one of the best herbs for stimulating lymphatic drainage and relieving congestion. This in turn benefits overall immune health.
You can drink several cups of burdock tea a day to cleanse your lymphatic system.
Burdock root is also showing benefits for treating and preventing diabetes.
So far only animal studies have been done, but they indicate that burdock can help with insulin levels, lower bad cholesterol levels, and raise good cholesterol levels. Its antioxidant content also appears to have a favorable effect on symptoms of diabetes. (8)
In addition, burdock root contains a prebiotic fiber called inulin. Inulin can help improve digestion and naturally lower blood sugar levels.
While research is still ongoing, burdock is showing anticancer and anti-tumor potential.
Burdock root has long been considered a cancer-fighter in the herbal world and is one of the key ingredients of a Native American anticancer formula known as Essiac. (Gladstar, pg. 109)
In studies, burdock root along with burdock seeds have demonstrated interference with cancer cell growth as well as inhibition of certain types of cancerous tumors. (3)
Side Effects and Precautions
Burdock is one of the safest herbs you can use with no known side effects.
It's part of the daisy family, so anyone with an allergy to daisies, ragweed, or related plants may have an allergic reaction to burdock.
Burdock also acts as a diuretic and is not recommended to be taken with other diuretics or if you are dehydrated.
One last thing to keep in mind is that the burdock plant resembles belladonna nightshade plants, which are toxic and should not be consumed. Buy only from a trusted seller and use extreme caution if you want to harvest burdock yourself.
Using Burdock Root
One of the easiest ways to use burdock root for its health benefits is by making a tea:
- Use 1-2 teaspoons of dried burdock root for each cup of water.
- Pour boiling water over the herb and let it steep at least 10 minutes.
- Optional: Add dried dandelion root for extra detoxifying power or a cinnamon stick for taste.
- Strain out the herbs and sweeten if desired. Drink 3-4 cups a day for cleansing.
You can also use this burdock root tea as a wash for irritated skin by letting it cool, soaking a cloth in it, and applying the cloth to your skin. Or add the burdock tea to a warm bath.
Burdock root is considered a vegetable in many Asian countries and can be bought fresh from certain Asian specialty food stores. Once cleaned and peeled, it can be eaten raw, pickled, or steamed.
You can also buy burdock root as a powder, tincture, or extract.
Healing Benefits of Burdock Root
What seems like an aggressive and unwanted weed turns out to be a medicinal plant with many health benefits.
Burdock root is one of the best herbs to use for problem skin, to purify the blood, and to cleanse the lymphatic system.
You can also use it for respiratory problems and sore throat as well as for liver health.
Try some burdock root tea to detoxify your body and discover its benefits for yourself.