You have probably seen Burdock before. It’s a common weed, found everywhere from fields to backyards. As is the case with many weeds, Burdock tends to have a negative reputation, particularly because of its burrs, which easily get stuck to our clothes and wreak havoc with the fur of dogs and other animals.
However, there is more to Burdock than this. The root is considered a vegetable in many countries and is added to soups and other dishes. And even more than its use as a food, Burdock has a long history of use as a medicine.
Burdock is well known as a detoxifying herb that helps remove waste products from the blood, liver and kidneys. It’s bitter and cooling to the system and is often combined with Dandelion as an overall bitters tonic. The ancient Greek physician Dioscorides also spoke of using a decoction of the root and seeds for toothaches. Seventeenth century British herbalist Nicholas Culpeper seems to have had a preference for using the leaves, calling them “cooling and moderately drying,” and found their dispersing qualities very effective. The juice of the leaves taken in wine or honey is said to provoke urine and cure pain in the bladder. He also spoke of using the bruised leaves with egg white on burns, both to cool the heat and aid in healing. And finally, Culpeper used the seeds as a remedy for breaking up kidney stones. In the late 19th century, the U.S. Eclectics began incorporating Burdock into their practice. A 19th century Buffalo, NY company (Foster, Milburn & Co.) produced a Burdock Blood Bitters formula, which was advertised as a remedy for constipation, dyspepsia, headache and blood disorders. Eclectic Dr. John King (1898) classified Burdock as an alterative, or alterative diuretic, and emphasized its actions on the kidneys.
The historical records are full of uses for, and stories about, Burdock, and it continues to be a highly regarded plant among herbalists today. So the next time you get its burrs all over your shirt and pants, remember its history as medicine and food too. You may still hate the burrs, but maybe you’ll come to love and respect this weedy plant a little more.
Photo by Nathan Thompson – all rights reserved