The burdock (Arctium lappa) is a biennial herbaceous plant that belongs to the Asteraceae family (or Compositae). It’s a spontaneous plant widely spread in our territory, from the sea to the mountains. It prefers uncultivated and abandoned places, roadside edges, and cliffs. It’s a very special plant with various uses in herbal, medicinal, and culinary fields.
Today, we will get to know it better in all its aspects, starting with the botanical description.
Burdock, botanical identification
The scientific name of burdock, Arctium lappa, derives from the Greek arctium = bear and labein = to attach. The first term refers to its rough and hairy appearance, while the second refers to the tendency of its inflorescences to attach to sheep’s wool and woolen clothing.
In the Middle Ages, it was named burdock, probably from the Portuguese word sella, due to the shape of its leaves.
The plant’s stem is erect and can reach a height of up to two meters.
It’s very robust and has a diameter of 2 cm. Moreover, it’s highly branched in the upper part and has a reddish tint.
The fruit is a brown, oblong, slightly flattened achene. It has dark and wavy patches and is covered by a small tuft of hair. The weight of a thousand burdock seeds is about 15 grams.
The leaves come in two types: basal leaves, very large (30-40 cm), green on the upper side and lighter on the lower side. They are soft and hairy. And the leaves on the stem are smaller and oval.
The inflorescences are puffy heads with a reddish-violet color. They have a rounded involucre made of several series of scales and are equipped with hooked appendages. The flowers are tubular and hermaphroditic, with distinct stamens.
The root is the most used part in herbalism, for the preparation of infusions and dietary supplements. You can find dried roots here. It’s a long taproot with thin branches that reaches depths of 50 cm.
It has a cylindrical shape and a hard, fleshy consistency.
The burdock roots of cultivated plants can reach a diameter of 5-6 cm. They are smaller in wild burdock.
Components and parts used
The main components of burdock are inulin, phytosterols, a high content of sugars, and mucilages. It also contains various acids, such as caffeic acid derivatives, which have a protective action against hepatotoxic agents.
The roots are the most valuable part of burdock. They can be used both fresh and dried, and they are harvested in spring or in the autumn of the first year of life.
Even the leaves, collected in the summer period, have various uses, both fresh and dried. They are edible and are therefore used in regional cuisine.
Properties and herbal uses
The therapeutic properties of burdock have been known since ancient times. In the Middle Ages, it was considered the only effective remedy against syphilis.
It possesses anti-dermatopathic properties and has always been used as a natural remedy for acne and other skin infections (boils, eczema, itching, scrofula).
Additionally, it has diuretic, sudorific, anti-inflammatory, and blood-purifying properties. For this reason, burdock is widely used not only in herbalism but also in cosmetics and food.
For skin well-being, you can find it as a dietary supplement in tablets, in the valuable mother tincture, a true extract of this plant, or in excellent creams for direct skin application here.
On a domestic level, it’s easy to use dried burdock leaves. You need to dry them in the shade and store them in a paper bag.
For example, the decoction is prepared with 50 grams of dried leaves in a liter of boiling water for 30 minutes. It should be consumed in 3-4 cups a day away from meals to purify the liver.
For external use, you can make a macerate of fresh leaves, letting them soak in vinegar overnight, with the addition of a tablespoon of salt. In the morning, after filtering the liquid, you can apply a compress to body parts affected by rheumatism.
Both burdock roots and leaves are edible. They are both boiled and used together with other vegetables to prepare typical regional dishes. Burdock roots are edible. In Japan, they are collected for food. The popular Italian culinary tradition also includes burdock, for example in the form of boiled roots. Burdock leaves can be consumed boiled together with other vegetables.
Excessive doses of burdock, especially if consumed with food, can stimulate uterine contractions in pregnant women. For this reason, its use is not recommended in these cases except under medical advice.
There are no other noteworthy interactions and side effects, although, of course, specific allergies to burdock, which belongs to the extensive Asteraceae family, need to be considered.
The plant is often found at the edge of roads or near cultivated fields. If you want to gather it, a piece of advice is to make sure there are no farms in the area that use pesticides. This recommendation applies not only to burdock harvesting but to all wild herbs, such as mallow, borage, purslane, St. John’s wort, oregano, wormwood, dandelion.
- Springer – Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society: “Antioxidant activity of burdock (Arctium lappa Linné)” – A study highlighting the potent antioxidant properties of burdock, which can combat oxidative stress in the human body.
- Ncbi – Exp Ther Med.: “Inhibitory effect of burdock leaves on elastase and tyrosinase activity” – A detailed study about the inhibitory effect of burdock leaves on elastase and tyrosinase.
- WebMd: “Health Benefits of Burdock Root” – A comprehensive review of the various health benefits of burdock roots, from its antioxidant properties to its potential in cancer treatment.