During these hot summer months, cooling herbs are key allies for our health and wellbeing. There are a number of cooling herbs we can befriend, including Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Rose (Rosa damascena), and Aloe (Aloe vera). One of my favorites is Burdock because it has such a wonderful way of balancing heat in the body, is mild in taste, and is one of those herbs (like Oats) that act as much as food as it does medicine.
I created this profile for the students who attend The Plant Sabbat but thought it would be fun to share with you, too.
What are your favorite ways to use Burdock? Let me know in the comments below. If you're looking for all my plant profiles click here and you can learn how to connect with any plant with the Plant Ally Project. Enjoy!
Common + Folk Names : Bardane, happy major, hardock, hareburr, cockleburr, clotbur, love leaves, hurt burr, beggar’s buttons
Element : Water
Zodiac Signs : Taurus
Planets : Venus, Jupiter
Moon Phase : Waning Moon
Parts used : Root and seed.
Habitat : Native to Eurasia and grows throughout North America. Thrives in damp areas, disturbed soil, and roadsides.
Growing Conditions : Self-seeding and relatively easy to grow. Prefers full sun and moist, rich soil.
Collection : Collect the root of a in the summer or fall of the plant’s first year or the spring of the second.
Flavor : Bitter, sweet
Temperature : Cool
Moisture : Dry
Tissue State : Dry/Atrophy, Damp/Stagnation
Constituents : Vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, polyacetylenes, chlorogenic acid, taraxosterol, arctigen, inulin, lactone, volatile oils, flavonoids, tannin, mucilage, resin, pectin.
Actions : Adaptogen, alterative, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-candida, antitussive, aperient, aphrodisiac, cholagogue, demulcent, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, febrifuge, galactagogue, mild laxative, nutritive. The seed is alternative, anti-inflammatory, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic.
Main Uses : Burdock is a clearing herb. It draws toxins out of the body, especially from the gut, the tissues, and the liver. As a blood-purifier, the herb helps to support the work of eliminatory organs like the liver and kidneys. It is a traditional remedy for kidney stones. As a cooling and moistening herb, Burdock is especially useful for issues that arise from excess heat including inflammation (especially when inflammatory skin conditions are an issues), fevers, and illnesses such as tonsillitis or dry coughs. Acting on the liver, Burdock helps with the secretion of bile and stimulates the actions of the gall bladder. The herb is indicated for poor glandular function in general including the lymph system, pancreas, endocrine glands, prostate, and spleen. As for most liver herbs, Burdock can be helpful for those in recovery from alcohol addiction. It is good to use cleansing Burdock with diuretic herbs such as Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) to make sure that you are pulling out toxins from the body effectively.
The heat and pain of arthritis and gout are alleviated by Burdock as the root breaks down excess uric acid in the joints. Some indicators for Burdock can seem contradictory - excess internal heat can result in a dry digestive tract (constipation and dry fecal matter are indicators) but it can lead also to weepy skin conditions. This is because hot and dry internal heat has pushed all moisture and oil in the body system to the extremities. Of course, to keep things interesting, Burdock can also be strongly indicated in the case of dry and scaly skin conditions. Remember, you are looking for excess heat and how it is manifesting the body when considering Burdock.
Traditionally, Burdock has been used since the Middle Ages for the treatment of cancer including by famed herbalist and mystic Hildegard of Bingen. Modern research continues to look at Burdock as a useful ally in the treatment of not only cancer but HIV, alerting us to Burdock’s immune-boosting qualities.
Burdock combines well with other nutritive herbs such as Milky Oat (Avena sativa) for creating a restorative tonic for undernourished body systems. Insulin rich, Burdock acts as a prebiotic in our gut, helping to cultivate healthy flora. It also helps with the digestion of fats and oils. Enjoy the tea 30 minutes before a meal for best results. Another indicator for Burdock is a sweet tooth and maybe even sugar addiction for those who rely on the quick fix of sugar for energy. There can be a deeper emotional tie to pleasure (or lack thereof) in life and the use of sugar as a quick but ultimately unsatisfying replacement. Approach all diet discussions with nuance and compassion, being sure to examine your own relationship to food and prejudices about size and appearance. Use the essences of Burdock, Crap Apple, and Pretty Face for help.
Brigitte Mars offers an interesting insight into how Burdock is especially useful for city dwellers:
“During the Industrial Revolution, burdock was used as a medicine to help people cope with pollution or, as John Kelton said in 1870, ‘the constant deterioration of the blood from impure air and exhaustion by day, bad ventilation at night and want of attention to ordinary requirements of life.’” (The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine, 67)
Burdock has a low amount of estrogen content which means that it can be useful for folks experiencing menopause when combined with stronger estrogenic herbs such as Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis) and Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa). Use with practitioner support for supporting transgender and gender variant transitions on the transfeminine spectrum.
External uses include using the oil and leaves as a poultice for skin inflammation and rashes including psoriasis, eczema, glandular boils, and ringworm. Make a hair rinse of the root for remedying dandruff and preventing hair loss. Use in after-sun care. Useful for case of hot and red acne that has not come to a head. Made into a facial toner, the root helps to regulate the excretion of sebaceous glands in the skin, making it especially useful for those with oily skin. Use as well for swellings, sprains, and tumors. Skin conditions are especially connected to deep seated emotional imbalances - use flower essences along herbal remedies. The tincture can internally to successfully treat external symptoms, too. “In the Native American healing tradition, the plant was used by the Malecite, Micmac, Ojibwa, and Menominee for skin health. Further, the roots were dried by the Iroquois over a fire and stored for food for the following year.” (1)
Burdock root is quite edible and pleasant in flavor. It’s a popular addition in Japanese, Hawaiian, and New Zealand cuisine.
Magickal Uses : Burdock is considered a protective herb and the root can be buried at the four corners of the home or powdered and traced around the home. The dried root can be cut and made into small button like beads as a protective amulet. The flowers are symbols of abundance. Use the burrs to help the magick stick to something. Use the plant to help you connect with Bear energy - Arctium comes from the Greek word for bear.
The Burdock Personality : The Burdock personality is very good as masking their emotional suffering, but eventually their physical suffering comes to the surface. They embody burnout - their internal heat has burned them up from the inside out. They tend to be anxious and worried about rocking the boat - until they find themselves so angry they can’t not express their anger. Irritability, crankiness, and explosive outbursts can follow and can feel especially overwhelming as this has not been their typical pattern. Burdock helps them to access the liberating powers of their anger. Anger on the surface goes after those we love and has a tendency to wreck relationships. Deep anger that is given space to come to the surface and allowed to breathe and burn off can be healing. The anger of a Burdock person is often from a much earlier period in their life when they weren’t able to safely express their anger then. Burdock helps them get the chance they never had to be angry - it clears the path for a clean, transformative burn.
Contraindications : Avoid use during first trimester of pregnancy - herbalist Anne McIntyre recommends avoiding throughout all trimesters and during breastfeeding. Avoid with insulin and other hypoglycemic medications. Needs careful monitoring of blood sugar levels with diabetic patients. Be aware that Burdock and Rhubarb leaves are similar looking but Rhubarb leaves are toxic.
Dosage : Standard dosage - 1 tsp per 8 oz water; Adults 30 - 60 drops tincture or 1 - 10 drops for drop dosage.
Burdock + Dandelion Toffee
by Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal from Backyard Medicine
Dig several roots of burdock and dandelion, in spring or fall. Strip the root bark off, and clean and chop up the inner part. Weight out 3 to 4 ounces of each. Load into a saucepan and cover with a pint of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Allow to cool.
Simmer again until the roots are tasteless (i.e. have surrendered their content to the liquid). This reduces the mixture by about half. Strain and add 1 tablespoon butter and 12 tablespoons of sugar. Boil for 5 minutes then simmer for 20 minutes more. It will become toffee-like. Test the toffee by pouring a drip of it onto a cold plate, as you would in testing jam: when it crinkles into soft threads, it is ready. Pout it into a buttered shallow tin. Before it sets totally, mark out squares and save the toffee slab in greaseproof paper: or stretch it out by hand into taffy: this is ale and pliable, ideal for balls, plaits, etc.
(1) Quoted from https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/products/burdock-root/profile but the original source can be found here: Moerman, D.E. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany at http://herb.umd.umich.edu/.