lappa/Arctium minus/Arctium tomentosum (Botanical)
Bardanae radix (Pharmacopeial)
During the Middle Ages, burdock was valued for treating a host of ailments.
English herbalists even preferred burdock root over sarsaparilla in remedies for
boils, scurvy, and rheumatism. Burdock played an important role in Native
American medical botany, and American herbalists have used the roots and seeds
of this plant for two centuries.
Burdock root is traditionally classified as an alterative (blood purifier)
and analgesic. It also acts as a diaphoretic (promoting profuse perspiration).
While the leaf and root have similar pharmacological properties, most herbal
remedies call for burdock root.
Burdock root is listed in the Eclectic Materia Medica, the U.S.
Pharmacopoeia, and the official pharmacopoeia of several other countries.
The root is used in remedies for arthritis, gout, and related inflammatory
conditions. Diuretics are made from powdered burdock seeds, which yield a yellow
bland fixed product called oil of lappa.
Burdock is a biennial common weed native to Europe and northern Asia, but now
widespread throughout the United States. A member of the thistle family, it is a
stout, dull pale-green plant with many spreading branches. It reaches a height
of three to four feet, and its purple flowers bloom between June and October.
Burdock has alternate, wavy, heart-shaped leaves that are green on the top and
whitish on the bottom. The deep roots are brownish-green, or nearly black on the
This plant is rarely cultivated because it easily flourishes in the wild, and
it grows optimally in light, well-drained soils. The leaves are collected during
the first year of growth. The roots are harvested in the fall of the first year
(or in the following spring before the flowers bloom), and then air-dried.
- Roots (rhizome)
- Whole herb
Sesquiterpene lactones; polyynes (mainly trideca-1,11-dien-3,5,7,9-tetrain);
caffeic acid derivatives (including chlorogenic acid, isochlorogenic acid);
carbohydrates (45% to 50% inulin [fructosan], mucilages); volatile oil of
complex composition (phenylacetaldehyde, benzaldehyde,
2-alkyl-3-methoxy-pyrazines); phytosterols, tannins.
Commercial preparations are made from the fresh or dried underground parts
(usually from Arctium lappa but sometimes from the related species
Arctium minus and/or Arctium tomentosum).
Burdock was historically used for pulmonary catarrh, arthritis and rheumatic
conditions, scurvy, and venereal eruptions. It was externally applied for skin
problems and applied to the forehead and soles to lessen symptoms of fever.
Burdock's traditional herbal actions are alterative, diuretic, laxative,
digestive bitter, cholagogue, lymphatic cleanser, and diaphoretic. Herbalists
use burdock root and leaves as a poultice for infected wounds and pimples, and
it has traditionally been used as a part of blends for cancer therapy such as
the Essiac formula. Herbalists warn that large doses can precipitate skin
eruptions, headache, and aching joints due to excessive elimination.
Today, burdock is clinically used for a variety of skin problems, including
psoriasis, eczema, contact dermatitis, skin eruptions (particularly on the head
and neck), osteo and rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.
Investigations conducted in the mid-1940s indicated that burdock leaf is
active against gram-negative bacteria. While burdock root has only shown
antibacterial activity against gram-negative strains, the leaf and flower
exhibited anti-bacterial effects against both gram-negative and gram-positive
strains. The roots and leaves have antifurunculous effects and are used to treat
furuncles, or boils.
Burdock reportedly has hypoglycemic properties, but the findings are
contradictory. In one study, burdock extract produced a prolonged reduction in
blood-sugar concentration accompanied by a rise in carbohydrate tolerance.
However, in another investigation, burdock actually aggravated the diabetic
condition in streptozotocin diabetic mice. In this study, burdock adversely
affected parameters of glucose homeostasis, including basal glucose, basal
insulin, insulin-induced hypoglycemia, and pancreatic insulin concentration.
In an in vivo experiment, both fresh and boiled burdock plant juice
significantly lowered 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene (DMBA)-induced chromosome
aberrations in rat bone marrow cells. DMBA usually produces chromosome
aberrations of gaps and breaks, and only rarely causes more serious chromosome
damage in the form of exchanges. Burdock suppressed the incidence of
DMBA-induced aberrant metaphase cells (excluding cells with gaps). This suggests
that burdock may block the onset of chemically induced carcinogenesis. In
another investigation, burdock decreased the mutagenicity caused by
Salmonella mutagens and toxins (both S9-metabolic-activating and
non–S9-metabolic activating mutagens).
|Dosage Ranges and Duration of
- Dried root: 2 to 6 g in decoction tid
- Tincture (1:5): 8 to 12 ml tid
- Fluid extract (1:1): 2 to 6 ml tid
- Tea: 2 to 6 g in 500 ml
Adverse side effects have been reported for an isolated case of a patient
taking burdock. However, experts eventually concluded that the adverse reaction
was not due to burdock, but instead to contamination from solanaceous alkaloids
(probably in belladonna leaf).
According to the German Commission E, there are no known risks associated
with the use of burdock. However, skin contact with burdock root has the
potential for sensitization. There is a very slight risk of contact dermatitis
when using burdock root plasters. Burdock should not be taken by pregnant and
lactating women since this plant has in vivo uterine stimulant effects. As a
general precaution, excessive amounts of burdock root should not be consumed
because the toxicology of this plant is not well understood.
Although burdock reportedly possesses hypoglycemic potential, no clinically
significant interactions with conventional medications (including antidiabetic
medications) are known to have been reported in the literature to date,
including the German Commission E monograph (Blumenthal
|Regulatory and Compendial
The U.S. FDA classifies burdock as a dietary supplement. The root and leaf
are on the General Sale List, Schedule 1, Table A [R1a] in the UK. Burdock root
is sold as a nonpresription drug in France and Germany.
Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs:
Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, Mass: Integrative
Medicine Communications; 1998:318.
Bradley P, ed. British Herbal Compendium. Vol. 1. Dorset,
England: British Herbal Medicine Association; 1992:46-49.
British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. 4th ed. Dorset, England: British Herbal
Medicine Association; 1996:47-49.
De Smet PAGM, Keller K, Hänsel R, Chandler RF, eds. Adverse Effects of
Herbal Drugs. Berlin: Springer-Verlag; 1997:231-237.
Dombradi CA, et al. Screening report on the antitumor activity of purified
Arctium lappa extracts. Tumori.1966;52:173-175.
Grases F, et al. Urolithiasis and phytotherapy. Int Urol Nephrol.
Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. New York, NY: Dover Publications;
Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, et al., eds. PDR for Herbal
Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Co; 1998:656-657
Hutchens A. Indian Herbalogy of North America. Boston, Mass: Shambhala
Ito Y, et al. Suppression of 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracene-induced
chromosome aberrations in rat bone marrow cells by vegetable juices. Mutat
Lapinina L, Sisoeva T. Investigation of some plants to determine their sugar
lowering action. Farmatevt Zh. 1964;19:52-58.
Lin CC, et al. Anti-inflammatory and radical scavenge effects of Arctium
lappa. Am J Chin Med. 1996;24:127-137.
Millspaugh C. American Medicinal Plants. New York, NY: Dover
Mowry D. The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine. New Canaan,
Conn: Keats Publishing; 1986:3-6, 57-63.
Newall C, Anderson L, Phillipson J. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for
Health-care Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996:52-53.
Swanston-Flatt SK, Day C, Flatt PR, Gould BJ, Bailey CJ. Glycaemic effects of
traditional European plant treatments for diabetes. Studies in normal and
streptozotocin diabetic mice. Diabetes Res. 1989;413:69-73.
Tyler V. The Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and
Related Remedies. 3rd ed. Binghamton, NY: Pharmaceutical Products Press;
Copyright © 2000 Integrative Medicine
CommunicationsThis publication contains
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