Burdock is one of those seemingly magic herbal remedies that appear time and again in the pages of Herbs for Health. The herb is a favorite remedy of many of our writers and editorial advisory board members. Is burdock for you? Read this profile to find out.
Burdock is popular in both Western and Chinese herbal medicines for its detoxifying effects — it’s a great herb to try if you have skin problems, such as acne, eczema, psoriasis or skin infections. It’s also a traditional liver tonic. Herb expert James Duke, Ph.D., likes the herb for treating the irritability associated with premenstrual syndrome. Many herbalists use burdock to protect against cancer. It was an ingredient in Hoxsey’s controversial cancer formula, which was popular in from the 1930s to the 1950s. Herbalist and midwife Aviva Romm, president of the American Herbalists Guild, recommends burdock for its nutritive and liver-strengthening effects. The powerhouse plant also has mild diuretic properties.
Native to Europe and Asia, burdock now grows like a weed in temperate areas of the United States. Look for its distinctive spiny, burr-like heads. Burdock is a biennial plant — the best time to harvest the root is during the fall of the first year, when the plant has large leaves that are green on top and grayish underneath, or during the spring of the second year. During burdock’s second year, the plant has purple flowers from summer to early fall.
If you’d like to plant burdock in your garden, it grows easily from seeds planted in spring. Thin seedlings to 6 inches apart. The plant tolerates most soils but prefers moist, rich soil and full sun. According to frequent Herbs for Health contributor Michael Castleman, many herbalists mix wood chips and sawdust into burdock beds to keep the soil loose, so the roots are easier to harvest.
Not interested in digging up your own plants? Not to worry — fresh burdock root is available in the produce section of Asian markets and many health-food stores.
Burdock root is called gobo in Japan and is a popular addition to sushi. You can add it to soup (click here for recipe) or stir-fry it with vegetables, garlic and ginger.
Burdock roots grow very deep into the ground — as much as two feet. This makes the herb rich in minerals.
According to Castleman, burdock gets its name from the combination of two words — “bur” for the plant’s tenacious burrs, and “dock,” an Old English term for “plant.”
Make a decoction (tea) by simmering 1 teaspoon of the cut root (fresh or dried) per cup of water, for 30 minutes. Strain and drink 1 cup, three times daily with meals.
If you prefer a liquid extract, take 3 droppersful two to three times a day. The herb also is available in capsules.
You can prepare and eat burdock roots as you would carrots in cooked dishes. The roots have a sweet, slightly bitter, earthy taste.
Herbalist and midwife Aviva Romm enjoys eating burdock in this simple recipe.
Heat oil in a skillet. Add onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Add burdock and carrot and sauté for 2 minutes. Add water and tamari, cover the pan, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add kale and simmer 10 minutes. Add more tamari, to taste, and eat while hot.
Source: Romm, Aviva. The Natural Pregnancy Book. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts, 2003.
— Amy Mayfield, editor of Herbs for Health, plans to find some burdock plants to harvest this fall.
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