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Hello floral friends!

Today I am continuing in the vein of detoxifying herbs with a profile on Burdock! Last week’s Celery introduced us to the concept of using herbs to detoxify our kidneys and remove built-up salts from our joints, and today we continue building on the knowledge with Arctium lappa, or Burdock. A considerably more potent herb than gentle celery, burdock is not often taken by itself, but rather combined with several other herbs to temper the strong detoxifying abilities it possesses.

As spring returns to the world once more (happy belated Ostara, everyone!) it only seems right that we focus on herbs that bring about cleansing, renewing actions in our bodies and lives, helping us move out of the winter’s hibernation and into the sunny, active season that longer days and warmer weather brings! Continue reading below to learn more about how burdock can help usher in a new period of health and energy.

Burdock’s Traditional Uses

Hailing from Eurasia and found especially in Scotland and England, burdock was known as a potent blood cleanser, and it’s from the collective knowledge of the common folk that we learn that burdock is not to be taken by itself, but best if combined with an herb like dandelion to make a cleansing tonic. Aside from the herb’s medicinal history, it is also said that George de Mestral, the inventor of the popular household item Velcro, hit upon the idea for the diminutive hooks after looking closely at the fruit of a burdock plant that had gotten stuck to his dog’s fur while out on a walk. Burdock’s name is derived from this very hooking function of its berries and seedpods- the word “burr” in the plant’s common name is from the Latin burra which means “wool”, pointing to the fruit’s tendency to get caught in the fur, wool, or clothes of passers by, and the word “dock” refers to the plant’s large leaves.

In the magical community, burdock is used as a general protection herb in yards, baths, and amulets- some keep a carved root figure in their pockets for luck and protection. In Turkish Anatolia, the burdock plant was thought to ward off the evil eye, and so it was woven into kilims (rugs, carpets) for household protection. The plant was also a symbol of abundance and prosperity due to its plentiful blossoms that appear in the mid-to-late summer each year. Its elemental association is with water, and its planetary alignment is with Venus. Nicknames for burdock are abundant as well- it goes by Fox’s Clote, Thorny Burr, Beggar’s Buttons, Cockle Buttons, Love Leaves, and Philanthropium. The heart-shaped leaves and hooking seed pods provide ample explanation for many of these fun folk-names.

Identifying Burdock

You can find burdock all over the world, especially in the United States, mainland Europe and the UK. Classified as an invasive weed due to its efficient seed-spreading technique, burdock grows best in water-saturated areas such as drainages along roadsides. Technically a member of the thistle family, this relation is indicated by the pale purple flowers that bloom on the burdock plant in mid-to-late summer, and are followed by the hooking burrs on the seed pods that develop in early autumn. The dark green, waxy leaves grow in size from smallest to largest the further down the stalk they grow, and are vaguely heart-shaped, no doubt the cause for one of burdock’s folk-names being Love Leaves. A light layer of silky hair grows on the underside of the bottom-most leaves, giving them a silvery sheen in appearance. Biannual in its growth, the first year the plant only produces leaves, and then the second year a stalk grows from the center, between 3-7 feet tall, and flowers profusely.

When it comes to harvesting the burdock plant, there isn’t too much concern about over-collecting due to the plant’s aggressively-spreading nature, but do try to stick to the general 1/10th rule if you want to continue wildcrafting from the same spot throughout the years. If you are interested in harvesting the roots, try to find plants in their first year of growth, and gather the roots in the autumn- if you miss that window, you can harvest the second year plant roots in early spring. The roots must be thinly sliced and laid flat to dry, or else they become prone to mold. If you are harvesting the seeds, do so once the pods wither on the stems of the plant, at the end of autumn, and shake the seeds out to air dry in a flat, single layer. The leaves can be gathered as needed, but reach their peak effectiveness in the heat of summer. Also, look alike plants include cockleburr and rhubarb, so just make sure you know what you’re harvesting when you’re out in the wilds!

Healing Attributes of Burdock

Burdock, as I mentioned previously, is a distinctly potent detoxifying agent. Its strength should be tempered, as the common folk did centuries ago, when ingested with herbs such as dandelion, red clover, or yellow dock. The herb’s key actions are antiseptic, detoxifying, diuretic, and tonic, and the most potent medicine for those actions are found in burdock’s roots and seeds. Best taken as a decoction, tincture or tablet, the dosage for this herb should stay around 5-15 grams a day, at the maximum 100 grams a week. Take a peek at the list below to learn about a few ways you can work with this herb to improve your health!

  • Acne/boils- fresh burdock leaves made into a poultice, applied topically daily until desired results are achieved, or taken as a decoction, tincture or cream.
  • Eczema/psoriasis-  a decoction, tincture or topical cream
  • Kidney flush or cleanse- taken as a decoction or tincture mixed with dandelion root, red clover or yellow dock
  • Dry scalp/dandruff- added to shampoo in decoction or tincture form.

Some people experience an allergic reaction in the form of dermatitis due to topical exposure to burdock. To see if you are sensitive to it at all, simply place a little bit of burdock tincture or extract onto a small patch of skin easily accessible, and monitor it over the course of 24 hours. If that time passes and nothing appears to happen, you are more than likely fine to use this herb!

I hope you found this article helpful, and will consider giving burdock a chance to help you in your health routine! Please leave your ideas, experiences, and usage advice on burdock in the comments below, I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Light and linseed,

Katharine