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Herb of the week: Burdock.

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Photo: Arctium tomentosum 30. A short profile:

Latin: Arctium lappa and other species of Arctium.
Family: Asteraceae, daisy family.
Parts used: Root; Leaf; Seed; (Leaf stalk, Flower stalk).
Taste: Root: Sweet, nutty. Leaf: bitter. Seed: seedy. Flower stalk: Sweet, nutty. Leaf stalk: nutty.
4 humors: The sweet parts: both moist (sweet) and dryish (diuretic). The leaf: coldish, dryish.


  • Leaf: bitter, that is, strengthens appetite and digestion.
  • Leaf: more bile + more pee -> "blood cleansing". Because of this, try it in all kinds of skin problems.
  • Root, flower stalk (the white part): nutritive, moist, diuretic, hepatic (helps the liver).
  • Seed: moist, diuretic, hepatic (helps the liver).

Food uses:

  • I have been digging the root for years as a kind of wild "gobo" (no root I've dug ever got to a client ... too tasty, and way too much work). However, the inner white part of the flower stalk, sliced off at ground level just before the flowerbuds reach above the mound of leaf, is just as tasty, waaaay easier to pick, and abundantly available for the one week or so that burdock is at this stage. Yum. Remove the greens (save the leaf stalks!), peel the stalk, slice the white inner part into bits, boil in salted water, and enjoy. If the white part is hard to slice it'll be hard to eat, nevermind how long you boil it: discard those inner stalks.
  • The leaf stalk is tasty too, and easily available during the growing season. Grab a few leaves from each burdock plant you see (they do tend to form largish colonies), save the leaf itself for your clients and slice the leaf stalk into 1 cm (1/3") pieces. Boil in salted water and serve with butter, hollandaise, or similar. Yum! The boiled stalks can be frozen for later use. (I've never had so much flower stalks that they'd made it to the freezer).


  • Burdock is a biennial. That means that you dig the root when the plant has lived over one summer, just like you dig carrots after their first summer. If you do go after biennial roots from underneath flower stalks, be they burdock, carrot, or any other biennial, you'll get a tough fibrous hard thing that works as an anchor for the tall stalk ... it won't give you the sweet soft blandness that you've expected. If you go after biennial roots from underneath seeding stalks, they'll be almost dead. That's what biennial means: it grows, it flowers, it seeds, it dies. Next generation, please ...


  • The root is a bitch to dig: burdock loves stony gravelly soil, and your shovel will never go beneath some 10-20 cm (4-8") or so. And you know that the root extends at least another half meter (2') down ... sigh.
  • The seeds are surrounded by itchy hairs. It's very easy to pick a bucketful of seeds, but the processing isn't all that easy. I haven't tried the "OK, so get a stake with one flat end and pound the ¤%# out of the seeds" route.
  • The seeds also harbor a variety of extra moving parts. These will appear in your dried herb jar even though you're absolutely certain that you only dried those seeds with no entrance hole at all at all. Thus, a fresh seed tincture ... it's better.
  • I've given the leaf as a nice diuretic appetite-enhancing liver herb. Bitter bitter bitter, but actually ingestible if you add a splash of vinegar or lemon juice to your burdock leaf tea. (Or make a vinegar and take that; I haven't given vinegars to clients, though ...)
  • The root (and flower stalk) are diuretic. A cold liver type (Michael Moore style energetics) (explained here) will absolutely love them. I know, I am one. And as they're diuretic and a teensy bit cold, burdock roots and flower stalks are excessively bad for cold liver types ... do take warming spices whenever you take them, and increase your salt intake a tad, as well, if you, too, are a cold liver type. For the same reason, a hot liver type will thrive on these roots and flower stalks: they're a perfect complement to their way of living.
  • The seed should be moistening and all that, but the hairs are so itchy, and the extra many-legged or winged proteins so abundant that I haven't used it much.

An addendum:

Drying the leaves:
you can't just spread burdock leaf out any which way and get an acceptable end result. They will wilt, mat up, and the innermost will grow mold before they're dry. In addition, drying leaf with the midrib intact will grow black at the center, dark brown around that, lighter brown around that, yellow around that, lighter green around that, with only the outermost few centimeters the perfect bluish green that burdock leaf should be.

To properly dry the leaf, you should
1) hang it up to dry, and
2) slice the midrib into pieces every few centimeters (every inch or so).

Comments on Facebook:

  • From C Karen Stopford:
    One of my all-time favorites, and it is growing in my back yard. Topically the leaves have many anti-inflammatory properties and are useful in treating eczema, psoriasis, and bee stings, and bites of snakes, dogs and other animals. The seeds are mostly used in Chinese Medicine (Niu Bang Zi) while Western herbalists use mostly the taproots and leaves. It is also cultivated in Japan as a root vegetable.
    31 January at 16:23
  • From Vanda J.:
    thank you, i love burdock.For the kids, it's flowers are great for making sculptures with, no glue, no mess they just cling together.
    31 January at 16:57
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    ‎(I do love to mash the two outermost flowers on a wide-spread flowering burdock plant together. Tee hee.)
    31 January at 17:06
  • From Tom Salter:
    I love to dig the roots in the spring after their first year, just as they begin to grow and can be readily found. I use the root in a lentil soup, where it blends into the broth. I have always believed it to be an energizer, giving strength to that inner get up and go, especially if that inner strength has become puny.
    31 January at 17:18
  • From Dora A.:
    Have a great big patch to enjoy! Now I know what to do with this beauty since I didn't want to kill it. Awesome!
    31 January at 20:26
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    Dora: I expect slicing off the flower stalk will set back the plant quite a bit; there's a LOT of energy in there.
    31 January at 20:32
  • From Tom Salter:
    When I lived in Wisconsin growing up, I was told they were no good, even poisonous; they were prolific, and yes, stuck to everything, especially hair. I imagine they once were grown in gardens and relished, and then a generation forgot about them as they escaped and began to be looked upon as worthless weeds.
    1 February at 07:41
  • From Vladi R.:
    I grow it every year, it gives height to my garden and I love the size of those leaves and have fun with the seeds in the autumn :-))). Root usually thick and long, but fun to dig out.
    31 January at 15:37
  • From C Karen S.:
    One of my all-time favorites, and it is growing in my back yard. Topically the leaves have many anti-inflammatory properties and are useful in treating eczema, psoriasis, and bee stings, and bites of snakes, dogs and other animals. The seeds are mostly used in Chinese Medicine (Niu Bang Zi) while Western herbalists use mostly the taproots and leaves. It is also cultivated in Japan as a root vegetable.
    31 January at 16:24

On a closed fb group:

  • From Aerial Parts S.:
    Love the piece Henriette, but not understanding this bit......"A cold liver type will absolutely love them. ... And as they're diuretic and a teensy bit cold, burdock roots and flower stalks are excessively bad for cold liver types ... do take warming spices whenever you take them, and increase your salt intake a tad, as well, if you, too, are a cold liver type. "
    (...) you say on the one hand they are good for cold livers, then next sentence they aint??? Typo or do you mean bad in excess? Thanx me dear.
    31 January at 22:09
  • From Henriette Kress:
    Aerial: No no, these sweet diuretic things are bad for cold livers, which is part of why cold liver types love'em. They're very good for hot livers.
    1 February at 13:24
  • From Breda S.:
    A brilliant statement plant for any garden too. Everyone should have one....or two..........
    1 February at 00:14
  • From Henriette Kress:
    Breda: it's such an abundant weed over here that its place in the garden is difficult to defend. I've left a few (wild ones) next to the rhubarbs, just so the kids learn the difference between rhubarb and burdock :-) (a lot of kids grab a few rhubarb stalks from the part of our garden next to a footpath).
    1 February at 11:25

Comments on the herblist:

  • From Tina M B.
    Date: 2012 02 03 - 19:25:12 +0200

    nothing unusual here, but i'll chime in.

    i make an infused oil of the burdock root and use it in 2 salves with other infused oils ... one for itchy dry skin and one gentle easy healing salve for sensitive areas, babies, pets. and i've had a few people use the root tincture internally for skin stuff including acne.

    once i made a wreath out of hundreds of burdock burrs just stuck together on a wreath form. the shop owner had to give it back to me as her cat would not leave it alone, kept batting at the burrs.

  • From Sharon Hodges-Rust
    Date: 2012 02 03 - 19:39:42 +0200

    >So nobody at all uses burdock?

    For the most part no, I don't really live around it anymore. But when I did, i had very limited experience. A woman I knew who was diagnosed with a rare uterine cancer, had it growing around her house so much so that it even spread into her back door between the screen and main door. Obviously i recommended it to her along with some other herbs. She was fairly well and lived 10-15 yrs beyond what ever the docs gave her... She had already switched to macrobiotic eating, she used burdock, and verbena, hawthorn, artichokes, i didn't keep a record and don't recall it all now. Yarrow too i believe, cuz she had some intense bouts of flooding initially, hct 9, Brown rice,.. When she did die it was from post surgery pneumonia, she always felt that if she had surgery it would kill her... In any case it has given me great pause, if she had had radical surgery when we met would that have changed her longevity. IDK, the prognosis at the time when she had the diagnosis was go home and get your affairs in order, we can do surgery but don't expect it to alter you life expectancy ... So maybe if the surgery was done at that early time perhaps it would have just shown the doc that she was over estimating the severity. I also hooked her up with going to the regional sundances and the folks who do ceremony in that region which is another aspect.

  • From 7Song
    Date: 2012 02 03 - 19:41:57 +0200

    I occasionally take the dried involucral head and press it against my lapel and then add some flowers to the other side. Viola, a flower brooch.

    Here's herbin' at ya

  • From Mayca
    Date: 2012 02 03 - 22:29:18 +0200

    I find Burdock excellent for skin problems and detoxification, just helped someone with psorias with it (in a complex).

    Use in- and externally.

    As you said, a bitch to dig, but definitely worth it!

    What dosage do you recommend? 8-12 ml. (David Hoffmann) is a bit too much in my experience (rapid detox so with the side effects)

  • From Ossi Kakko
    Date: 2012 02 04 - 02:42:34 +0200

    Ho hum. A few more details to share. I like to peel Arctium tomentosum stalks until the flowerbuds appear - and sometimes soak the young flowering tops in brine and boil them for food or preserve them in lactoferments. Sauerkraut from - brine soaked - and boiled - young burdock leaves is not appealing, but makes an interesting spice if it's dried in oven and ground into powder.

    While threshing the seeds some extra precaution is necessary, as those nasty hairs are tricky to remove if stuck in the lung. I would like to know how one should proceed in case the irritating burdock hairs get stuck in the lungs? Could someone explain ? I have crushed the seedheads while wearing a gas mask for protection and burnt the hair with hot coals, which also tend to roast the seeds. Then I have washed and boiled the seeds and eaten them like beans. I would like to find a safe way to separate the seeds without fire and look currently into possibility to thresh them under water, which would prevent unintended inhalation of the irritating tiny hairs. Even though burdock is extremely profitable plant - I have not been keen to introduce it on new sites. In Southern Finland burdock seeds are mostly eaten by larvae - and they are usually hopeless to harvest, but in inland some areas surrounded by forests have burdock seedheads free of larvae and the yield in seeds is incredibly abundant.

    Older leaves are too bitter to eat - no matter how many times they are boiled, but they fit well for leaf protein extraction. I have manually juiced burdock leaves (while still fresh and juicy) - and boiled the juice until leaf proteins coagulate on the surface. These proteins are transferred with ladle to another set of boiling clean water (or two) to be washed and finally filtered through cheese cloth. Extracted leaf protein has still a trace of the awful taste, but it's mild enough to be tolerated - and quite exotic freshly in oily pesto or as a minor addition in dried vegetable soups after drying and grinding. I have sometimes grown burdock root as an annual root vegetable in deep beds, which are enriched with compost - rather than dug the roots from stony and compacted soils with possible pollution from suspicious landfills etc.

  • From Henriette Kress
    Date: 2012 02 04 - 09:42:04 +0200

    > I would like to find a safe way to separate the seeds

    Haven't tried this yet, but I'm told that it works: Leave the seedheads in the bottom of a bucket and pound them with a long stake with a flattish end (I think a long enough baseball bat could work nicely). Then winnow outdoors with the wind at your back.

    As there are at least three different kinds of larvae in burdock seed, I haven't bothered with these seeds for a long long time. (One set of larvae grows into small brown spotted-winged flies ... I don't find them too troubling when they dash their little heads against the windows, trying to get out, but the layer of dead flies in the seed jar in the herb cupboard did put me off burdock seeds.)

  • From Marguerite U-B.
    Date: 2012 02 04 - 04:26:39 +0200

    I eat, stir fry, preserve, tincture, grow on moundy soil my own burdock. Love to add the stems and or roots to artichoke stuffing.

    One thing I've never heard of before meeting Frank... During my public health days, a client I'd visit, Frank, would tell me stories of what foods his mother used as medicine for he and his siblings. His mother used the fresh Burdock root and strung it for when the young ones were teething. He said it always worked to quiet them down and soothe their gum's.

  • From Cathy S.
    Date: 2012 02 04 - 05:24:29 +0200

    I like your idea of putting burdock with artichokes. Those two have tastes that would work together.

    I still look for wild burdock on my property and haven't found it. I regularly buy cultivated gobo from the Asian market and saute it with carrots and garlic. I love the taste of it.

  • From Christophe Bernard
    Date: 2012 02 04 - 09:49:56 +0200

    One year I needed to harvest lots of burdock roots and was not looking forward to digging. Especially here in the south of france where the soil can be as hard as stone.

    So I followed horizon herb's advice and sowed a bunch of seeds. Obviously a no-brainer plant to grow, no water or attending needed. And harvesting all the roots was such a pleasure. See method from the horizon herbs website below:

    "If digging is not your thing, take an old bale of wet hay and knock together four 1 x 4s like an empty-bottomed flat to fit right on top of the hay bale. Then fill this with garden soil and plant your burdock seeds in there. They will germinate and send their roots down into the hay. To harvest, remove the boards and pull apart the hay to reveal perfectly formed and tender burdock roots."

    At one time I was studying with Matt Wood and he was explaining the characteristic taste of the seeds vs roots. During a break I went out, found a plant and stupidly bit into the whole seed heads. I carried shards in my tongue for several days. Good I had the reflex to chew on plantain leaves until all the shards got sucked out. Nasty. But a memorable experience :)

  • From Ellen L.
    Date: 2012 02 04 - 19:34:05 +0200

    fortunately (or not) burdock does not grow where i live. however, some other roots in the asteraceae turn out to be very similar and well worth eating. and i imagine they are similarly good for the liver.

    circium for instance. when i take out a thistle, i eat the root. yum.

    and cardoons (cynara). when i have had occasion to thin my cardoons i have found the root to be quite similar to gobo.

    probably the young flower stalks would work also.

  • From Daniel W.
    Date: 2012 02 04 - 20:17:57 +0200

    I spread the burr heads out on my cement porch and rub over them with a brick back and forth till they are free / separated...I sweep the chaff with the seeds then put in a jar or baggie and go spread then in a wild spot by a path...
    Or I save some to plant in my garden...the root is long and I break it off I can see when I dig them...
    I usually go two spade lengths deep... say 18 inches...they have better mineral content that way, I think...

    Appreciated the good tips on drying the leaves... so are they usually used for tea?...or tinctured?

  • From Meredith W.
    Date: 2012 02 06 - 00:33:42 +0200

    Comment to hay bale seeding for burdock root: When digging the root from the ground you are getting the minerals from within the deeper clay layer that would not come from hay..... I also wonder about possible molding in the hay (or straw).

  • From Christophe Bernard
    Date: 2012 02 06 - 08:52:32 +0200

    > Comment to hay bale seeding for burdock root:

    I only did it one year. But that year the roots (that I prepare in stews in the fall) and the tincture of the fresh roots were both very tasty. Now do they pack as much constituents, I cannot tell, I can only go with smell and taste. There was no molding.

    Burdock being widely available in nature (usually), this is obviously a method to use if one needed to produce a certain amount of fresh roots in a short amount of time.

Please add your own experiences etc. in the comments!

Burdock will be in my next book, out in 2013 or so.

Also see Burdock stalks - Burdock root - Burdock seed - Burdock leaf.