Burdock has been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. Traditionally, it has been used as a:
- "Blood purifier" to clear the bloodstream of toxins
- Diuretic to help eliminate excess water by increasing urine output
- Topical remedy for skin problems such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis
Medicinal uses of burdock have also been reported, in treating chronic diseases, such as cancers, diabetes, and AIDS.
Extracts of burdock root are found in a variety of herbal preparations, as well as homeopathic remedies. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), burdock is often used with other herbs for sore throat and colds.
In Japan and some parts of Europe, burdock is eaten as a vegetable. Burdock contains inulin, a natural dietary fiber, and is also used to improve digestion. As a root vegetable, it possesses considerably stronger antioxidant activity than common vegetables and fruits. In fact, recent studies confirm that burdock has prebiotic properties that could improve health.
Despite the fact that burdock has been used for centuries to treat a variety of conditions, few scientific studies have examined its effects. Preliminary studies suggest topical application of burdock leaves may help treat burns.
Burdock is native to Europe and Northern Asia, and is now widespread throughout the United States, where it grows as a weed. In Japan and parts of Europe, it is cultivated as a vegetable.
A member of the daisy family, burdock is a stout, common weed with burrs that stick to clothing or animal fur. The plant grows to a height of about 3 to 4 feet. It has purple flowers that bloom between the months of June and October. Burdock has wavy, heart-shaped leaves that are green on top and whitish on the bottom. The deep roots, which are used medicinally, are brownish-green, or nearly black on the outside.
What is It Made Of?
Burdock consists primarily of carbohydrates, volatile oils, plant sterols, tannins, and fatty oils. Researchers are not sure which active ingredients in burdock root are responsible for its healing properties. But the herb may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial effects. Recent studies show that burdock contains phenolic acids, quercetin, and luteolin, which are all powerful antioxidants.
Burdock products consist of fresh or dried roots. Burdock supplements can be purchased in different forms, such as:
- Dried root powder
- Decoctions (liquid made by boiling down the herb in water)
- Tinctures (a solution of the herb in alcohol, or water and alcohol)
- Fluid extracts
How to Take It
There are no known scientific reports on the pediatric use of burdock, so you should only give burdock to children under the supervision of a doctor.
Speak with your doctor regarding dosing. Topical preparations of burdock are also used for skin problems (such as eczema) and wounds.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. However, herbs can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of health care provider.
Pregnant or nursing women should avoid burdock as it may cause damage to the fetus.
If you are sensitive to daisies, chrysanthemums, or ragweed, you may experience an allergic reaction to burdock, including dermatitis.
People who are dehydrated should not take burdock because the herb's diuretic effects could make dehydration worse.
It is best to avoid taking large amounts of burdock as a supplement because there are so few studies on the herb's safety. Burdock is considered safe when eaten as a food.
Because the roots of burdock closely resemble those of belladonna or deadly nightshade (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.
DO NOT gather burdock in the wild.
There are no known scientific reports of interactions between burdock and conventional medications. However, you should talk to your doctor before taking burdock if you take:
- Diuretics (water pills): Burdock could make the effects of these drugs stronger, causing you to become dehydrated.
- Medications for diabetes: Burdock might lower blood sugar, resulting in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
- Blood-thinning medications: Burdock might slow blood clotting, and when taken with blood-thinning medications, may increase the risk of bruising and bleeding.
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Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.