Burdock (Arctium) is a flowering plant that has been a major part of various cultures for over hundreds of years. In Japan, its root is known as "gobo," and is used in their cuisine. The Iroquois tribe of North America, on the other hand, dried and preserved the root for food during the winter. In Ancient China, burdock seeds were used to treat various conditions such as cough, fever, sore throat, arthritis and various digestive diseases.1
Fully grown, burdock can reach a height between 1 to 2 meters, and produces purple flowers that extend away from its bracts that bloom between June and October. The leaves are large, growing up to 50 centimeters in total size and have a whitish underside, making burdock an easy plant to identify.
Burdock is native throughout Europe and Asia, and was introduced in America during the 1600s by English settlers. This was noted by English traveler John Josselyn, who visited New England in 1672 and discovered burdock throughout the areas he went. During this period, the settlers introduced burdock to the Iroquois, and it became a part of their culture as well.2
A fun fact about burdock: It's the catalyst for the invention of Velcro. In 1941, Swiss engineer George de Mestral was hiking in the Jura Mountains in Switzerland, when he noticed that his pants and his dog's fur became covered in burdock seeds.
He was curious as to how these seeds stuck to his pants, and he discovered that they were covered in small interlocking hooks that can cling to fabric. He patented this idea, which eventually became Velcro, an invention used in countless products around the world.3
Health Benefits of Burdock Root
Burdock root has been known to provide the following health benefits:4
• Blood Pressure Maintenance
Burdock is a vasodilator, which is the ability to relax the blood vessels and arteries. It helps maintain blood pressure, helping to reduce your chances of developing heart disease. This benefit is mainly attributed to burdock's generous potassium content.
• Relief From Digestive Problems
Burdock root is known for its benefits for proper digestive function. When added to salads, it provides digestive fiber, helping regulate bowel movement. Its other type of fiber, inulin, can help eliminate harmful microbes in your stomach, lowering your chances of diarrhea and other related conditions.
• Liver Detoxification
The compounds that give burdock its bitter taste can also benefit your liver. They can help stimulate bile production, helping your body flush away toxins quicker and easier.
• Maintaining a Healthy Immune System
Burdock root contains high levels of vitamins C and E, which are essential to maintaining a healthy immune system and eliminating free radicals. This helps reduce your chances of developing diseases, while supporting healthy cell growth at the same time.
Different Uses of Burdock Root
Burdock root's reputation mostly lies in cooking. It's used in a variety of dishes, especially in Japanese cuisine. It is an essential ingredient of kinpira, a dish composed of julienned burdock root, carrot, dried chili peppers and soy sauce.5 Aside from this, you can prepare burdock in various ways, such as:
- Stir fry: The root can be added to stir-fried vegetables for additional flavor and nutrients.6
- Raw: Burdock root can be eaten raw for a quick and nutritious snack. Be sure to clean it thoroughly first and sprinkle with a little Himalayan salt for flavor.7
- Soup: It can be used as a broth for vegetable soups.8
- Pickled: You can pickle burdock in apple cider vinegar to preserve its shelf life. Adding other herbs and spices to the mixture can give it more nutrients and flavor as well.9
In addition, burdock root can help maintain healthy skin and hair. It contains antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that can provide relief for conditions like psoriasis, eczema, skin ulcers and acne. It can also help prevent hair loss by treating dandruff and maintaining a healthy scalp.10
Growing Burdock in Your Home
Growing burdock in your own home is quite easy, since it can grow in various environments with very few problems. With proper care and maintenance, you can yield a high-quality harvest. Remember these tips when planting burdock.
Preparing the Soil
Your soil must be rich and have a good drainage system. Most importantly, it should be free from rocks for at least 2 feet below the surface. This helps the roots grow long and straight. As for the light requirements, burdock can adapt to various conditions. It can grow in areas with partial shade or with full sun exposure.11
Planting the Seeds
Spread the seeds lightly over your garden bed once the last frost has passed. Afterwards, cover them with 0.5 to 0.75 inches of fine garden soil. Tamp down the recently applied top layer, then water lightly.12
Harvesting and Storing the Roots
The seeds can sprout in just four to seven days. Once they appear and have grown a few inches, thin them out 3 inches apart in rows that are 2 inches apart. In roughly eight to 12 weeks, you will be able to harvest the burdock roots.13 Use a shovel or a garden fork when harvesting the roots. You can create a small hole right beside the plant to get the root easily. For the best quality, pick roots once they reach a length of 1 to 2 feet.14
Store the roots by placing them in a shallow dish filled with water, or wrap them in damp paper towels or perforated plastic bags. Harvested roots only last for four days, so use them right away before they go bad.15
Burdock Root Recipe: Making Burdock Tea
Burdock can be used in a multitude of dishes, but it is mostly known as an ingredient for tea. To make the tea, you need one burdock root and 2 liters of water. Follow this procedure:16
- Using a scouring pad, gently scrape off the remaining dirt and soil from the root under running water. Afterwards, cut the root into thin slices. Do not peel the skin, because that's where most of the nutrients are found.
- Spread the slices on a bamboo sieve, then cover with a nylon food cover. Place the sieve under clear, sunny weather for one to two days until the slices are dry and pliable. You can use a dehydrator if the weather is not cooperating with you.
- Place the dried slices in a pan. Put the pan under low heat, while stirring the slices for 10 minutes until they are golden brown, crispy and emit a fragrant aroma.
- Let the slices cool for 10 to 15 minutes. To store them, use an airtight container to prevent moisture from entering.
- Boil the water in a pot, then add 10 grams of burdock slices. Let the tea simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and enjoy.
- If you only want to drink one cup, use five to eight slices only. Pour hot water and let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes before drinking.
Note: If you don't like the taste of burdock tea, you may add raw honey, chrysanthemum, wolf berries or mint leaves for added flavor.
Burdock Can Be Enjoyed as an Essential Oil
Aside from its culinary uses, burdock root can be enjoyed as an essential oil, with benefits mostly associated with the skin and scalp. Aside from using pure burdock essential oil, you can easily make an infusion oil in the comfort of your home.
Making Your Own Infused Burdock Oil
- Chop the roots into tiny pieces, then pound them lightly with a mallet.
- Place the roots in the jar then add the olive oil. You can decide how much oil you want to pour.
- Place the jar in a dark cabinet for six weeks to allow the oil to absorb the roots' nutrients.
- Open the jar once a week to release any air bubbles.
- Once the mixture hits the six-week mark, strain and enjoy.
Benefits of Burdock Oil
As mentioned previously, burdock oil is mostly known for its skin and scalp benefits. It contains vitamin A and various essential fatty acids, which help nourish your scalp and promotes healthy hair growth. It can also provide relief from infections and irritations caused by dandruff, as it helps keep sebaceous glands and hair follicles healthy.
Beware the Side Effects of Burdock Root
Before you head off to make your own burdock oil or use the root for cooking, you should be aware of its side effects. There's a small chance that it may increase your blood sugar levels, so if you're diabetic, it's best to avoid it and use other healthy alternatives instead.
To check for any topical irritations, you should do a skin patch test as well by placing a drop of burdock oil on your arm. Lastly, consult with your doctor before using this oil to avoid any other possible health complications.