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What Is Burdock?

Burdock is any of a group of biennial thistles in the genus Arctium, family Asteraceae. Native to the Old World, several species have been widely introduced worldwide.

Plants of the genus Arctium have dark green leaves that can grow up to 28" (71 cm) long. They are generally large, coarse and ovate, with the lower ones being heart-shaped. They are woolly underneath. The leafstalks are generally hollow. Arctium species generally flower from July through to October.

The prickly heads of these plants (burrs) are noted for easily catching on to fur and clothing (being the inspiration for Velcro), thus providing an excellent mechanism for seed dispersal. Burrs cause local irritation and can possibly cause intestinal hairballs in pets. However, most animals avoid ingesting these plants.

A large number of species have been placed in genus Arctium at one time or another, but most of them are now classified in the related genus Cousinia. The precise limits between Arctium and Cousinia are hard to define; there is an exact correlation between their molecular phylogeny. The burdocks are sometimes confused with the cockleburs (genus Xanthium) and rhubarb (genus Rheum).

The roots of burdock, among other plants, are eaten by the larva of the Ghost Moth (Hepialus humuli). The plant is used as a food plant by other Lepidoptera including Brown-tail, Coleophora paripennella, Coleophora peribenanderi, the Gothic, Lime-speck Pug and Scalloped Hazel.

The green, above-ground portions may cause contact dermatitis in humans due to the lactones the plant produces. The taproot of young burdock plants can be harvested and eaten as a root vegetable. While generally out of favor in modern European cuisine, it remains popular in Asia.

The roots and seeds are used in herbal medicine. The root is available fresh in markets, cut and sifted in herb shops, and in many tincture, capsule, or tablet products. The seed is sold in herb shops that carry Chinese herbs and is found in tinctures, capsules, or tablets.

Burdock is a blood purifier that you can use for skin problems such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis, especially the seeds. Herbalists universally recommend the root (called gobo in Japan) to help ease liver congestion and difficulty in digesting fats. Use the root or the seeds for rheumatism and arthritis and the root as a protectant against cancer.

Burdock is used to promote kidney function and works through the kidneys to help clear the blood of harmful acids. It is also used for skin disorders such as carbuncles and boils, and relieves gout and menopausal problems. It aids elimination of excess fluid, uric acid, and toxins; and it has antibacterial and antifungal properties.

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