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Burdock

Botanical name: Arctium lappa

Photo

© Steven Foster

Parts used and where grown

Burdock is native to Asia and Europe. The root is the primary source of many herbal preparations. The root becomes very soft with chewing and tastes sweet, with a mucilaginous (sticky) texture.

Burdock has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
1Star

Acne Rosacea

Acne Vulgaris

Menopause

Psoriasis

Rheumatoid arthritis

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)

In traditional herbal texts, burdock root is described as a “blood purifier” or “alterative”1 and was believed to clear the bloodstream of toxins. It was used both internally and externally for eczema and psoriasis, as well as to treat painful joints and as a diuretic. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, burdock root in combination with other herbs is used to treat sore throats, tonsillitis, colds, and even measles.2 In Japan, it is eaten as a vegetable.

Burdock root has recently become popular as part of a tea to treat cancer. To date, however, research is insufficient to promote burdock for this application.3

Active constituents

Burdock root contains high amounts of inulin and mucilage. This may explain its soothing effects on the gastrointestinal tract. Bitter constituents in the root may also explain the traditional use of burdock to improve digestion. Additionally, burdock has been shown to reduce liver damage in animal studies.4 This has not been confirmed in human studies, however. It also contains polyacetylenes that have demonstrated anti-microbial activity.5 Even though test tube and animal studies have indicated some anti-tumor activity in burdock root, these results have not been duplicated in human studies.6 Several animal and test tubes studies have also suggested an anti-inflammatory effect of unknown compounds in burdock root or seeds, including an ability to inhibit the potent inflammation-causing chemical platelet activating factor.7 8

How much is usually taken?

Traditional herbalists recommend 2–4 ml of burdock root tincture per day.9 For the dried root preparation in capsule form, some herbalists recommend 1–2 grams three times per day. Many herbal preparations combine burdock root with other alterative “blood cleansing” herbs, such as yellow dock, red clover, or cleavers.

Are there any side effects or interactions?

Burdock root contains approximately 50% inulin,10 a fiber widely distributed in fruits, vegetables and plants. Inulin is classified as a food ingredient (not as an additive) and is considered to be safe to eat.11 In fact, inulin is a significant part of the daily diet of most of the world’s population.12 However, there is a report of a 39-year-old man having a life-threatening allergic reaction after consuming high amounts of inulin from multiple sources.13 Allergy to inulin in this individual was confirmed by laboratory tests. Such sensitivities are exceedingly rare. Moreover, this man did not take burdock. Nevertheless, people with a confirmed sensitivity to inulin should avoid burdock. There is one published case report of a severe allergic reaction, apparently due to burdock itself.14

At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with burdock.

References:

1. Hoffman D. The Herbal Handbook: A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1988, 23–4.

2. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 107–8.

3. Morita K, Kada T, Namiki M. A desmutagenic factor isolated from burdock (Arctium lappa Linne). Mutation Res 1984;129:25–31.

4. Lin CC, Lin JM, Yang JJ, et al. Anti-inflammatory and radical scavenge [sic] effects of Arctium lappa. Am J Chin Med 1996;24:127–37.

5. Wichtl M. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1994, 9–101.

6. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 52–3.

7. Lin CC, Lin JM, Yang JJ, et al. Anti-inflammatory and radical scavenge [sic] effects of Arctium lappa. Am J Chin Med 1996;24:127–37.

8. Iwakami S, Wu JB, Ebizuka Y, Sankawa U. Platelet activating factor (PAF) antagonists contained in medicinal plants: Lignans and sesquiterpenes. Chem Pharm Bull 1992;40:1196–8.

9. Bradley DR (ed). British Herbal Compendium, vol 1. Bournemouth, England: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1992, 48–9.

10. Duke, JA. Handbook of Phytochemical Constituents of GRAS Herbs and Other Economic Plants. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1992.

11. Carabin IG, Flamm WG. Evaluation of safety of inulin and oligofructose as dietary fiber. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 1999;30:268–82 [review].

12. Coussement PA. Inulin and oligofructose: safe intakes and legal status. J Nutr 1999;129:1412S–7S [review].

13. Gay-Crosier F, Schreiber G, Hauser C. Anaphylaxis from inulin in vegetables and processed food. N Engl J Med 2000;342:1372 [letter].

14. Sasaki Y, Kimura Y, Tsunoda T, Tagami H. Anaphylaxis due to burdock. Int J Dermatol2003;42:472–3.

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