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  • Arctium lappa L.
  • Compositae
  • Composite family

Common Names

herbsBeggar's Buttons
herbsBurdock Burrs
herbsBurr Seed
herbsGrass burdock
herbsGreat burdock
herbsLappa minor
herbsNiu bang (Chinese name)
herbsThorny burr
herbsTurkey burrseed

Parts Usually Used

Roots, leaves and seeds, the whole plant

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Burdock is a biennial plant 2-9 feet tall; 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-cordate, heart-shaped, green and hairy on top and downy gray beneath. The purple, thistle-like flowers, 1-1 1/2 inches across, appear in corymbose clusters from July to September. The flowers are long-stalked, in flat-topped clusters. Seedpods (familiar burrs) stick to clothing.

Common Burdock (Arctium minus) is smaller than A. lappa; 2-5 feet. Leaf stems hollow, not furrowed. Flowers smaller (3/4 inch across) without stalks or short stalked; July to Oct. Used extensively by Native Americans. The root and seed have a sweetish, slimy taste, the leaves and stems are bitter.

Where Found

Found in the northern United States and in Europe, along fences, walls, and roadsides, in waste places, and around populated areas. A wide-spread Eurasian weed used in traditional medicine in China, Japan, Europe, and North America.

Medicinal Properties

Alterative, antipyretic, aperient, cholagogue, demulcent, diaphoretic, diuretic, tonic

Biochemical Information

Arctin, biotin, copper, inulin, volitile oils, sulfur, tannins, iron, manganese, vitamins B1, B6, B12, and E, and zinc.

Seeds contain essential fatty acids, vitamins A, B2

Legends, Myths and Stories

This easily-grown plant is quite invasive. Was used as a blood purifier as far back as Shakespeare's time; it is now used as a root vegetable, it has a taste that combines potatoes and celery.

Once widely used in cleansing remedies, burdock is familiar for its hooked burrs, which readily attach themselves to clothing. This property is reflected in the herb's botanical name, from the Greek arktos, or bear, suggesting rough-coated fruits, and lappa, to seize. Burdock was a traditional blood purifier, often combined in fold brews such as dandelion and burdock wine, and it was once popular for indigestion. In China, the seeds, niu bang zi, are used to dispel "wind and heat evils"; they also lower blood sugar levels.

Sometimes planted in Japan, where it has been improved by cultivation for its enlarged parsnip-like roots, which are eaten as a boiled vegetable.

Sometimes planted in Japan, where it has been improved by cultivation for its enlarged parsnip-like roots, which are eaten as a boiled vegetable. Burdock is a common European weed; was brought to America as a medicinal plant. It soon became widely scattered, because the burdock seeds attached themselves to colonists' breeches, clothes and the fur of animals. Millspaugh wrote, "the herb is so rank that man, the jackass, and the caterpillar are the only animals that will eat it."


Helps skin disorders, diaper rash, cradle cap, gout. Purifies the blood, restores liver and gallbladder function, kidney, and bladder disorders, syphilis, gonorrhea, diabetes. Relives inflammation. This herb is not narcotic.

The decoction or infusion of burdock root is aperient, but not for all individuals; for some it may even be constipative. Both the tea and the tincture can be used for stomach ailments. Burdock is also said to neutralize and eliminate poisons in the system. The leaves are not generally used but do contain a substance that stimulates the secretion of bile. If they are to be used for liver problems, use fresh leaves only. A decoction of leaves also makes a good wash for sores and may be helpful for acne. The fresh, bruised leaves are sometimes used as a remedy for poison oak or poison ivy. The seeds contain an oil that is used medically, but only with medical supervision. Traditionally, root tea (2 oz. dried root in 1 qt. water) is used as a "blood purifier", diuretic, stimulates bile secretion, sweating, gout, liver and kidney ailments, nephritis, hypertension, edema, rheumatism, lumbago. Nicholas Culpeper, the famous 17th century herbalist, wrote that it "helpeth those that are bit by a mad dog."

In China, a tea of leafy branches was used for vertigo, rheumatism, swollen lymph glands, impotence, and (in tea mixed with brown sugar) for measles. Externally, used as a wash for hives, eczema, and other skin eruptions. Seeds are diuretic; used for abscesses, canker sores, sore throats, fever, insect and snake bites, flu, gonorrhea, leprosy, scrofula, sciatica, backache; once used to treat scarlet fever, smallpox, and scrofula. Crushed seeds poulticed on bruises. Leaves poulticed on burns, wounds, ringworm, ulcers, styes, boils, sores. Japanese studies suggest roots contain compounds that may curb mutations (and hence cancer?).

Formulas or Dosages

Collect the root in the spring or fall of the second year; when the plant has a stem. The root may be used fresh or dried.

Burdock poultice: it is good on old skin ulcers (SEE ULCERS) and sores (SEE SORES). Make the poultice of the root, adding a tsp. of salt; it eases the pain of a wound caused by the bite of a dog. The leaves wilted by the fire, and applied to an external injury, will stop inflammation and ease pain; pounded and put on to a bruise or sprain, it will give immediate relief.

Decoction: use 1 tsp. root with 1 cup cold water. Let stand for 5 hours, then bring to a boil. Take 1 cup a day.

Tincture: Take 10-25 drops, in water, camomile tea, or regular tea, 3-4 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.

Nutrient Content

Iron, manganese, vitamins B1, B6, B12, and E, and zinc.

How Sold

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.

Powder: use 1/2 tsp. twice daily in a glass of water.

Capsules: take 1 to 3 daily.

Extract: mix 10 to 25 drops of extract in liquid daily.


Leaf hairs may irritate skin. Do not confuse leaves with the toxic leaves of Rhubarb. Care should be taken if anemia exists.

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