A native of Eurasia, especially England and Scotland, and an invasive weed in the United States, Burdock grows in moist waste places, ditches, and roadsides.
It is a member of the thistle family. Purplish flowers appear in July of the second year followed by round spiky seed pods that cling to fur and clothing. Very large waxy leaves, reminiscent of rhubarb. The lowermost leaves are heart-shaped, sometimes over a foot long and downy on the underneath, giving them a silvery appearance.
Biannual, the basal rosette of leaves stays close to the ground the first year, and the second year sends up a central flower stalk. It can grow 3-7 feet high the second year.
Other Names Great Burdock, lappa, Fox’s Clote, Thorny Burr, Beggar’s Buttons, Cockle Buttons, Love Leaves, Philanthropium, Personata, Happy Major, Clot-Bur, Bardona, Gobo
History and Folklore
The name Arctium is derived from the Greek arctos, “bear” Lappa is from the Greek “to seize”, and llap is from the Celtic for “Hand”. The word Dock in its common name refers to its large leaves and Burr is from the Latin Burra which means “Wool” alluding to the fruit’s tendency to get caught in fur or wool of passing animals.
It is said that George de Mestral, the Swiss inventor of Velcro, got the idea after examining the fruit of a burdock plant that had stuck to his dog’s fur.
Burdock grows wild everywhere and is generally considered a weed, so wild collection in public places is not usually a problem. (Never collect any plant from private property, state or national parks or wildlife preserves without permission.)
Not fussy about soil, but does best in light, well-drained soil. Sow seeds one inch deep directly in the soil in autumn or early spring 18 inches apart.
Harvesting & Storage
Gather the roots from two-year-old plants in early spring and from one-year-old plants in mid-autumn. It is best to gather your roots in the autumn of the first year. Leaves can be gathered and used as needed but are at their peak in early summer.
The flower appears in mid to late summer and the fruits ripen in early autumn. Collect them when they are dry in appearance (and stick to your clothing) and shake out the seeds. You can spread the seeds on paper to dry.
The roots must be sliced thin to dry properly and may become moldy. Lay roots and leaves flat to dry.
Burdock is used in rituals, amulets and spells to ward off negativity and for general protection. It can be used in potions, ritual baths, incense, and amulets. Also used for general healing. The root can be carved into a figure, dried and carried or worn as a protective amulet.
Burning this plant when green produces a large amount of carbonate of potash.
Bored children on a picnic may find burdock fruits to be fun to play with. They stick together just like Velcro and can be used like building blocks to make things.
Burdock is considered one of Nature’s best blood purifiers.
Dried roots dug up in the first year are the best source, but fruits and leaves can also be used.
Take a decoction of 1-ounce herb to 1 ½ pint of water, boiled down to a pint, one teacupful per day as a blood purifier and for scurvy, boils and rheumatic afflictions.
Use the same decoction externally as a wash for ulcers and scaly skin disorders. A poultice of the leaves can also be applied to bruises and swellings.
An infusion of the leaves is good for indigestion, especially in people who suffer often.
A tincture, essential oil or extract of the seeds can be used externally as a skin smoother and for problems such as eczema, psoriasis, canker sores, and hemorrhoids. Internally for kidney complaints or a general tonic. Large amounts induce sweating, which many herbalists believe to help rid the body of toxins.
Burdock can be added to shampoos or hair rinses for dandruff and itchy scalp.
In China, where it is called niupangzi, Burdock is used to treating impotence and infertility.
Some people experience dermatitis from topical exposure to burdock. Check for allergies by placing a bit of Burdock extract in a small area and wait 24 hours before using it to treat larger areas.
Cut immature flower stalks before flowers open. Scrub and peel them. Boil for a vegetable similar in flavor to asparagus or artichoke hearts. You can also use them raw in salads, but they are a bit bitter if not boiled first. These stalks may also be candied like angelica stems.
The roots may be eaten like any root vegetable. This is called gobo in Japan. It is crispy and sweet and mild. Scrub the root and slice it thin. Simmer it for twenty minutes, until tender in butter or water.
A soft drink is available in the United Kingdom known as “Dandelion and Burdock Beer”. Whether or not commercial varieties contain either herb is questionable (Like “Ginger Ale” in America) but health food stores may carry authentic varieties.
- Burdock Root and Powder Profile
- Burdock Stalks: the Best Vegetable You’re Not Eating at Hunger and Thirst Food, like life, is best when it’s wild and free
- Great Burdock an account at the ADF website