Burdock (Arctium lappa)

BotanicalName: Arctium lappa
Family: Asteraceae/Compositae
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Asterales
Genus: Arctium
Species: A. lappa
Other Names: Lappa, Lappa minor, Beggar’s buttons, Clothburr, Cockleburr, Cockle buttons, Fox’s Clote. Thorny Burr. Beggar’s Buttons. Cockle Buttons. Love Leaves. Philanthropium. Personata. Happy Major. Clot-Bur.
Parts Used : Root, herb,leaves and seeds (fruits).
Habitat: Waste places, most of our area. It grows freely throughout England (though rarely in Scotland) on waste ground and about old buildings, by roadsides and in fairly damp places. The Burdock, the only British member of its genus, belongs to the Thistle group of the great order, Compositae.
Flowers: July – September

English: Arctium lappa

English: Arctium lappa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: Burdock is a biennial plant found in the Eastern and Northern U.S. and in Europe, along fences, walls, and roadsides, in waste places, and around populated areas. The root is long, fleshy, gray-brown outside, and whitish inside. In its second year, the plant grows a furrowed, reddish , pithy stem with woolly branches. During the first year burdock has only basal leaves.
Both basal and stem leaves are oblong, green and hairy on top and downy gray underneath. The purple flowers appear in loose clusters from July to September.

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A stout handsome plant, with large, wavy leaves and round heads of purple flowers. It is enclosed in a globular involucre of long stiff scales with hooked tips, the scales being also often interwoven with a white, cottony substance.
The whole plant is a dull, pale green, the stem about 3 to 4 feet and branched, rising from a biennial root. The lower leaves are very large, on long, solid foot-stalks, furrowed above, frequently more than a foot long heart-shaped and of a grey colour on their under surfaces from the mass of fine down with which they are covered. The upper leaves are much smaller, more egg-shaped in form and not so densely clothed beneath with the grey down.

The plant varies considerably in appearance, and by some botanists various subspecies, or even separate species, have been described, the variations being according to the size of the flower-heads and of the whole plant, the abundance of the whitish cottonlike substance that is sometimes found on the involucres, or the absence of it, the length of the flower-stalks, etc.

The flower-heads are found expanded during the latter part of the summer and well into the autumn: all the florets are tubular, the stamens dark purple and the styles whitish. The plant owes its dissemination greatly to the little hooked prickles of its involucre, which adhere to everything with which they come in contact, and by attaching themselves to coats of animals are often carried to a distance.

‘They are Burs, I can tell you, they’ll stick where they are thrown,’

Shakespeare makes Pandarus say in Troilus and Cressida, and in King Lear we have another direct reference to this plant:
‘Crown’d with rank Fumiter and Furrow-weeds,
With Burdocks, Hemlocks, Nettles, Cuckoo-flowers.’
Also in As You Like It:
ROSALIND. How full of briers is this working-day world!
CELIA. They are but burs, cousin, thrown upon thee in holiday foolery. If we walk not in the trodden paths, our very petticoats will catch them.
The name of the genus, Arctium, is derived from the Greek arktos, a bear, in allusion to the roughness of the burs, lappa, the specific name, being derived from a word meaning ‘to seize.’
Another source derives the word lappa from the Celtic llap, a hand, on account of its prehensile properties.

The plant gets its name of ‘Dock’ from its large leaves; the ‘Bur’ is supposed to be a contraction of the French bourre, from the Latin burra, a lock of wool, such is often found entangled with it when sheep have passed by the growing plants.

An old English name for the Burdock was ‘Herrif,’ ‘Aireve,’ or ‘Airup,’ from the Anglo-Saxon hoeg, a hedge, and reafe, a robber – or from the Anglo-Saxon verb reafian, to seize. Culpepper gives as popular names in his time: Personata, Happy Major and Clot-Bur.

Though growing in its wild state hardly any animal except the ass will browse on this plant, the stalks, cut before the flower is open and stripped of their rind, form a delicate vegetable when boiled, similar in flavour to Asparagus, and also make a pleasant salad, eaten raw with oil and vinegar. Formerly they were sometimes candied with sugar, as Angelica is now. They are slightly laxative, but perfectly wholesome.

History: A European native, burdock was naturalized in this country with the first foreign travelers. It was already known and widely used in the Old World. The white settler in America passed their knowledge of its usefulness to the Indians. And the plant eventually did appear in American pharmacopoeias, being listed for use as a diuretic and diaphoretic.

Constituents: Inulin, mucilage, sugar, a bitter, crystalline glucoside – Lappin-a little resin, fixed and volatile oils, and some tannic acid.

The roots contain starch, and the ashes of the plant, burnt when green, yield carbonate of potash abundantly, and also some nitre.

Edible Uses:

Uses in Food and drinks:
The taproot of young burdock plants can be harvested and eaten as a root vegetable. While generally out of favor in modern European cuisine, it remains popular in Asia, particularly in Japan where A. lappa (Greater burdock) is called gobō . Plants are cultivated for their slender roots, which can grow about 1 meter long and 2 cm across. Burdock root is very crisp and has a sweet, mild, and pungent flavor with a little muddy harshness that can be reduced by soaking julienne/shredded roots in water for five to ten minutes. Immature flower stalks may also be harvested in late spring, before flowers appear; the taste resembles that of artichoke, to which the burdock is related. A popular Japanese dish is kinpira gobō, julienned or shredded burdock root and carrot, braised with soy sauce, sugar, mirin and/or sake, and sesame oil; another is burdock makizushi (sushi filled with pickled burdock root rather than fish; the burdock root is often artificially colored orange to resemble a carrot). In the second half of the 20th century, burdock achieved international recognition for its culinary use due to the increasing popularity of the macrobiotic diet, which advocates its consumption. It also contains a fair amount of gobō dietary fiber (GDF, 6g per 100g), calcium, potassium, amino acids, and is also low calorie. It also contains polyphenols that causes darkened surface and muddy harshness by formation of tannin-iron complexes though the harshness shows excellent harmonization with pork in miso soup (tonjiru) and Japanese-style pilaf (takikomi gohan).

Dandelion and burdock is a soft drink that has long been popular in the United Kingdom. Burdock is believed to be a galactagogue, a substance that increases lactation.

Medicinal Properties:
Aperient, Cholagogue, Diaphoretic, and Diuretic.

Medicinal Action and Uses-: Alterative, diuretic and diaphoretic. One of the best blood purifiers. In all skin diseases, it is a certain remedy and has effected a cure in many cases of eczema, either taken alone or combined with other remedies, such as Yellow Dock and Sarsaparilla.

The root is principally employed, but the leaves and seeds are equally valuable. Both root and seeds may be taken as a decoction of 1 OZ. to 1 1/2 pint of water, boiled down to a pint, in doses of a wineglassful, three or four times a day.

The anti-scorbutic properties of the root make the decoction very useful for boils, scurvy and rheumatic affections, and by many it is considered superior to Sarsaparilla, on account of its mucilaginous, demulcent nature; it has in addition been recommended for external use as a wash for ulcers and scaly skin disorders.

An infusion of the leaves is useful to impart strength and tone to the stomach, for some forms of long-standing indigestion.

When applied externally as a poultice, the leaves are highly resolvent for tumours and gouty swellings, and relieve bruises and inflamed surfaces generally. The bruised leaves have been applied by the peasantry in many countries as cataplasms to the feet and as a remedy for hysterical disorders.

From the seeds, both a medicinal tincture and a fluid extract are prepared, of benefit in chronic skin diseases. Americans use the seeds only, considering them more efficacious and prompt in their action than the other parts of the plant. They are relaxant and demulcent, with a limited amount of tonic property. Their influence upon the skin is due largely to their being of such an oily nature: they affect both the sebaceous and sudoriferous glands, and probably owing to their oily nature restore that smoothness to the skin which is a sign of normal healthy action.

The infusion or decoction of the seeds is employed in dropsical complaints, more especially in cases where there is co-existing derangement of the nervous system, and is considered by many to be a specific for all affections of the kidneys, for which it may with advantage be taken several times a day, before meals.

Preparations; Fluid extract, root, 1/2 to 2 drachms. Solid extract, 5 to 15 grains. Fluid extract, seed, 10 to 30 drops.

Culpepper gives the following uses for the Burdock:

‘The Burdock leaves are cooling and moderately drying, wherby good for old ulcers and sores…. The leaves applied to the places troubled with the shrinking in the sinews or arteries give much ease: a juice of the leaves or rather the roots themselves given to drink with old wine, doth wonderfully help the biting of any serpents- the root beaten with a little salt and laid on the place suddenly easeth the pain thereof, and helpeth those that are bit by a mad dog:… the seed being drunk in wine 40 days together doth wonderfully help the sciatica: the leaves bruised with the white of an egg and applied to any place burnt with fire, taketh out the fire, gives sudden ease and heals it up afterwards…. The root may be preserved with sugar for consumption, stone and the lax. The seed is much commended to break the stone, and is often used with other seeds and things for that purpose.’
It was regarded as a valuable remedy for stone in the Middle Ages, and called Bardona. As a rule, the recipes for stone contained some seeds or ‘fruits’ of a ‘stony’ character, as gromel seed, ivy berries, and nearly always saxifrage, i.e. ‘stone-breaker.’ Even date-stones had to be pounded and taken; the idea being that what is naturally ‘stony’ would cure it; that ‘like cures like’ (Henslow).

Acne, arthritis, cancer, canker sores, eczema, gout, hemorrhoids, HIV, kidney stones, lower back pain, inpotence, psoriasis, rheumatism, sciatica, to purify the blood, and ulcers.
Burdock purifies and cleanses the tissues and blood and for this reason should be used gently over a period of time. The whole plant has mild diuretic, sweat inducing, and laxative properties. It is prescribed for skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis. Burdock has an anti-microbial action which has been attributed to the polyacetylenes in the plant. This explains its reputation for treating skin eruptions such as boils and acne.
The roots and leaves can be used to treat rheumatism and gout because they encourage the elimination of uric acid via the kidneys. The bitter taste of burdock is tonic to the digestive system; the are said to stimulate the secretion of bile.
Burdock leaves are useful externally as a poultice for bruises and skin problems. The fresh, bruised leaves are sometimes used as a remedy for poison ivy. The seeds contain an oil that is used medicinally, but only with medical supervision.
Preparation And Dosages:
Collect the root in the spring or fall of the second year, or when the plant has a stem. The root may be used fresh or dried.
Decoction: Use 1 teaspoon root with 1 cup cold water. Let stand for 5 hours, then bring to a boil. Take 1 cup a day.
Tincture: Fresh root – 1:2, dry root – 1:5 in 60% alcohol. Take 30 to 90 drops in water, chamomile tea, or regular tea, up to three times a day.
Juice: Grate the fresh root and add half again as much water. Squeeze out the liquid. Drink 1 cup a day, a mouthful at a time.

Other Uses:  The leaves of Greater Burdock provide food for the caterpillars of some Lepidoptera, such as the Thistle Ermine (Myelois circumvoluta).

Because the roots of burdock closely resemble those of Deadly nightshade (also known as belladonna or Atropa belladonna), there is a risk that burdock preparations may be contaminated with these potentially dangerous herbs. Be sure to buy products from established companies with good reputations. Do not gather burdock in the wild unless you know what you are doing.

The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider


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