Scientific Name(s): Arctium lappa L.
Common Name(s): Fructus arctii, Bardana, Beggar's buttons, Clotbur, Edible burdock, Goboushi (Japanese), Great bur, Great burdocks, Lappa, Niu Bang Zi (Chinese)
Burdock is native to Europe and northern Asia and is naturalized in the United States. Six species of the Arctium genus are recognized in the United States, including greater (A. lappa L.) and lesser (Arctium minus Bernh.) burdock. A synonym for burdock is L. major Gaertn. The plant is a perennial or biennial herb that grows up to 3 m (about 9 feet). It has large, ovate, acuminate leaves and broad pinkish flowers made up of reddish-violet tubular florets surrounded by many involucral bracts ending in a stiff, spiny, or hooked tip. The root pieces, used in teas, are hard, minimally fibrous, longitudinally wrinkled, and grayish-brown to black in color.Duke 2003, Leung 1996, USDA 2014
Burdock has been recognized as a traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years, and its use as a detoxifying agent is documented in the Compendium of Materia Medica (1578). In traditional medicine, burdock fruits, seeds, roots, and leaves have been used as decoctions or teas for a wide variety of ailments, including colds, catarrh, gout, rheumatism, stomach ailments, and cancer, as well as use as a diuretic, diaphoretic, and laxative. It has also been promoted as an aphrodisiac and used topically for various skin problems. Burdock root is commonly used as food in Asia. Some US health stores carry fresh burdock root for sale as a food and nutraceutical.Chan 2011, Duke 2003
Burdock root yields a variety of compounds on analysis, including inulin (up to 50%), tannins, polyphenolic acids (eg, caffeic, chlorogenic acids), volatile acids (eg, acetic, butyric, costic, 3-hexenoic, isovaleric, 3-octanoic, propionic), polyacetylenes (0.001% to 0.002%, dry-weight basis), and a crystalline plant hormone, gamma-guanidino-n-butyric acid. A xyloglucan has been isolated and characterized from the 24% potassium hydroxide extract of edible burdock. Fructooligosaccharides have been determined as well. The leaves contain triterpenoids, while the root contains vitamins A, B1, B2, and C, as well as minerals including calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, sodium, zinc, and copper. Burdock seeds yield 15% to 30% fixed oils, a bitter glycoside arctiin, 2 lignans (lappaol A and B), chlorogenic acid, and a germacranolide. Other studies have isolated 6 compounds from burdock seeds: daucosterol, arctigenin, arctiin, matairesinol, lappaol, and a new lignan, neoarctin. The fruit constituents, the fruit pulp (pomace), which contains 11% proteins, 19% lipids, and 34% inulin, have been reported on as well.Chan 2011, Jeelani 2012, Li 2013, Wang 1993, Yamaguchi 1976 Methods of extraction and identification have been published.Jaiswal 2011, Lou 2012
Uses and Pharmacology
In vitro and animal studies have attempted to elucidate a mechanism of action for the anti-inflammatory effect of burdock. Inhibition of proinflammatory mediators and antioxidant action, and suppression of nitric oxide production have been demonstrated.Chan 2011 Chemical constituents thought to be responsible for this activity include lappaol F, diactigenin, and actigenin.Chan 2011, Hyam 2013, Sohn 2011, Tsai 2011
Limited data from a small randomized controlled trial (n=36) investigating burdock on inflammatory markers showed a significant improvement compared to baseline (but not compared to placebo) in serum interleukin (IL-6) and high sensitivity C-reactive protein in older adults with knee osteoarthritis who consumed 6 g/day of burdock root tea for 6 weeks (P=0.002 and P=0.003, respectively). No harmful effects were observed.Maghsoumi-Norouzabad 2016 The American College of Rheumatology's guidelines (2012) on the management of gout list burdock as an inappropriate complementary therapy for treatment of a short-term attack of gout.Khanna 2012
In vitro studies report activity of burdock extracts against human pathogens, including bacteria (eg, Bacillus subtilis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus), fungi (eg, Candida albicans), protozoans, and viruses (eg, HIV-1, HSV-1, HSV-2, adenovirus).Chan 2011, Zimmermann 2012
A small randomized controlled trial (n=36) investigated the effect of burdock on oxidative stress indicators in older adults with knee osteoarthritis. After 6 weeks of burdock root tea (6 g/day), a significant improvement was documented compared to baseline in malondialdehyde, superoxide dismutase (P=0.009), total antioxidant capacity (P<0.001), and unsaturated lipid peroxidation of low-density lipoprotein (P<0.001). Additionally, significant improvements were seen with burdock root tea compared to controls in glutathione (P=0.003), malondialdehyde (P=0.021), and total antioxidant capacity (P=0.004). No harmful effects were seen.Maghsoumi-Norouzabad 2016
Burdock has been used as a natural aphrodisiac. However, an experiment in rats found less enhancement of male sexual behavior than with the comparator, sildenafil, but increased serum testosterone levels.JianFeng 2012
The root, leaves, dried fruit, arctigenin, and lappaol have been evaluated for activity against human cancer cell lines. Elucidated mechanisms of action include induction of apoptosis, intracellular adenosine triphosphate depletion, interference with signaling pathways, and direct action on tyrosinase and melanin. Limited experiments have been conducted in animals, with lappaol inhibiting tumor growth in mice in 1 experiment.Gu 2012, Gui-Rong 2012, Hsieh 2014, Machado 2012, Park 2013, Predes 2011, Sun 2014, Susanti 2013, Wegiera 2012, Yamashita 2014, Yao 2011
Patients with advanced pancreatic cancer refractory to gemcitabine were enrolled in a phase I, open-label, single-arm study (n=15) to determine the maximum tolerable dose of GBS-01, a burdock fruit extract. No dose-limiting toxicity was observed at any of the 3 doses tested (3, 7.5, and 12 g/day) and adverse events were extremely mild. After this 28-day intervention, the recommended dose of GBS-01 was determined to be 12 g/day (approximately 4 g burdock fruit extract). Of the 15 patients, 1 exhibited a partial response and 4 had stable disease. The response rate and disease control rate were deemed to be 6.7% and 33.3%, respectively, whereas the median progression-free and overall survival times were 1.1 months and 5.7 months, respectively.Ikeda 2016
In a rodent model of brain injury due to ischemia, arctigenin suppressed microglial activation; reduced interleukin and tumor necrosis factor expression, resulting in a lower neural deficit score; and decreased infarct volume when compared with no intervention.Fan 2012 Inhibition of beta-amyloid production, decreased senile plaques, and decreased memory impairment was shown in mice administered arctigenin. The mechanism of action proposed by the researchers includes suppression of enzymes and signaling pathways.Zhu 2013
There are no clinical data regarding the use of burdock for CNS effects.
Whole root extract restored canine dermal fibroblast integrity following peroxide damage in 1 experiment,Pomari 2013 and a protocol was published for a clinical trial in Korea that used topical ethanol seed extract to treat dry skin.Lee 2013 An uncontrolled observational interventional study was undertaken to determine the effectiveness of a homeopathic preparation of Lappa (Arctium lappa) in the treatment of acne vulgaris in young adults. The 34 participants were treated with Lappa 6c for 7 days followed by placebo, the regimen was repeated if recurrence occurred. By the end of the 6-month follow-up, significant improvements were reported in total lesion count, types of lesions, and quality of life scores (P<0.001 each). Patients with a negative family history responded better (P<0.002) as did those who were ambithermal or chilly compared to those whose thermal reaction was hot (P<0.041).Miglani 2014
Experiments have been conducted in mice and rats. Proposed mechanisms of action include an inhibitory effect on alpha-glucosidase by sitosterol and an effect by inulin on plasma glucose levels.Chan 2011 Other experiments have evaluated total lignans (eg, lappaol, arctigenin, arctiin, arctignan) and individual lignans for effect, finding stimulation of insulin secretion, enhanced regeneration of islet cells, and inhibition of gluconeogenesis.Huang 2012, Miele 2012, Xu 2014 An older experiment, however, found a lack of effect of burdock in a streptozotocin-induced diabetic mouse model.Swanston-Flatt 1989 In addition, in rats with induced diabetic nephropathy, arctiin reduced albinuria and glomerular filtration damage, as evaluated by histology.Ma 2013 Following a study examining arctigenin's effect on increased physical endurance and time to fatigue in mice, a role in diabetes was postulated,Tang 2011 while positive effects on cholesterol efflux suggest the chemical may contribute to managing associated hyperlipidemia.Xu 2013
A 1999 clinical study on traditional Chinese medicine found a "satisfactory" reduction in hyperglycemia in type 2 diabetes with burdock.Xu 2014 There are no further clinical data regarding the use of burdock.
In rodents, arctigenin and the lactone onopordopicrin have been shown to reduce the extent of induced colitis.de Almeida 2013, Hyam 2013 Onopordopicrin extracted from A. lappa leaves has also been evaluated for its antisecretory effect on gastrin in gastric ulcers and induced lesions in rat studies. In these studies, an increase in somatotropin was documented with no increase in mucus production. Histological examination of tissues showed a decrease in the size of gastric lesions and enhanced regeneration of tissues.da Silva 2013, de Almeida 2012
There are no clinical data regarding the use of burdock for gastric ulcers or colitis, despite its use for these conditions in traditional medicine.
The American College of Rheumatology guidelines on the management of gout (2012) voted that the use of various oral complementary agents, including burdock, was inappropriate for the treatment of an acute attack of gout.Khanna 2012
Burdock leaves have historically been used by the Amish and other cultures as a non-stick bandage for burns (less than 25% of body surface area) and other wounds in order to reduce the need for analgesics during dressing changes. The use of burdock leaves as a bandage was evaluated in a prospective case series pilot study within a community-based participatory research framework. A total of 5 Amish patients were enrolled who ranged in age from 3 to 56 years and presented with first- and second-degree burns that covered 1.5% to 4% of their bodies. The leaves were wild-crafted, first-year growth. An herbal burn and wound ointment was applied to the wound, which was then wrapped in a layer of burdock leaves. The average treatment duration was 8.2 days, whereas the mean healing time was 13.8 days (range, 5 to 23 days) with only 1 of the 5 participants using analgesics. None of the burn wounds became infected.Amish Burn Study Group 2014
There is limited clinical evidence to guide burdock dosing. Dosages reported include 6 g/day of burdock root tea.Maghsoumi-Norouzabad 2016 A 28-day phase I dose-determination trial conducted in patients with advanced refractory pancreatic cancer recommended 12 g/day.Ikeda 2016
Pregnancy / Lactation
Burdock is generally considered a safe and edible food product, although allergic contact dermatitis has been reported.Duke 2003, Rodriguez 1995 A case report of anaphylaxis due to burdock consumption also exists.Chan 2011
Burdock is generally considered a safe and edible food product; research reveals limited information regarding its toxicity. However, a case report exists on burdock-root tea poisoning due to adulteration with atropine-containing plants.Bryson 1978
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