Burdock is that plant you’ve probably seen while walking along the roadside, with its large broad leaves, purple flowers, and velcro-like burrs that so generously attach to shoes, socks, pets, or anything it can in order to propagate itself.

Regarded by some as a nuisance, this remarkable medicinal plant certainly deserves more than a passing glance. Burdock has a long-standing reputation of being one of the best plants to remove toxins from the blood.

More Than a Pest

Burdock (Arctium lappa), also known as beggar’s button, burr seed, love leaves, or clotbur, is native to Europe and Asia and has been used medicinally since the Middle Ages. Nearly all parts of the plant are used, but most familiar are the long, slender, brown roots, known as gobo, available at Asian grocery stores or your local health food store.

Burdock contains inulin, a substance that is important in the metabolism of carbohydrates. It is rich in vitamins A, B, C, and E, as well as iron, calcium, potassium, and fibre.

Therapeutically, it is diaphoretic (causes sweating), an alternative diuretic, antiscorbutic (counteracts scurvy), antimicrobial, antipyretic (lowers body temperature), and stomachic (tonic for the stomach).

A cooling plant, pungent and bitter, burdock is used in Chinese medicine to decrease liver toxicity, buildup of phlegm or mucus, colds, sore throats, measles, boils, carbuncles, swelling, and inflammation. It is even utilized as an aphrodisiac.

Traditionally, burdock has been used for edema, dropsy, arthritis, rheumatism, ulcers, psoriasis, weak digestion, eczema, chronic fatigue, gout, and kidney stones. It has been touted as “the plant of choice for improving the skin.” In the 19th century it was commonly combined with dandelion for a spring tonic, acting as a diuretic and mild laxative.

Topical Benefits

Burdock leaves can be used as a poultice by slightly steaming or crushing the leaves and applying to sprains, broken bones, bruises, ulcers, boils, cysts, eye irritations, poison ivy or oak, scalds, burns, and varicose veins. An old remedy for burns is to apply fresh raw milk to the wound and cover with a burdock leaf.

A Mainstay in Japanese Cooking

Burdock has a pleasant, earthy, mildly sweet taste. To prepare as a tasty side dish, take two long stalks, wash and scrub the skin, but do not peel. Cut into matchstick pieces. Add a dash of vinegar to a bowl of water and soak the burdock for about 10 minutes. Discard the water and dry the burdock slightly. Place it into a frying pan with a tablespoon of sesame oil. Fry for five to 10 minutes until it changes color and is cooked. Add some soy sauce and a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup, cook for a few minutes more, and enjoy.

About the Author

Deborah Treijs, MH, is a reflexologist living in Calgary.