Great Burdock

Look in any ditch along any country road in the Eastern part of the United States and Canada, and you'll find Great Burdock Arctium lappa. Look in many back yards and you'll find it there, too. Burdock is one of the most common medicinal plants. It is easily found and is one of the most useful.

Arctium lappa grows to be 2 to 9 feet tall depending on where it is in its growth cycle.1 It is a biennial plant, whcih means a plant will generally live for two years.2 In the first year it remains quite low to the ground with large, fuzzy leaves which are slightly heart-shaped. The leaves resemble rhubarb, complete with reddish tint to the stalks.3

In its second year, Burdock grows its infamous burrs that almost every dog owner has had the pleasure of removing from his or her pet's fur. Before the burrs, this plant has pink to red flowers which look similar to the blooms on a thistle plant.4

Great Burdock has been used medicinally for hundreds of years; in the 17th Century, Burdock was used to reposition a woman's uterus. By placing it on her head, it kept her womb from prolapsing, or falling from its natural position.5 By the same token, if placed on the soles of her feet, it would help the womb fall slightly to assist in childbirth. Placed on the navel it helped keep the child in the womb until it was full-term.6 The root was also combined with pine nuts and given to "them that spit foul, mattery, and bloody phlegm."7 It could be pulverized and mixed with salt to help "those that are bit by a mad dog."8 For snake bites, the juice of the leaves was given with wine.9

When the Europeans came to the New World, they found that Burdock was among the herbs used by the natives.10 The Cherokee, Chippewa, Ojibway and Iroquois used it especially for skin diseases.

Not only was Arctiarn lappa used in Native American and European medicine, but it was used in Chinese medicine as well.11 In Chinese herbalism, it is known as Niu Bang and is used as an anti-pyretic.12 In other words, it is used to help control fevers. It is also reported used in China as an aphrodisiac.13

In modern, western herbalism, Burdock root can be used externally for all sorts of skin diseases. It is especially great for eczema and other dry-skin rashes. The leaves are helpful in the treatment of burns and insect bites. This herb also works as a vulnerary; with means it helps heal bruises and cuts.14

Internally, Arctium lappa can be used to help heal kidney and bladder infections.15 It acts as a diuretic and stimulates elimination of urine.16 It has also been used in cases of Anorexia nervosa.17 The digestive bitters contained in Burdock helps stimulate the appetite.18

Besides being a useful medicinal plant, Burdock is nutritious as well. The roots, young leaves and flower stalks can all be eaten in many different ways. The roots of a first-ear plant can be gathered in early to mid-fall, peeled and served with butter.19 After the green rind is removed, the pith of the flower stalks may be prepared in the same way as the root, or it may be simmered in sugar syrup and eaten as candy.20 The very young leaves of a first-year plant can also be gathered and cooked as greens, with several changes of water during the process, or they may simply be chopped and used in salads.

I have personally used this plant for a few different problems. I once made an ointment for a friend who was suffering from a skin rash caused by stress. It seemed to work nicely for this woman. I have also used the same ointment for my dog who has a bad allergy to flea bites.

My favorite use for Burdock, however, is as a sunburn remedy. I got the recipe for this treatment from a friend who was an anthropology student in Mexico. When she received a severe sunburn, the women of the village treated her with squash leaves which were pulverized in tequila. This formula works in three different ways. The chlorophyll in the leaves reacts with the skin's melanin to darken the skin slightly, the alcohol evaporates quickly which cools the skin, and tequila is made from a cactus which has similar properties to aloe vera.

I have since experimented with the basic recipe. Instead of squash leaves, I use Burdock leaves. To extract the chlorophylI, you need to boil the leaves in a small amount of water. Then l add this to apple cider vinegar. Just for good measure, I add a small amount of aloe vera gel to the mixture. These ingredients re-create the effects of the original recipe.

Magically, burdock, also known in England as Personata, is used for protection and healing.22 It was traditionally cast around the outside of a home to ward off negatiVity.23 Also, the root was gathered during the waning moon, cut, dried and strung on red thread. This necklace was then worn to ward off evil.24

As you can see, Arctium lappa is a very useful plant. Despite the annoyance of the burrs, this herb is worth gathering and utilizing. Burdock, with its varied medicinal, nutritional and magical properties is a must for any well stocked herb cupboard.

Burdock and Brown Rice25

1 Burdock root, peeled and soaked in vinegar water for 15 minutes
4 cups water
2 cups,brown rice
1 dash of salt

Clean root, cut into 6-8 pieces and soak in water with a splash of vinegar. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil Add rice, salt and burdock. Return to a boil with lid on, reduce heat; simmer with lid on for 4O-45 minutes.

* I have not eaten any Burdock myself, so I'm not guaranteeing the results of this recipe. However, I am planning to try this out soon so I can see for myself what it tastes like.

[Editor's Note: This article is presented for entertainment, not to suggest a specific medicinal course. Always consult a licensed herbalist or doctor before using herbs medicinally.]

End Notes
1. Steven Foster and James A. Duke, Peterson's Guide to Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1990,pg. 166)
2. Ibid., pg. 166
3. Ibid., pg. 166
4. Ibid., pg. 166
5. Nicholas Culpepper, Culpepper's Complete Herbal (Herfordshire, England: Wordsworth Editions LTD, 1995. Originally published in early 1650's), page 51
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. Susun Weed, Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise (Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree Publishing; 1989), pg. 109
11. Steven Foster, pg. 166
12. Kee Chang Huang, The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs (Ann Arbor, MI: CRCPress, 1993), pg. 158
13. Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., The Way of Herbs (New York: Washington Square Press, 1983), pg. 112
14. David Hoffmann, The Herbal Handbook (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1987), pg. 90
15. David Hoffmann, The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal (Rockport, MA: Element Books, 1996), pg. 61
16. Hoffmann, Herbal Handbook, pg. 60
17. Hoffmann, Holistic Herbal, pg. 61
18. Hoffmann, Herbal Handbook, pg. 44
19. Lee Allen Peterson, Peterson's Guide to Edible Wild Plants (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflfn Co., 1977), pg. 126
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid.
22. Scott Cunningham, Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs (Sf. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1985), pg. 65
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid.
25. Susun Weed, pg. 105

Author Information

Raven Spiritdancer

Articles by Raven Spiritdancer

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