If you’ve ever walked through the edges of woodland, passing by tall leafy plants, then looked at your clothes and seen sticky burrs attached, you can bet you’ve just walked pass some burdock. Burdock is a tall plant; it can grow to 4 feet and has purple flowers that blossom in the summer months. Those sticky burrs were the inspiration for Velcro and if you get them on you, you’ll know why.
The best way to deal with this annoying weed?
Burdock is infinitely edible, that is both the plant and the root can be eaten. As a child one of my favorite soft drinks was “dandelion and burdock”. The drink was a horrible brown color, but it tasted great. Burdock is one of those multi-use plants, it is eaten both as a food and used as a medicine.
The uses of burdock as a food and medicine stretch back hundreds of years. For example, Europeans used the plant as an herbal medicine, which we will explore more later on, using original texts. The Chinese and Indians used the plant for a number of complaints including colds and flu. Native Indians in North America would use the plant to treat rheumatism and Shaker communities used it for gout, syphilis and leprosy.
There are other uses for the plant too. The Chinese used burdock for skin complaints such as acne and eczema. There was also a controversial case involving burdock in 50s America. A doctor called Harry Hoxsey had created a number of cancer treatments. The treatments used secret formulas and often contained wild flowers and plants. Hoxsey had a case brought against him by the FDA because of not fully labeling his treatments for cancer, one of which included burdock root. Interestingly, research has continued since then into the use of burdock as a cancer treatment. There’s some interesting further reading here at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Some Old Times Advise on the Use of Burdock
I am a big fan of lost wisdom. Just because knowledge is from the past, doesn’t mean to say it isn’t still of use. Many of our modern medicines have been derived from the accumulated knowledge of our ancestors. Probably the most famous being aspirin, which was used, in its naturally occurring form of salicin found in willow bark, by ancient Egyptians, who used it for aches and pains.
A quick look through ‘New Dispensatory’, a book of medicinal recipes from 1765, finds a number of uses for arctium or bardanae majoris, the common names for burdock back in the day. It describes burdock as (translated from the original):
“The seeds have a bitterish, subacrid taste. They are recommended as very efficacious diuretics…”
The chapter goes on to describe the taste of burdock root, as
“The roots taste sweetish, with a sight austerity…