Herb: Great Burdock

Latin name: Arctium lappa

Synonyms: Arctium majus, Lappa major

Family: Compositae

Medicinal use of Great Burdock:

Burdock is one of the foremost detoxifying herbs in both Chinese and Western herbal medicine. The dried root of one year old plants is the official herb, but the leaves and fruits can also be used. It is used to treat conditions caused by an "overload" of toxins, such as throat and other infections, boils, rashes and other skin problems. The root is thought to be particularly good at helping to eliminate heavy metals from the body. The plant is also part of a North American formula called essiac which is a popular treatment for cancer. Its effectiveness has never been reliably proven or disproven since controlled studies have not been carried out. The other herbs included in the formula are Rumex acetosella, Ulmus rubra and Rheum palmatum. The plant is antibacterial, antifungal, carminative. It has soothing, mucilaginous properties and is said to be one of the most certain cures for many types of skin diseases, burns, bruises etc. It is used in the treatment of herpes, eczema, acne, impetigo, ringworm, boils, bites etc. The plant can be taken internally as an infusion, or used externally as a wash. Use with caution. The roots of one-year old plants are harvested in mid-summer and dried. They are alterative, aperient, blood purifier, cholagogue, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic and stomachic. The seed is alterative, antiphlogistic, depurative, diaphoretic and diuretic. Recent research has shown that seed extracts lower blood sugar levels. The seed is harvested in the summer and dried for later use. The crushed seed is poulticed onto bruises. The leaves are poulticed onto burns, ulcers and sores.

Description of the plant:


2 m
(6 1/2 foot)

July to

Habitat of the herb:

Waste ground, preferring calcareous soils, it is sometimes also found in meadows and woods.

Edible parts of Great Burdock:

Root - raw or cooked. Very young roots can be eaten raw, but older roots are normally cooked. They can be up to 120cm long and 2.5cm wide at the top, but are best harvested when no more than 60cm long. Old and very long roots are apt to become woody at the core. Although it does not have much flavour the root can absorb other flavours. Young roots have a mild flavour, but this becomes stronger as the root gets older. The root is white but discolours rapidly when exposed to the air. Roots can be dried for later use. They contain about 2.5% protein, 0.14% fat, 14.5% carbohydrate, 1.17% ash. The root contains about 45% inulin. Inulin is a starch that cannot be digested by the human body, and thus passes straight through the digestive system. In some people this starch will cause fermentation in the gut, resulting in wind. Inulin can be converted into a sweetener that is suitable for diabetics to eat. Young leaves - raw or cooked. A mucilaginous texture. The leaves contain about 3.5% protein, 1.8% fat, 19.4% carbohydrate, 8.8% ash. Young stalks and branches - raw or cooked. Used like asparagus or spinach. They taste best if the rind is removed. The leaf stalks can be parboiled and used as a substitute for cardoons. The pith of the flowering stem can be eaten raw in salads, boiled or made into confections. A delicate vegetable, somewhat like asparagus in flavour. The seeds can be sprouted and used like bean-sprouts.

Other uses of the herb:

The juice of the plant, when used as a friction, is said to have a stimulating action against baldness.

Propagation of Great Burdock:

Seed - best sown in situ in the autumn. The seed can also be sown in spring. Germination can be erratic, it is best to sow the seed in trays and plant out the young plants before the tap-root develops. Seed requires a minimum temperature of 10C, but a temperature of 20 - 25C is optimum. Germination rates can be improved by pre-soaking the seed for 12 hours or by scarification. They germinate best in the light. The autumn sowing should be made as late as possible because any plants with roots more than 3mm in diameter in the spring will quickly run to seed if cold temperatures are followed by daylengths longer than 12? hours.

Cultivation of the herb:

Waste ground, preferring calcareous soils, it is sometimes also found in meadows and woods.

Known hazards of Arctium lappa:

Care should be taken if harvesting the seed in any quantity since tiny hairs from the seeds can be inhaled and these are toxic.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.