Burdock Root for Food and Medicine

Rich in vitamins and minerals, there are many delicious ways to consume this nutritious root.

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Madeleine Steinbach - stock.adob

Burdock (Arctium spp.) is a biennial weedy plant from the aster family that you’ve probably walked past, or on, many times. It thrives in gravelly soil, in fields, woodlands, and roadsides.  Burdock is native to Europe and Asia and is considered invasive in the United States. Arctium minus (lesser burdock) and Arctium lappa (greater burdock) are the two most common species in North America, with the greater burdock being the more popular of the two (Utah State University Extension, n.d.).

Burdock unfurls its leaves in the spring and looks deceptively small as a first-year plant, growing in a rosette close to the ground. When left alone to spread and establish itself, Arctium lappa can reach a stately ten feet tall in its second year, with egg-shaped leaves that stretch up to 14 inches wide and 18 inches long. Its thistle-like flowers turn into hooked seeds, also known as burrs, which incidentally were the inspiration for the invention of Velcro® (Velcro® Brand, 2016)! If you’ve ever gone on a walk through the woods and come back with sticky burrs stuck all over your socks, pants, or shoes, then you most likely brushed up against a burdock plant that’s gone to seed.

Beneath the ground, the single taproot burrows its way up to 3 feet into the earth, making it quite a challenge to harvest. Although the leaf stems make a tasty asparagus alternative, and the seeds are extensively used for their medicinal action, it’s the burdock root that is most notably used for both food and medicine (Utah State University Extension, n.d.).

Flowering Great Burdock (Arctium lappa)

Where To Find Fresh Roots

Burdock roots are traditionally harvested in the fall of the first year or in the spring of the second year. The nutrient profile is strongest before the plant goes to flower and seed (Moro, 2021). Because burdock is a popular vegetable in Japanese culture, where it’s known as “gobo”, you may find it available in Asian grocery stores or in farmers markets during fall or spring when the roots are typically harvested.

Buying burdock root is certainly easier than harvesting the roots yourself! However, if the challenge of gathering local roots in nature appeals to you, then make sure to dig and gather away from an urban setting to avoid soil contaminants that might affect the benefits of your harvest.

A Premier Wild Food **

Burdock has an impressive nutrient profile and is rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, and C, as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, sulfur, chromium, selenium, iodine, and silicon (Pedersen, 2002). The roots also contain several antioxidants, including quercetin and luteolin, which may both reduce the effects of seasonal allergies, asthma, and eczema (Ferracane et al., 2010).

There are many delicious ways to consume burdock root. It lends itself to savory dishes with its earthy, mildly bitter, and sweet flavor. It brings a strength and depth that cannot be matched by more conventional roots. More fibrous than a carrot, burdock’s texture is best compared to parsnip and works well in soups and stews or in preparations that break down its fibers.

Most of the nutrients in burdock are found close to the dark skin of the root, so resist the urge to peel it (Moro, 2021). Simply brush off any dirt under running water and pat the roots dry. Then, if you’re feeling inspired to start working with this superfood, try your hand at my Gluten-Free Burdock and Sage Crackers recipe (below), which uses freshly gathered spring burdock roots and a little powdered burdock for extra intensity.

When you cut freshly harvested roots, you’ll notice there’s a sticky white substance that exudes from the slices. This is inulin, or prebiotic fiber.  It’s an important carbohydrate that, for most people, keeps gut flora in optimal function and helps to lower blood sugar (Blaut, 2002). Vegetables rich in prebiotic fiber can be a digestive challenge for those with a condition known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), so if you experience any bloating or gas after consuming burdock, then this could be the reason (Nickles et al., 2021).

Gluten-Free Burdock and Sage Crackers

I like to cut these crackers using a 2½-inch diameter cookie cutter. Yield: 8 crackers.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 ounces freshly cleaned burdock root
  • 2 tablespoons buckwheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons cassava root flour
  • 3 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 3 tablespoons ground sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground flax seeds
  • 4 teaspoons powdered sage
  • 2 teaspoons powdered burdock root (optional, but the additional powder intensifies the overall burdock flavor)
  • 1 3/4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Rinse burdock roots and brush away any dirt. Cut the root into approximately 3-inch pieces. If the roots are wider than ¾-inch, then slice them down the center, too.

Add the roots to a cooking pot, cover with filtered water, and cover. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer the roots for 40 minutes or until they’re soft when you test them with a knife.

  1. After the roots are cooked, drain and reserve the liquid for a delicious tea. (Drinking the tea is a great way to learn the flavor personality of the herb).
  1. Grate the cooked roots with a microplane or pulverize them in a food processor to further break down the fibers. After they are mashed or grated, blend them with the dried ingredients and combine with the rest of the ingredients.
  2. The moisture from the cooked roots will start to pull the dough together. After the dough is formed, allow it to rest for 10 minutes and then roll it out between 2 pieces of parchment paper until it’s approximately 3/16-inch thick.  Cut the dough into rounds using a cookie cutter, then place the rounds on a parchment-lined cookie tray.
  3. Bake 15-20 minutes until firm and golden at the edges.
  4. Allow the crackers to cool, then eat immediately or store in an airtight container. For maximum crunch, I make these crackers in small batches and eat them within 24 hours. You can also re-crisp them by putting them back in the oven for a few minutes at 375 degrees. They are delicious crispy or slightly softened.

Burdock Root and its Uses in Herbalism

Aside from being an esteemed wild food, burdock root is used extensively in herbal medicine.  Known as an alterative herb, herbalist David Hoffman explains the word’s meaning as follows:  “…alteratives seem to alter the body’s metabolic processes to improve tissues’ ability to deal with a range of body functions, from nutrition to elimination” (Hoffman, 2003). Simply put, burdock supports the body’s natural detoxification pathways through the liver, kidneys, lymph, digestive, and immune systems, offering gentle support to a wide range of illnesses.

Known as a digestive bitter that improves bile production and fat digestion, burdock root is a foundational herb in many digestive formulas. It also strengthens the immune system and studies show it has anti-tumor, anti-viral, and neuroprotective benefits (Sun et al., 2018). Burdock root is naturally diuretic, allowing the body to increase urine output, and thus lower blood pressure and excess fluid retention (Anwar et al., 2016).

The root also supports healthy skin and can reduce dry and scaly conditions, like eczema and psoriasis. Studies show its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial activities can also reduce acne (Miazga-Karska, 2020). Using an infused burdock oil or salve (recipes below) as a topical treatment for any of these conditions, including a dry scalp, will often help reduce the itchiness and lessen inflammation, especially if applied regularly.

Burdock Root Infused Oil

You can use this oil externally for a scalp massage, to support hair growth and clear up dandruff, or to soothe the itchiness of eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions. Yield: approximately 6 ounces of infused oil.

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce cut and sifted organic dried burdock root (by weight)
  • 6 ounces organic olive oil (by volume)
  • A few drops of vitamin E
  • A 16-ounce heat-proof glass jar with lid
  • Amber glass jar (for storage)

 Instructions

  1. Add the burdock root to the jar and cover with olive oil. Cap and label the jar with the contents and date, then set the jar in a cool spot out of direct sunlight. The roots will need to macerate for 6 weeks before straining. Every few days, shake the jar to ensure even coverage of the plant material. Add more olive oil if needed; the burdock roots should always be covered completely.
  2. After 6 weeks, strain and compost the herbs and transfer the infused burdock root oil to a sterilized, amber glass bottle for storage. (The amber color helps protect the oil from sun and degradation, but you can also use a clear glass jar and store it out of direct light.)
  3. Add a few drops of Vitamin E to extend the shelf life of the infused oil. Shake to combine.

Burdock Root Salve

After you have your burdock-infused oil, you’re only a short step away from turning it into a soothing skin salve, which is more user-friendly in terms of avoiding oil drips.

Yield: approximately 3.5 ounces.

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces (by volume) of burdock-infused oil (instructions above)
  • 3/4 ounce (by weight) beeswax
  • A few drops of chamomile or lavender essential oil
  • A heat-resistant glass jar
  • Sterilized salve containers

Instructions

  1. Combine the burdock-infused oil and beeswax in a heat-resistant jar and place the jar in a pan that has a small amount of water.
  2. Over low heat, slowly melt the beeswax until there are no visible signs of un-melted wax floating in the oil. Remove pan from heat.
  3. Add a few drops of lavender or chamomile essential oil, stir to combine, then quickly pour the liquid oil into your waiting salve container(s) before it starts to harden. Put a lid on top of the setting salve to prevent the volatile essential oils from evaporating. Once fully set, fasten the lid and label the jar with the ingredients and date.

Burdock is a warrior plant that knows how to lend nourishing support in gentle, yet profound ways. It is the very essence of food as medicine.

Note:

  • Always check for contraindications with any new herb or application before using.
  • If you have sensitivities to inulin, do not eat burdock root.

Dawn Petter is a clinical herbalist, and flower essence practitioner based in New York City. She is a graduate of Arbor Vitae School of Traditional Herbalism, and is trained as a flower essence practitioner with Delta Gardens, and Findhorn Essences. Dawn offers in-depth consults by appointment virtually, or in person, and teaches classes and retreats at corporations and institutions including, the NY and Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, and Rancho La Puerta, in Baha, to name a few. She is also the owner of Petalune Herbals, which specializes in small batch herbal skin care. Her classes are imaginative, accessible, and encourage students to use herbal medicine in everyday life. Visit www.petaluneherbals.com to learn more. 

**Disclaimer:

The information provided is for educational purposes only. None of the statements on this page have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, and this information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you believe you have a medical condition, please consult your physician. 

Resources:

Anwar, M. Akhtar, et al. (2016).”Anti-Hypertensive Herbs and Their Mechanisms of Action: Part II. Frontiers in Pharmacology, vol. 7, 8 Mar. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2016.00050

Blaut, M. (2002). “Relainoship of prebiotics and food to intestinal microflora. European Journal of Nutrition. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-002-1102-7

Ferracane, R., Graziani, G., Gallo, M., Fogliano, V., & Ritieni, A. (2010). Metabolic profile of the bioactive compounds of burdock (Arctium lappa) seeds, roots and leaves. Journal of pharmaceutical and biomedical analysis51(2), 399-404. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpba.2009.03.01

Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical herbalism, the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT. Healing Arts Press.

Miazga-Karska, M., Michalak, K., & Ginalska, G. (2020). Anti-Acne Action of Peptides Isolated from Burdock Root-Preliminary Studies and Pilot Testing. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland)25(9), 2027. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25092027

Moro, Thaísa M.A., and Maria T.P.S. Clerici (2021). “Burdock (Arctium Lappa L) Roots as a Source of Inulin-Type Fructans and Other Bioactive Compounds: Current Knowledge and Future Perspectives for Food and Non-Food Applications.” Food Research International, vol. 141, Mar. 2021, p. 109889, 10.1016/j.foodres.2020.109889.

Nickles, M. A., Hasan, A., Shakhbazova, A., Wright, S., Chambers, C. J., & Sivamani, R. K. (2021). Alternative Treatment Approaches to Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth: A Systematic Review. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.)27(2), 108-119. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2020.0275

Pedersen, M. (2002). Nutritional herbology: A reference guide to herbs. Warsaw, IN: Wendell W. Whitman Company.

Sun, Y., et al. (2018). Arctigenin Inhibits Liver Cancer Tumorigenesis by Inhibiting Gankyrin Expression via C/EBPα and PPARα.” Frontiers in Pharmacology. Vol. 9, 27. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2018.00268

Utah State University Extension (n.d.). Range Plants of Utah: Burdock. Retrieved from https://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/forbsherbaceous/burdock

Velcro® Brand (2016). An Idea that Stuck: How George De Mestral Invented the Velcro® Brand Fastener. Retrieved from https://www.velcro.com/news-and-blog/2016/11/an-idea-that-stuck-how-george-de-mestral-invented-the-velcro-fastener/

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