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Table of Contents > Herbs > Burdock
Botanical Name:  Arctium lappa/Arctium minus/Arctium tomentosum
Plant Description
What's It Made Of?
Available Forms
How to Take It
Possible Interactions
Supporting Research


During the Middle Ages, burdock was valued for treating a host of ailments. English herbalists used burdock root for boils, scurvy (a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency, leading to bleeding, gum disease, and weakness), diabetes, and rheumatism (disorders characterized by joint discomfort and loss of mobility). Burdock also played an important role in Native American herbal medicine, and American herbalists have used the roots and seeds of this plant for two centuries.

Burdock root has been traditionally used as a "blood purifier" to clear the bloodstream of toxins, as a diuretic to promote the excretion of urine, and as a topical remedy to relieve skin problems. In folk medicine, burdock has also been used as a laxative and to relieve inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Plus, there is belief that burdock may be helpful for kidney stones.

Despite the fact that burdock has been used for centuries to treat a variety of conditions, few (if any) scientific studies have proven that this herb is a safe and useful remedy. Still, many professional herbalists find burdock helpful for skin and scalp conditions (including acne, psoriasis, eczema, contact dermatitis, and wounds) and inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. Preparations of burdock root are also used to promote perspiration and the excretion of urine and to treat ailments and complaints of the digestive system. Extracts of burdock root are found in a variety of herbal preparations as well as homeopathic remedies.

Plant Description

Burdock is a common weed native to Europe and Northern Asia and is now widespread throughout the United States as well. A member of the thistle family, burdock is a stout, common weed with hooked bracts (leaf-like part of the plant) or burrs that adhere to clothing or animal fur. The burdock plant grows to a maximum height of approximately three to four feet. It has purple flowers that bloom between the months of June and October. Burdock has alternate (meaning that the leaves grow on both sides of the stem at alternating levels), wavy, heart-shaped leaves that are green on the top and whitish on the bottom. The deep roots (used primarily for medicinal purposes) are brownish-green, or nearly black on the outside.

Burdock grows well in the wild. It thrives in light, well-drained soil. Herbalists usually collect burdock leaves during the first year of growth, and harvest the roots in the fall of the first year after planting (or during the following spring before the flowers bloom).

What's It Made Of?

Burdock consists primarily of carbohydrates, volatile oils, plant sterols, tannins, and fatty oils. It is not entirely clear which active ingredients in burdock root are responsible for its healing properties, but the herb may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and disinfectant properties.

Available Forms

Burdock products typically consist of fresh or dried roots. Burdock can be purchased as a dried root powder, decoction (liquid made by boiling down the herb in water), tincture (a solution of the herb in alcohol, or water and alcohol), or fluid extract.

How to Take It


There are no known scientific reports on the pediatric use of burdock, but some herbal specialists have used this herb safely in children over three years old. (Burdock is commonly used in combination with other cleansing herbs such as dandelion.)


  • Dried root: steep 2 to 6 grams in 150 mL (2/3 of a cup) in boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes and then drink three times a day; may soak a cloth in the liquid and then, once cooled, wrap the cloth around affected skin area or wound (known as a poultice)
  • Tincture (1:5): 8 to 12 mL three times a day; the tincture may also be applied to a cloth and wrapped around affected skin area or wound
  • Fluid extract (1:1): 2 to 6 mL three times a day
  • Tea: 2 to 6 grams steeped in 500 mL water

Topical preparations of burdock are also used for skin problems (such as eczema) and wounds. There is not a standard topical dose for these purposes, but a poultice made from mashed, cooked herb and root can be applied to the affected area as a wet paste. When wrapped in place, the poultice draws out infection and toxins under the skin. Poultices should be applied twice daily.


The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger side effects and that can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.

Some individuals who handle burdock may experience an irritation of the skin.

Pregnant or nursing women should avoid burdock as it may cause damage to the fetus.

It is best to avoid taking excessive amounts of burdock (especially burdock root) as the toxic effects of this herb are not well understood.

Although in folk medical practices it is believed that burdock lowers blood sugar and may help with diabetes, there is one animal study that suggested that this herb aggravated experimentally-induced diabetes in rats. It is not clear whether this same concern would apply to people.

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 made by established companies with good reputations, and who distribute their products through trustworthy and knowledgeable establishments. Whenever possible, select products with guaranteed potency or standardized extracts.

Possible Interactions

Although preliminary reports suggest that burdock may lower blood sugar, there are no known scientific reports of interactions between burdock and conventional medications, including medicines used for diabetes.

Supporting Research

Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:318.

Bissett NG, ed. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Boca Raton: CRC Press; 1994:99-101.

Bradley P, ed. British Herbal Compendium. 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, Germany: Springer-Verlag; 1997:231-237.

Grases F, Melero G, Costa-Bauza A, Prieto R, March JG. Urolithiasis and phytotherapy. Int Urol Nephrol. 1994;26:507-511.

Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C. PDR for Herbal Medicines. 2nd ed. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 2000.

Hutchens A. Indian Herbalogy of North America. Boston, Mass: Shambhala Publications; 1991:62-65.

Lin CC, Lu JM, Yang JJ, Chuang SC, Ujiie T. Anti-inflammatory and radical scavenge effects of Arctium lappa. Am J Chin Med. 1996;24:127-137.

Newall C, Anderson L, Phillipson J. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-care Professionals. London, England: 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. 4th ed. New York, NY: Haworth Herbal Press; 1999:71-72.

Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Constance Grauds (April 1999), RPh, President, Association of Natural Medicine Pharmacists, San Rafael, CA; Jacqueline A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; R. Lynn Shumake, PD, Director, Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary & Healing Arts, University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; Tom Wolfe, P.AHG (April 1999), Smile Herb Shop, College Park, MD. All interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu, HI.

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

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