Burdock

 

Burdock
Arctium lappa

Family:   Compositae
Genus:   Arctium
Species:   lappa

 

Synonyms and Common names: 

Bardanae radix, Bardanae folium, bardana, great burdock, hardock, hareburr, hurrburr, turkey burrseed, great bur, cocklebur, beggar’s buttons, cockle buttons, lappa, bardane, thorny burr, fox's clote, love leaves, personata, clotbur, happy major, sticky bobs.

Description and Habitat: 

The Burdock, the only British member of its genus, belongs to the Thistle group of the great order Compositae. Burdock is found along fences, walls, and roadsides, in waste places, and around populated areas.  A stout handsome plant, with large, wavy leaves and round heads of purple flowers. It is enclosed in a globular involucre of long stiff scales with hooked tips, the scales being also often interwoven with a white, cottony substance.

Coarse, wavy-edged leaves with white woolly undersides grow as large as 2 feet long and 1 foot wide. Burdock has a two-year life cycle; in mid-spring of the second year it sends up a central stalk from 2 to 9 feet tall with purple thistle-like flowers that will bloom in midsummer. Burdock can be recognized by the brown burs that stick to clothing. The root is dark brown with a creamy white interior and can grow several feet long and 3 inches in diameter.

Parts used: 

The dried root from plants of the first year's growth forms the official drug, but the leaves and fruits (commonly though erroneously, called seeds) are also used, although are not as effective as the root.

Harvesting and storage:

The roots are dug in July and should be lifted with a beet-lifter or a deep-running plough. As a rule, they are 12 inches or more in length and about 1 inch thick; sometimes, however, they extend 2 to 3 feet, making it necessary to dig by hand. They are fleshy, wrinkled, crowned with a tuft of whitish, soft, hairy leaf-stalks, grey-brown externally, whitish internally, with somewhat thick bark, about a quarter of the diameter of the root, and softwood tissues, with a radiate structure

It’s better to store burdock root in the fridge, as when used fresh its constituents are far more potent. Don’t peel burdock root; many of its nutrients are found in the peel, scrub the root lightly with a vegetable brush to remove any soil, trim the very tip of the root off, and if looks soft and black cut up into small pieces and drop them immediately into cold water to prevent oxidation. Wrap burdock root in a wet paper towel and seal it in a plastic bag and keep it in the fridge where it will keep for several months. If the root becomes limp soak it in water until it’s firm again.

Burdock leaves, which are less used than the root, are collected in July. For drying, follow the drying of Coltsfoot leaves. They have a somewhat bitter taste.

Drying burdock leaves isn’t easy, no matter what you try they usually end up black and moldy, but thanks to an online website called “Henrietta’s Herbal”, there is an answer. Below is a direct quote from www.henriettesherbal  which really is worth reading.

 “There's a trick to drying burdock leaf. Pick nice healthy leaves and cut off the stalk. Cut the center vein a few times. If the first pairs of side veins are large, cut them, too. However, when you cut, do it so that the veins will support the leaf when you hang it up on a string because that's the next thing you do: Thread a string through the first hole you cut in your burdock leaves, the one nearest to what used to be the stalk. Hang'em up to dry, either 10 leaves to a string on whatever doorknobs and similar are available to you, or all of them on a single long string that you tie across a corner of the room, or something. Now, when you check on your leaf a few days later they dry a nice dark green (grey on the underside), and they don't stick all together in one large mat.

Update: if you hang them 10 to a string on a doorknob you'll need to go in and separate them about once a day until they're fairly dry: gravity gets them too close to each other. If your string is strung horizontally (or nearly so) you can forget your burdock leaf until dry: the leaves don't bunch up and dry to a nice grey-green.” End of quote

The seeds (or fruits) are collected when ripe. They are brownish-grey, wrinkled, about 1/4 inch long and 1/16 inch in diameter. They are shaken out of the head and dried by spreading them out on paper in the sun. It goes without saying that the storage of leaves and seeds needs to be in a dark, cool, dry place.

 

Constituents:

The flavonoid, glycosides, bitter glycosides, alkaloid, anti-microbial, inulin

Actions:
Leaves:
mild laxative, mild diuretic, depurative.

Root:
Depurative, mild laxative, mild diuretic, bitter, diaphoretic, antirheumatic, antibiotic, orexigenic.

Seeds:
Prevent fever, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, reduce blood sugar levels, relaxant, demulcent, tonic.

 

Indications:
Psoriasis, rheumatism, digestion, eczema, cystitis, nervous eczema, dandruff, purifier, diuretic, liver and kidney complaints, baldness, gout'

Therapeutics and Pharmacology:

Burdock is a most valuable remedy for the treatment of skin conditions which results in dry, scaly skin and is most effective for psoriasis if used over a long period of time.

It is useful when used in a wider treatment for rheumatic complaints, especially where they are associated with psoriasis. Part of the action of this herb is through the bitter stimulation of the digestive juices and especially of bile secretion, so it will aid digestion and appetite. It has been used in anorexia nervosa to aid kidney function and to heal cystitis. In general, burdock will move the body to a state of health, removing such indicators of systemic imbalance as skin problems and dandruff.

Externally it may be used as a compress or poultice to speed up the healing of wounds and ulcers. Eczema and psoriasis may be also treated this way externally, but such skin problems can only be healed by internal remedies.

Burdock root has often been used to purify the blood by removing toxins that can build up in the blood. It can be taken orally or used topically as a remedy for skin disorders. Also, burdock root can be a diuretic or soothe aching joints.

Burdock aids liver and kidney function, both important for skin health and blood purification. It cools and calms skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, rashes, boils, and burns. Burdock has a profound effect on the healthy functioning of sweat and oil glands, which allows it to nourish the scalp and thicken and restore hair growth. It is also effective at easing joint conditions such as rheumatism, arthritis, and gout.

 

Contraindications: 

Excessive use may precipitate a symptomatic crisis is severely toxic conditions or where eliminatory channels are deficient. Dosage should be cautious initially and gradually increased.

 

Preparation and dosage:
Decoction – put one teaspoonful of the root into a cup of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 to 15 mins, drink three times a day.
Tincture – take 2-4ml of the tincture three times a day.

 

Folklore & additional comments:

Burdock root is eaten as a vegetable in many places. It has many nutrients like iron, inulin (a carbohydrate), and beneficial oils. Also, burdock can be used as a gentle laxative and help eradicate uric acid. Some of the active ingredients of burdock are polyacetylenes, which are known to be effective antibacterials and antifungals. Burdock enhances the performance of many of the organs which purify the body and eliminate toxins or waste (like the kidneys, liver, colon, etc). This enhances overall health and helps correct disorders.

Dandelion and burdock is a traditional British soft drink. Traditionally it is made from fermented dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and burdock (Arctium lappa) roots and is naturally fizzy. A flowering dandelion is sometimes used in Dandelion and Burdock drinks.

However, the "Dandelion and Burdock" drink for sale in many retail outlets usually contains neither plant. The retail drink is often carbonated and contains artificial sweeteners. The drink is sometimes known as 'Banterlion and Durdock' or simply as 'D&B'. An alcoholic version, the 'DB&G' is made by mixing Dandelion and Burdock with gin.

There have been a small number of stories concerning its origin, most now widely considered to be of doubtful authorship. One notable example (quoted in ‘The Existence Of God?’) was that St Thomas Aquinas, after praying for inspiration for a full night, walked from his place of prayer straight into the countryside and, “trusting in God to provide,” concocted the drink from the first plants that struck him. It was this drink that aided his concentration when seeking to formulate his theological arguments that ultimately culminated in the Summa Theologies - a philosophical and theological work (1265–74) by St. Thomas Aquinas consisting of an exposition of Christian doctrine. There seems to be little evidence for this, however, with some reports quoting the first examples of this story as originating in the early Victorian period.

Burdock is familiar for its hooked burrs; its botanical name is derived from the Greek arktos, or bear, suggesting rough-coated fruits, and lappa, to seize. The word lappa may also be derived from the Celtic llap, a hand, on account of its prehensile properties. The plant gets its name 'dock' from its large leaves, while the 'bur' is thought to be a contraction of the French bourre, from the Latin burra, a lock of wool.

The Old English name for burdock was 'Herrif' from the Anglo-Saxon hoeg, a hedge, and reafe, a robber - or from the Anglo-Saxon verb reafian, to seize

The flower-heads are found expanded during the latter part of the summer and well into the autumn: all the florets are tubular, the stamens dark purple and the styles whitish. The plant owes its dissemination greatly to the little hooked prickles which adhere to everything with which they come into contact, and by attaching themselves to coats of animals are often carried to a distance.

“'They are Burs, I can tell you, and they’ll stick where they are thrown.”

These are the “sticky bobs” of childhood, where a sticky bob thrown into someone’s hair stuck fast, despite many attempts to disentangle; the only way to remove them is often to cut off the offending piece of hair.

Cornish ‘piskies’ are said to be a race of fairies or ‘little people’, said to amuse themselves at night by riding stallions furiously around the fields and plaiting their manes, or tangling them with ‘Billy buttons’ ( the burs of burdock.

Children would, in the past, throw the burrs of burdock on the back of unsuspecting friends.   If they stuck to the back the friend would become a sweetheart; if the burrs fell off then the friend would become an enemy.

Burdock burrs are an important decoration for the costume of the Burry Man who appears at South Queens-ferry, West Lothian, on the second Friday in August each year, when he ‘perambulates the town visiting the houses and receiving cheerful greeting and gifts of money from householders. On Bury Man’s Day, he begins dressing at 7 a.m.  He puts on a set of long underwear and a hood and the burrs are placed onto his underwear where they stick fast.

Some burrs are carefully placed in sensitive areas, such as the armpits and crotch.   It takes 2 hours to place the burrs and some flowers and leaves onto the Bury Man, at which time he walks slowly and carefully around the town from 9 am in the morning till 6 pm at night.   His hood is covered in burrs and flowers too, leaving two eye holes and a hole for a stray, through which he drinks the only whiskey.   No doubt he is a little tipsy at the end of the day!

Gypsies used burdock for a cure against rheumatism.  They would carry seeds of the burdock in a small bag hung around the neck, this is said to prevent rheumatism taking hold.