By Steven Horne (with Paula Perretty)
Burdock root is one of those “weed” herbs that Americans are usually trying to eradicate. A member of the Composite or Asteraceae family, it is related to artichokes and thistles. It’s known for its distinctive prickly burs that like to hitchhike on animals and people alike. However, something good came out of them, in the 1940’s, when the burrs, or seeds, were looked at under a microscope. The hook-and-loop system of the seeds led to the invention of Velcro.
We may think of burdock as a weed, but in Japan, it’s a food, called gobo. In fact, throughout Asia, the taproot of young burdock plants are eaten as a root vegetable. It was also used as a food by Native Americans. I’ve actually considered growing some in my garden, but I’m not sure my neighbors would be happy about that.
Burdock became internationally recognized for its culinary use in macrobiotic diets in the latter half of the 20th century. It is the polyphenols that form tannin-iron complexes that give its dark, muddy color that is ideal for miso soup. Nutritionally it is also high in calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, sulfur and zinc minerals. The root also contains amino acids, essential fatty acids, biotin, vitamins B1, B6, B12, E and C. Historically, Burdock has been a favorite medicinal herb for centuries for ailments and complaints of the gastrointestinal tract. Burdock root contains high amounts of inulin and mucilage, which explains its soothing effects on the gastrointestinal tract. The bitter constituents in the root may also explain the traditional use of burdock to improve digestion. Herbalists in ancient China and India used it in the treatment of respiratory infections, abscesses, and joint pain. European physicians of the Middle Ages and later used it to treat cancerous tumors, skin conditions, venereal disease, respiratory infections, and bladder and kidney problems.
In North America, the Cherokee, Malecite, Menominee Ojibwa traditionally use Burdock for the relief of dry, scaly skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis and in the treatment of acne. Burdock is also recommended as a blood purifier and is used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, urinary gravel and as a gynecological aid as well as to treat venereal diseases. It can be taken internally as well as applied directly to the skin for ichthyosis, psoriasis and seborrhea of the scalp. Topically, burdock poultices and infusions were applied to sores, boils and chancres.
Burdock is also a key ingredient in many traditional anticancer formulas. The famous medieval herbalist, Hildegarde of Bingen, used it for treating tumors. It is a primary ingredient in the famous Hoxsey cancer treatment. It is also a key ingredient in the famous cancer remedy Essiac. NSP sells a version of this formula under the trade name E-Tea.
Burdock contains a number of compounds with known anti-cancer activity, including arctigenin, arctiin beta-eudesmol, caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, inulin, lignin and trachelogenin. Arctiin has been identified as the ingredient that acts as a diuretic and as a preventative for angiogenesis, the formation of auxiliary arteries that feed tumors.
Burdock is available as a single from Nature’s Sunshine and is also included in many formulas for the liver, skin and blood. Besides being a primary ingredient in E-Tea and Red Clover Blend (mentioned earlier), it is also in BP-X, Enviro-Detox, Joint Support, PBS, I-X, Tiao He Cleanse and Sinus Support EF. The seeds are an ingredient in IF-C.