Common Names

Burdock root
Botanical Name
Arctium lappa
ASTERACEAE or COMPOSITAE ~ Sunflower family

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What is it?

The roots of Burdock, a herb that lives for two years in which time it grows to 2 metres tall with leaves up to half a meter across, the roots usually harvested in the Autumn of its first year or the Spring of its second.




How has it been used?

Burdock is known as one of the best cleansers in all of herbal medicine. It is especially identified with helping chronic skin conditions such as acne, eczema, boils, psoriasis and cysts.

Thomas Bartram writes Burdock is 'one of the most powerful and reliable of blood tonics of herbalism' and goes on to recommend it for arthritis, gout, rheumatism, boils, styes, cystitis and many skin diseases.

John Heinermann writes 'Burdock is perhaps the most widely used of all blood purifiers, among the best the herbal kingdom has to offer for this... it is the most important herb for treating chronic skin problems'.

Early Chinese and Indian physicians used Burdock as an immune remedy and it was highly regarded to help against colds, flu, throat infections and pneumonia. The German Abbess/herbalist St Hildegard of Bingen wrote of Burdock for the treatment of cancerous tumours and it has been widely used by a great many people in the fight against cancer for thousands of years.

The Swiss inventor, George de Mestral, out walking in the early 1940's, became curious about the thorny 'burrs' of Burdock that attached themselves to his dog's fur. On examining them under the microscope he realised that he could formulate a working copy; the result was 'Velcro'


Science on Burdock

~ Burdock has been used extensively around the world as a cancer treatment and several studies show that substances in the herb do in fact have anti-tumour activity (Chan, Y. S., Cheng, L. N., Wu, J. H., Chan, E., Kwan, Y. W., Lee, S. M., Leung, G. P., Yu, P. H., and Chan, S. W. A review of the pharmacological effects of Arctium lappa (burdock). Inflammopharmacology. 2011;19(5):245-254)

~ Researchers have identified a compound (arctigenin) in Burdock as 'an inhibitor of experimental tumour growth'. and studies have shown that the herb decreased mutations in cells exposed to cancer-causing chemicals (Morita, K., Kada, T., and Namiki, M. A desmutagenic factor isolated from burdock (Arctium lappa Linne). Mutat.Res 1984;129(1):25-31)

~ Arctiin from Burdock was found to lower the concentration of tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-6 and promote collagen synthesis in human monocyte dendritic cells and dermal fibroblasts in vitro (Knott, A., Reuschlein, K., Mielke, H., Wensorra, U., Mummert, C., Koop, U., Kausch, M., Kolbe, L., Peters, N., Stab, F., Wenck, H., and Gallinat, S. Natural Arctium lappa extract improves the clinical signs of aging skin. J Cosmet.Dermatol. 2008;7(4):281-289)

~ Inhibition of HIV-1 virus infection has been demonstrated in vitro . Several lignans are now under investigation as antivirals (particularly anti-HIV)) (Yang L, Lin S, Yang T, and et al. Synthesis of anti-HIV activity of dibenzylbutyrolactone lignans. Bioorganic Medicinal Chem Lett 1996;6:941-944)

German researchers have found that Burdock contains substances (polacetylenes) that kill disease causing bacteria and fungi. This may partly explain Burdock's traditional reputation for the treatment of ringworm and several common bacterial infections of the gut and urinary tract (Schulte, K. E., Rucker, G., and Boehme, R. [Polyacetylenes as components of the roots of bur]. Arzneimittelforschung. 1967;17(7):829-833)

~ The authors, titles and the 'where-and-when' published of over 50 further studies and articles on Burdock are listed in a PDF found here

Safety of Burdock

There is a healthy respect in the old teachings about Burdock that this is a herb that can bring about a healing crisis (where things get worse before they get better) and that it is a powerful medicine that needs to be used with care and caution.

The Toxicology of Botanical Medicines identifies Burdock as a uterine stimulant which would suggest that it should not be used during pregnancy but please note that there are no reports of adverse reactions in the literature and this is likely to only be a theoretical concern.

Burdock might reduce platelet aggregation by inhibiting platelet activating factor so, theoretically, taking burdock with anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs might increase the risk of bleeding due to decreased platelet aggregation. Some of these drugs include aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), dalteparin (Fragmin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), heparin, ticlopidine (Ticlid), warfarin (Coumadin).

Note that these concerns are theoretical only, no evidence of adverse reactions or drug interactions has been published and  so long as it used with care Burdock can be safely used by young and old and at any stage of life when it is needed.


Personal experiences

I have a tremendously high regard for Burdock and could not imagine being able to work successfully with many of the chronic health problems I see without its sure support. I have especially found that small but regular doses of Burdock used over long time frames (e.g. several months) can work exceptionally well to help people with poor health and bad skin look and feel much better.

I, and a number of my colleagues whose opinions I value, instinctively feel that Burdock cleans the blood through the kidneys and that this is a herb that works best when people keep well-hydrated whilst they are using it. Conversely, and I'm sure this is because it has such a strong and steady cleansing action in the body, I have seen that if people are taking Burdock in medicinal levels but then let themselves get dehydrated then they can start feeling pretty bad!

Dosage is critical with Burdock just as it is with so many of our potent cleansing herbs. Too much could be too taxing on the kidneys; too little and the essential process of clearing the body of its excess debris will not reach a satisfactory outcome.

I don't think there is an exact rule here and it must be borne in mind that the strength of different medicines can greatly vary according to the quality of their starting materials and the process by which they are extracted.

For the tincture that we make from organic Burdock root in our clinic I generally work with around 2 or 3 mls a day, perhaps half that for a more sensitive individual, rarely any more. The tea of Burdock is also excellent to use and again I think a moderate dose of just 2 grams or so a day of the cut, dried root will be much better over the long term than trying to rush the process forwards with bigger doses.

Good cleansing is a real art in medicine, not too hard, not too soft. A herb that can shift skin conditions that have been stuck for years is doing deep things in the body. Burdock is quite forgiving if you overdo it up to a point but if a person is still showing cleansing 'reactions' (feeling overall worse) after being on it for at least a week then I think it is time to show respect and back off.

If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine then you might want to acquire some Burdock and take a very small dose of its tea or tincture with a quiet and attentive mind so you can experience its action for yourself. I think you will find that it reliably produces a rather distinctive 'action' that will give you an appreciation of the herb beyond the limit that an academic understanding can bring you to.

Further to this, if you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here

The pairing of Burdock with Dandelion root creates a remarkable depth of blood and tissue cleansing that I and many other herbalists have had the opportunity to observe in practice, a recipe from practice shared below. Burdock also works particularly well with the blood purifier Red Clover and the potent lymph cleanser Poke Root.

Dandelion & Burdock Decoction

These two herbs work especially well as a pair, they are very safe and suitable for longer term use if needed. They work by deeply cleansing the liver and the blood and, in the experience of this herbalist, there has not been a single case where there wasn't at least some significant improvement from using them if taken in good amounts for at least 2 or 3 months.

Generally, it will be most convenient when wanting to use them over a longer time-frame, to take them in tincture form, where a daily dose of approximately 4-6 mls of the two herbs combined is sure to convey their therapeutic benefit.

If things are quite bad, and particularly if we want to get the internal cleansing process moving more strongly in the beginning of the treatment process, it can be very effective to use the Dandelion and Burdock in a high-dose decoction for a short while.

In the evening take approximately 8 grams of the dried, cut root of each herb (16 grams in total), place in a saucepan and pour over approximately 3 cups of freshly boiled and still-hot water. Allow this to soak overnight and then in the morning bring it up to the boil, then turn down and allow to vigorously simmer for around 5-10 minutes. You should be left with about 2 cups after the simmering and some water absorption into the roots and you then strain this decoction into some kind of container, e.g. a drink bottle or a thermos.

It is up to you whether you drink it hot or cold, it will work just as well either way. These two cups are an entire day's dose but should not be taken in one sitting. Divide into at least two doses or drink throughout the day. Most people find it quite palatable and many say they enjoy it!

Note that this the above method is very potent, high-dose herbal medicine and you must carefully listen to your body for how long to stay with this. For some people two weeks is ample, others will want it for less time and others can take it a longer. Trust your instincts, if you feel intuitively good about taking this medicine but then one day just find that the taste and feel of it repels you, then take a break. Maybe try again later to see if your feelings have changed.


Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Burdock is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area which is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This interesting and useful subject is introduced further here

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Burdock can particularly offer its benefits when a cleansing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' more about that here

Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898

Skin diseases are conditions in which Burdock has gained a reputation. It has been particularly praised in psoriasis, its use being long-continued to produce good results.
Chronic erysipelas, milk crust, and various forms of eczema have been cured with it.

Burdock is of marked value in catarrhal and aphthous ulcerations of the digestive tract. A favourable action is obtained from it in dyspepsia (indigestion)

When a cachectic condition of the blood is manifest, and where an alterative is demanded it relieves broncho- pulmonic irritation and cough.

Rheumatism, both muscular and articular, when previous inflammations have left no structural alteration, are benefited by Burdock.


Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!




© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd