Burdock (Arctium minus, Arctium lappa)

Family: Asteraceae

Description: 1st season – Long-stalked, heart-shaped leaves that can grow up to 18″. Dark green leaves, wavy edge and wooly underneath. Looks similar to wild rhubarb, although Burdock has a potent (bad) smell, unlike wild rhubarb.
2nd season – Branches stem during second season and grows to 3-5 feet. Leaves are alternate, ovate and smaller than 1st season leaves. [1]

Habitat: Canada and Upper Midwest. Vacant lots, roadsides, old feilds and pastures.

Seasonal Availability: Harvest from first season to spring of the second.

Medicinal Uses

Herbal Actions

  • Diuretic and laxative (taproot and seeds)
  • Antitussive (anti-cough)
  • Depuritive (detox kidney)
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Hepatoprotective (protects the liver)
  • Antifungal (root when fresh)
  • Antimicrobial (root when fresh)
  • Hypoglycemic

Conditions Treated (General)

  • Constipation
  • Whooping Cough
  • Hard/dry coughs
  • Asthma
  • Pulmonary problems
  • Rheumatic Conditions (tea, poultice)
  • Bee stings (poultice)
  • Sore Muscles (tea)
  • Strained back (warm poultice)
  • Boils (poultice of leaf)
  • Furunculosis (tea and poultice)
  • Dermatosis
  • Chronic Skin Issues
  • Large pimples
  • Adolescent Acne (decoction and/or tincture
    Use seeds collected after burs turn brown
  • Epilepsy (Bentley, 1884)
  • Poor appetite
  • Digestion (since it’s a Bitter)
  • Tumors [5]
  • High blood sugar [8]

Conditions Treated (Taproot)

  • Dry Eczema
  • Psoriasis


  • inulin
  • mucilage
  • lappin
  • tannin
  • polyacetylenes (anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties)
  • nonhydroxy acids
  • sterols
  • caffeic acid
  • chlorogenic acid
  • essential oil

Constituents (Leaves & Stem)

  • arctiol
  • arctiin
  • arctigenin
  • taraxasterol
  • fukinone
  • alpha-amyrin
  • acetic acid
  • arctic acid
  • arctiopicrin (a sesquiterpene lactone)

Constituents (Seeds)

  • 15-30% fixed oils
  • arctiin (a bitter glycoside)
  • neoarctin
  • daucosterol
  • arctigenin
  • matairesinol
  • lappaol
  • cholinergic acid

Food Uses


  • chromium
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • silicon
  • thiamin


  • DO NOT USE DURING PREGNANCY! Can be a uterine stimulant.
  • Contact dermatitis is a risk
  • Do not collect from roadsides, as this plant picks up pollution from the environment. Only collect in forests or wild areas.

Roots of first year plants are able to be eaten, full of nutrients and taste sweet. Roots of second year plants are less ediable as the roots are thin and woody.

Preparation: Peel and cut into chunks, boil in water several times. Should be cooked in glass or enamel pot (since some constiuents react to metal.) Add a pinch of baking soda to break down the fibers.

Research on Burdock

[1] Root has antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties (Vincent and Segonzac, 1948)
[2] Activity against gram-negative bacteria (E. coli, Shigella, Shigella sonnei) (Moskalenko, 1986)
[3] Antibiotic activity against gram-positive (Bacillus subtilis, Myobacterium smegmatis, and Staphylococcus aureas) (Bever and Zahnd, 1979)
[4] Anti-mutagenic properties (Morita et al. 1984; Morita et al. 1985, Ito et al. 1986)
[5] Antitumor (Morita et al 1984) (Foldeak & Dombradi 1964)
[6] Burdock’s butyrolactone lignans inhibited proliferation of leukemic cells and cause them to self-destruct (Matsumoto et al., 2006)
[7] Compound arctiin (from seeds) shown to protect against cancer of pancreas, breast and colon in rats (Hirose, et. al 2000)
[8] Root has been shown to lower blood sugar (Silver and Krantz, 1931) (Lapinina & Sisoeva, 1964) (Beaver and Zahnd, 1979) (Leung, 1980:81)

Anecdotal Evidence

[1] Potowatami used burdock to treat cancer

Other Notes

Added to the U.S. Pharmacopeia from 1831 – 1842. Still used as medicine in Europe.

Sources & Works Cited

[1] Edible & Medicinal Wild Plants of the Midwest
[2] United States Pharmacoepia
[3] British Herbal Compendium

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